It’s easy to name amazing movies made by Hollywood. It’s a little harder to name the ones made in your own backyard. Though many of us have probably watched some of these, I’m sure most of us have a couple that we have never watched before. So use this as a checklist for the best Malaysian movies out there that you should watch now! …Or y’know, like after reading and sharing this article 😉
1) Nujum Pak Belalang (1959) by P. Ramlee
I mean after all, how can you not start a list like this off without mentioning the brilliant P. Ramlee who was a consummate actor, director, musician, composer and producer who has appeared in more than 60 films and has directed in more than 30. One of his most memorable film is Nujum Pak Belalang which was a comedy film loosely based off a Malay folk tale which follows the exploits of a lazy villager, Pak Belalang (played by P. Ramlee himself) and his intelligent son Belalang. This first rate comedy and smooth theme song (crooned by P. Ramlee himself) truly encapsulates the spirit of Malaysia and remains such a well-loved classic film till today.
2) The Big Durian (2003) by Amir Muhammad
This raw and provocative documentary looks at racial tensions that were felt greatly in our city of Kuala Lumpur in the late 80s. The documentary spotlights an event that occurred one night in 1987 when a rogue Malay soldier, with an M-16, went on a rampage through the Chow Kit area. The shooting then led to a citywide panic that disrupted business and schools closed for several days. After the event, the police crackdown led to the controversial arrests. The film skilfully blends animations, newspaper clippings, and heartfelt interviews, and remains to be the only Malaysian film to be screen at the Sundance Film Festival.
3) Sepet (2004) by Yasmin Ahmad
Yasmin Ahmad has been such an inspiration to Malaysians for many years, garnering glowing praises both locally and internationally, becoming aspirations to the country’s youngest citizens. What led to her fame was her commercials for Petronas which attracted great praise for highlighting themes such as family and community without being too melodramatic.
Her most famous movie was ‘Sepet’ which tells the story of a romance between a Malay schoolgirl and a young Chinese pirate VCD seller. The film looks at the struggles of interracial romance in the context of two rigid traditional cultures. Though the theme seems serious, there is also some light-hearted moments. Due to it being controversial back then, Sepet was censored by Malaysian authorities until Ahmad herself agreed to make a total of eight cuts to her movie.
4) Rain Dogs (2006) by Yuhang Ho
This movie is set in the bustling backstreets and seedy pool halls of Kuala Lumpur, painting a harrowing picture of life on the outskirts. The movie follows a 19-year-old protagonist who suffers a series of unfortunate events that causes his life to rapidly unravel. Yasmin Ahmad also plays a part in this film as the protagonist’s aunt who brings an optimistic influence to the movie, representing stability and compassion. Rain Dogs is definitely for those who love serious cinema.
5) The Journey (2014) by Chiu Keng Guan
The Journey is currently the highest grossing film in Malaysia which showcases an uplifting story about overcoming cultural barriers and the importance of family… and hot air-ballooning. The story follows Uncle Chuan’s daughter who came back abroad with a British fiancé. Since Uncle Chuan is very traditional, he opposes to the union and from then the fiancé tries his best to get Uncle Chuan’s blessing. The Journey was awarded Best Non-Malay Language Local Film and Best Cinematography at the 27th Malaysian Film Festival whilst Uncle Chuan’s actor, Sai Peng Lee, was awarded Best Actor at the festival.
6) Ola Bola (2016) by Chiu Keng Guan
This recent local movie highlighting football during Malaysia’s glory days. Ola Bola is set somewhere during the 70s and 80s, showcasing Harimau Malaya’s team’s struggles and strengths both on and off the field. The movie had a winning storyline that affected netizens all around Malaysia whilst receiving high praise on social media. Of course, this helped the movie a lot, earning the movie RM8 million in sales within just 13 days of release.
7) Jagat (2015) by Shanjhey Kumar Perumal
The title is a slang derived from the Malay word ‘jahat’, which loosely means ‘bad’. This crime drama film was set in the early 90s, a critical period in malaysian Indian history and shows a coming-of-age story whilst also looking at the plight of Indian Malaysians who were forsaken by the estate owners, forced to move into cities and live under harsh circumstances. The story follows a mischievous 12-year-old boy and his relationships with his father and 2 uncles; a former drug-addict and local gangster. The film had won the Best Malaysian Film Award in the 28th Malaysia Film Festival in 2016 with its director winning an award for Best Director.