Making world class movies
|Aidil Rusli loves rock 'n' roll, still believes in the words "indie" and "underground", and after all these years still sings in his band Couple myspace.com/couple. You can get in touch with Aidil by emailing: [email protected]|
MAY 26 — We’ve always talked of wanting to make world-class films, and spend millions of ringgit trying to get there. As far as I can remember, there have always been Malaysian films with (relatively) huge budgets touted by their makers and the local press as a sort of new milestone; something that we can really be proud of that can rival even Hollywood movies.
It used to be period films, when war movies like “Leftenan Adnan” or “Embun” were given the green light... usually with some sort of government support, with budgets that are quite a fair bit higher than most other Malaysian movies.
Even the incredibly expensive “Puteri Gunung Ledang” and last year’s “Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa” were obviously period pieces, continuing the Malaysian pattern of equating history with prestige.
We’ve spent millions and millions of ringgit throughout the years, even with production and financial support from the authorities, and still we are very far from penetrating the world’s pop culture consciousness in the way that the Thais have done with their far from prestigious action and even horror films.
Ask anyone in the world remotely interested in popular cinema, and chances are they would have heard of Tony Jaa, if not already seen one of his international hits like “Ong Bak” or “Tom Yum Goong”.
They’ve even had their horror film “Shutter” remade in Hollywood, not to mention the remake of “Bangkok Dangerous” starring Nicolas Cage, directed by the Thai directors themselves in America. Of course, the Thais also have their fair share of officially sanctioned period flicks, but at the very least even in that department they’ve done us one better by having “The Legend Of Suriyothai” distributed and presented throughout the world by none other than Francis Ford Coppola himself.
The reason I’m writing this piece, though, is to bring up one very simple point that the Malaysian mainstream film industry as a whole have so far failed to grasp — prestige period pieces are not the only way to get our films out there internationally.
We’ve already had an impressive number of Malaysian arthouse films successfully making the rounds in mostly the second and third tier of international film festivals and very occasionally making the official selection for competition in top tier festivals like Berlin and Venice.
What not many realise is that there’s another way to break through internationally, and it’s through the not very prestigious way of making genre films. Instead of trying to compete with Hollywood blockbusters, which frankly we won’t be able to do because of our weak currency and budgetary constraints, making good genre films require far less money and simply a great deal of creativity and effort. And when you don’t quite have that much money, your creativity and effort is all that you can give.
Martial arts films, horror films, gore films, gangster films, slasher flicks, cheapo sci-fi flicks, zombie movies, shoot-’em-up films, cop films, Westerns, weirdo B-movies, shockers and exploitation films, these are all genre films that, while totally lacking in prestige, have a more than solid international fan base that if you make something worthwhile, you can be damn sure that the fanboys will start talking about it and spread the news like wildfire.
That’s what happened when the Thais stormed the international stage with the Tony Jaa films, with even their substandard fight flicks like “Power Kids” and “Bangkok Knockout” seeing the light of day in countless countries around the world.
About two years ago it looked like the Indonesians picked up on the same trick when they came up with the quite good “Merantau” (renamed Merantau Warrior in some places) and saw it fight its way to theatrical, DVD and even Blu-ray releases around the world. But it was at the end of last year that an even stronger buzz developed around the latest film from the “Merantau” team when they premiered “The Raid” at the Toronto International Film Festival to almost universal acclaim from both film critics and audiences. The film was later sold to Sony Pictures Classics for international distribution and is even set for a US remake in the very near future.
Because it’s looking quite unlikely that the film will make its way to Malaysian cinemas, I impulsively made a day trip down to Singapore just to see it, so that I could see for myself what all the hoopla was about.
And my God, I can safely say that not only is this an awesome genre movie with some of the most astonishing fight sequences you’re likely to see in a long time, it is also quite simply a world class movie in itself, and all for the not so princely sum of slightly a bit more than US$1 million, which is only about slightly more than RM3 million.
So, for only slightly more than RM3 million, the filmmakers made a very tidy profit manifold, as even in the US alone it has already made almost US$4.5 million in theatres, and it’s not even on wide release like normal Hollywood studio films, and back home in Indonesia it’s already scored almost 1.7 million admissions.
Imagine the amount of DVDs and Blu-rays it will shift. The beauty of it all is that it doesn’t even aim too high. It just wants to be an awesomely choreographed fight flick with cinematography and editing to match the skills showcased by the fighters. The story is minimal, but rich enough in emotions for the audience to connect with.
And for not that much money but a lot of thoughtful and honest effort, they’ve not only made a world class movie, but also a bona-fide worldwide hit as well. Kita bila lagi?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist