Not 1, not 2, but 15Malaysia.

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio: Howl be thy name.

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For the past month, I am sure a lot of you have caught wind about 15Malaysia, a Malaysian filmmakers showcase, that has been taking the country by storm (I’m such a punny cliche, heh).

I will not deny that Malaysian-produced films have been more of a disappointment to me, rather than of standing ovations. When they announced the 15Malaysia project back in August, I did not really mind too much about it. Checked out a few trailers, sure, but it did not make me go whee. Maybe I was afraid this is going to be another roll of badly orchestrated films.

But I was glad it is not. As days go by, I slowly became alright with the local talents. So much so that I had a brief moment when I am actually proud of what we have. For the past few weeks, my mornings in the office started off with something new to look forward to besides the day’s news and instant Nescafe.

Here is my take on the short films.

#1 Potong Saga by Ho Yuhang
15Malaysia premiered on a right note with this first showcase. A Chinese guy, due to the world economic downfall, goes through an unnecessary circumcision to get himself eligible for an Islamic bank account because of misguided information regarding the application from three Chinese ah peks.

It was definitely a laugh-out-loud film to watch, and to kick start the series in a more lighthearted note. Also, I always find Chinese speaking in that twang amusing. Heh.

Note to self: never get information from all around, especially Chinese ah peks. Go straight to the information counter. Heh.

#2 The Son by Desmond Hong
I like this film because the angle is quite refreshing. It’s told from the perspective of a Chinese boy who paid witness to a racial dispute gone wrong. One of those good-guys-turn-bad-at-a-bad-time kind of scenario. It’s also one of those stories that keep the audience glued as they gradually unveil the big picture. Textbook storyline to follow, but they did well on it.

The human interaction shown between the father and son seems to be quite realistic to me. How they would dodge the pink elephant in the room by talking about the son’s exam results and helping out in the father’s store.

#3 One Future by Tan Chui Mui
This is my favourite out of the bunch. Immediately, I caught the similar whiff to George Orwell’s 1984, and I kind of liked it. It shows an extreme situation in the future when the government takes full charge of the country. Despite their goodwill providing jobs and homes to the citizens, even assigning people to different families everyday without regards of the startling racial difference, the latter has no freedom to go against the government with something as simple as speaking.

Pete Teo’s narration is an eerie one in the introduction: “The future. Life is perfect. The government loves everyone. It takes care of everyone.” Note the ‘it’ pronoun for ‘the government’. Although halfway through the tone gets a little humourous, but the message is all the same on high alert for all.

A pretty simple take, yet all the same informative. Well done.

#4 Meter by Benji & Bahir
This can also easily be a favourite. Another comedic piece from the collection, which features Malaysian politician Khairy Jamaluddin, whom, I must admit, put on quite a good act for this film. He did a good portrayal of the typical Malaysians’ attitude towards everything around them, how there is always something to complain about for both sides of the coin. And how we are just a bunch of big talks.

And the passengers he picked up are the few minority in the population that have to put up with the typical Malaysians in all sorts of way – whether if it is getting bashed, telling them off, or simply just walking away. I like it how Baki Zainal, the second taxi passenger, told Khairy’s character off when he confronted the passenger for speaking English when he is a Malay.

There are a couple of films that deserve some honourable mentions. One of them is House by Linus Chang. Despite the acting being not so great, there is a wonderful metaphor going on when the kids smashed Rama’s prototype house and when the constructors came to tear down his house with his mother watching on.

I thought Linus’ work wore a coat much alike to Yasmin Ahmad’s works, what with the pulling of emotional strings. So, who knows, maybe he may be the one to carry on the torch.

Suleiman Brothers’ Rojak! deserves an honourable mention too because of the CGI special effects. As the rojak seller explains how Malaysia is pretty much like the rojak he makes, everything around him goes bam-bam-bam. The protests, the snatch theft, the bullying, the discrimination… every bad that holds the country together like the thick curry he coats atop the many ingredients.

It is one of those shit-happens-to-us-but-at-least-we’re-still-together kind of films, so yeah. It gets overplayed sometimes.

A good half of the collection is made up from a humourous aspect, such as Halal, Slovak Sling and Healthy Paranoia, which also carries a more serious undertone on how we view the country. I guess people tend to take things in more when it is funny. Films like The Tree, Lumpur and Gerhana, tend to get a little boring but the messages are still as alarming.

Chocolate, one of Yasmin Ahmad’s last works, still uses the same characteristics the Malaysian legend has been using since day one. Racial differences – mainly between Chinese and Malay – and the unchangeable view that still prevails after the May 13 riot. It did not do well for me, because it was too open-ended. It left me hanging, much like Yasmin’s sudden death a few months back.

I appreciate Nam Ron’s boldness for Lollipop to open his film with a paedophile masturbating to young innocent children in his little room, but other than that, his metaphoric intention was not as clear as House, and it took some time to link the pedophilia to the Zambry/Nizar political battle. At first glance, the latter seems to be thrown in just for the sake of being involved with the country’s current affairs.

Johan John’s Duit Kecil was probably the least catchy one from the bunch for me. A man visiting the whore house with no small change, and ended up holding a conversation with the prostitutes. Meh.

All in all, 15Malaysia is a collection worthy to be stashed on your shelf. So, well done, Pete Teo and Packet One Networks for spearheading this project. As well as the 15 directors of this series. We may have hope yet.

If ever some day Packet One were to release a DVD of them, be sure to head out there and get a copy. Or, you can do it the Malaysian way – get a ciplakversion, or pirate it off the net. Heh.

You can still head on over to 15Malaysia’s website to check out all the short films, or if Streamyx has been a bitch to download the videos, you can watch them all in one shot at TimeOut KL’s Free Flicks event on September 27, 2009 (Sunday) at the Annexe Gallery. More info here.

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