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April 19, 2024

Malaysia’s Rising Film Industry

After the pandemic, efforts to revive Malaysia’s film industry can be observed. Recent achievements by local filmmakers are a hallmark indicative of the country’s talents. By Ching Wai.

Malaysia - From Tiger Stripes to Michelle Yeoh, films and talents from Malaysia have recently been gaining attention and achieving awards globally. Being a Southeast Asian country with a big geography and rich history, Malaysia promises a diversity in language and culture that can be reflected in its productions.

Malaysia’s films have been sweeping award shows just last year. Amanda Neil Eu’s Tiger Stripes won the Cannes’ Critic’s Week Grand Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. Director Jin Ong’s Abang Adik won three awards at Italy’s Far East Film Festival in March, the Best Performance Award at China’s FIRST Film Festival in July, and the Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film at the New York Asian Film Festival in August. Snow in Midsummer by Chong Keat-Aun, Horrologist directed by Jared Lee, and Barbarian Invasion written, directed, and acted by Tan Chui Mui were some films that received nominations and features at international festivals in 2023.

Despite all its successes, growth of the audiovisual industry in Malaysia has been stunted by strict censorship laws and limited financial support. Local directors weighed in that Malaysia’s censorship board has double standards, as it allows movies with sex and scandal references but blocks those that challenge Malaysia’s status quo. The existence of corruption within the government is no help either - finances that could be distributed to support filmmakers and cultivate talents are instead, lost.

Additionally, Malaysia’s diversity also contributes to a fragmented movie industry and viewership. With Malay Muslims, Chinese, Indian and other minorities in the country speaking different dialects and indigenous languages, production and distribution of films become challenging. All these become significant obstacles for local filmmakers and actors who want to develop their careers. This results in many choosing to leave the country in hopes of better opportunities, like Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon), Henry Golding and Ronny Chieng (both starred in Crazy Rich Asians). Even Michelle Yeoh started her career in Hong Kong before moving to Hollywood and finally winning an Oscar in 2023 for her performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Evidently, there is still a long way to go for Malaysia’s film industry. However, efforts to revive the film industry are slowly emerging. In 2022, Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa talked of exploring cooperation opportunities between film producers and distributors within ASEAN, as well as with China, India and Korea. The minister’s comments came as he visited one of Thailand’s largest film studios, Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH). 

Although the Southeast Asian country lacks acclaim on the international film stage, even when compared to other Asian countries like South Korea, it is encouraging to progressively see more Malaysian talent step up and gain worldwide recognition. These results speak of the untapped strong potential of the country’s film industry. Perhaps this is an encouragement to fellow Malaysian artists struggling in their careers, and a possible incentive for the Malaysian government to invest in the film industry. As Malaysian film director and writer Woo Ming Jin said, “I’m calling out those responsible to take action and save the industry from the mediocrity it is enmeshed in, if they want to progress like the Korean film industry.”

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