Friday, March 21, 2014

The REAL Problem with Malaysian Films

Recently, tired of people blaming audiences, stories and scriptwriters, I decided to blame actors for the rather poor state of the Malaysian film industry.

Think about it. Actors serve no real function in life. They're annoying, self-important and their so-called 'talent' is just ego. Actors suck.

However, this is not the real reason why the Malaysian film industry sucks. And by sucking, I mean the fact that we do not have a vibrant ecosystem, no pride in our films, very few box office hits and less and less people give a fuck about films. Out of 28 million Malaysians, regular cinema goers who watch local stuff was - until The Journey's success - notched at an estimated 500K tops.

Met with some filmmakers recently. Young, old, ancient and retired. One of them - Amir Muhammad - said this, "I believe the missing ingredient is a sense of belonging."

That. That hit the nail.

Years ago, I was working with perhaps the greatest creative mind in the country - my mentor and friend, Zainal Alam Kadir. We were advising Astro on such shows as the Second Season of Raja Lawak and Akademi Fantasia.

One of the things we observed as being the cornerstone of AF's popularity - one of the most successful Malaysian TV shows of all time - was a sense of ownership. The fans continued to tune in, push until the glass doors of PWTC smashed, embraced stars regardless of creed, gender or colour, simply because they felt a sense of ownership - a belonging - to the stars.

They voted them in, so it's their money keeping these people on TV. With already a substantial financial investment, they also poured their emotions in.

We mulled over a suggestion to make this even more spirited by breaking them up into states - Marsha representing Sabah or Mawi from Johor. Like Eurovision. Like football.

Alam spoke about a sense of ownership. He spoke about giving the show back to the fans. Because they made it what it was.

Then, things happened, blablabla. And fuck all that shit.

Amir Muhammad said he was editing an upcoming football book by Lucius Maximus. In it, Lucius outlined several solutions for the football scene's own doldrums.

Buy and read the book to find out what it is he suggested, but it has something to do with how the football scene and the film industry here is similar in the sense that it will only work as a healthy ecosystem if there is a sense of ownership or belonging to a particular team or film.

"I come from Brickfields. This is MY TEAM. Fuck the Damansara Heights rich fuckers. We be real, bitches!"

"This is a local film. I love it because it is about me. I'm self-centered and shit."

For all this while, people who have been analysing the Malaysian film industry fell into the common Malaysian trap - we as a society are too fucking shallow.

The major fault lies in better stories? Better quality of films? If we have better actors? A better audience?

These are ALL shallow answers, from shallow mindsets. Cosmetic or even at best patch-up solutions to a core underlying problem - a majority of Malaysians do not give a flying fuck about Malaysian films because they cannot connect with the bloody thing.

For the past 40 or 50 years, Malaysian films have been Malay films - made by Malays, for the Malays. Further on, it became even more stupid and insular - made by rempits, for rempits.

This is why there were only 500,000 people watching these films out of 28 million - we only have 500,000 rempits. And most of them are broke. You have drilled the rempit mines dry, fellow filmmakers.

What is the sense of belonging for a Malay kid from a swamp to watch a movie about depressed white-collar rich yuppies like in Kil?

What kind of empathy an old Chinese kopitiam owner in Triang would have for KL Gangster?

Why would Maniappan Kuppusamy go and watch Lemak Kampung Santan?

Who the fuck gives a shit about your shit?

Nobody gives a fuck about Malaysian movies because Malaysian movies do not give a fuck about them.

The more earthy productions (stuff like Apa Celop Toqq, Jangan Pandang Belakang Series, Strawberi Cinta) always accuse the indie kids of being 'syok sendiri' or self-absorbed. I say the entire fucking industry is fucking self-absorbed.

The producers are self-absorbed. The directors are even more so. Most self-absorbed of them all? Fucking actors. Scriptwriters are the coolest of the bunch. We are meek and mild and polite, and watch this stupid shit parade happening around us and we're like, "Fuck this shit, man!"

Producers always concern themselves with which stars can sell a movie. You can't get any shallower than this. This is the deep pits of Marianna Trench of shallowness.

Yes, there are a group of idiotic monkeys who would go and see a movie simply because a star they like is in that movie. An actor or an actress. But these idiots are also dwindling in numbers. Why? Because they can fulfill their feeling of ownership over a celebrity through other means such as stalking, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Fuck your movie, man, they got an RT from some shitty actress you just paid 100K to do her best failed impression of Kristen Stewart.

Directors and writers - do you believe for an instant people will go to your movies if they think your writing or directing is so great? They don't give a shit about your craft. The audience will go see a movie if there's something in it for them. So fuck you. Nobody gives a shit about you.

The industry is so stupid and self-absorbed, when I ask some people how to do a certain camera trick, they decided not to tell me, because they are so fucking insecure, they believe they only have an edge over me when I do not know just this one trick. Really, our conversation that afternoon was me asking about that trick and the other person just really enjoying the fact that IT knew and I didn't.

Well, guess what, bitches? I got an edge too - it's called Google. Fuck you.

So anyway, back to ownership. Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, all these neighbours, right? Their people have a sense of ownership for their own films. Their films talk about their people, or fulfill a certain need of their people.

When Indonesia did Merah Putih or Japan did Space Yamato or whatever and even when the Koreans did Taegukgi, it wasn't as horribly received as Tanda Putera.

Am I blaming the audience? No. ALL our films that failed, failed being a film at a deeper, basic level - they could not connect with the audience.

None of our films are the voice of a generation - the voice of a few friends, maybe - or something that defined an era. Something that clicked. No. Our films are shallow. Made by shallow people, for shallow people.

You want to know why The Journey broke local Box Office records at over RM17 million? Think it has nothing to do with ownership? A ha!

I heard from sources that the production was done over the course of a year, when they went to all these places to shoot and campaigned for the movie. They managed to get the word out to these communities and convince them it is their story.

I do not know how true this is, but if it is, The Journey was smart enough to open up their production to the people, and went on a year-long promotional campaign. Once you have an audience who believes that the movie is about them, about their story, your opening two weeks would be extra bunk.

Sure, at first it was probably primarily the Chinese audience. Get a crowd going, though, and the Malays and everyone else would come because Malaysians love crowded places. Malaysians always love to party because we are social animals. Except me - I am a robot.

This, coupled with no other good Chinese movie during CNY, and the excellent cinematography, made The Journey the success that it is. I'm most happy with the fact that no actors stole the show. This was not an acting movie. This was about ownership of the story, the product, just like AF.

Anyway, this is what filmmakers need to do now. Pay attention to people. Understand people. Focus on your audience and don't be so dismissive. So many producers whine that audiences are stupid, without realising from my vantage point, all producers and everyone else are like the hairs on my ass. You all look the same to me, you stupid fucking brown Asian monkeys.

Cut out the inside jokes in all your films - nobody gives a fuck. Stop being so self-conscious - nobody gives a shit about you. Nobody gives a flying fuck about you or your stupid movie. How do you make them care?