Sunday, August 31, 2008


Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! 51 years of it. And through the eyes of filmmakers, what do we have to show for it? Nothing much. What about patriotic-themed movies?
I don't know. The local critics, the television stations and the government at large always seem to want (usually around August) a plethora of patriotic-themed movies. What the heck is a patriotic themed movie?
Was Shuhaimi Baba's 1957: Hati Malaya a patriotic movie?Was Embun? How about Paloh? Maybe Leftenan Adnan? How about Bukit Kepong?
Let's first try to understand the word 'patriotism'. This is what Wikipedia had to say:

Patriotism is commonly defined as the love for or devotion to one's country. The word comes from the Latin patria, and Greek patris, πατρίς.[1] However, "patriotism," or the love of one's country, has come to have different meanings over time. Thus, the meaning of patriotism can be highly dependent upon context, geography and philosophy.
Although patriotism is presently used in certain vernaculars as a synonym for nationalism, nationalism is not considered an inherent part of patriotism.
Many contemporary notions of patriotism are influenced by 19th century ideas about nationalism. During the 19th century, "being patriotic" becomes increasingly conflated with nationalism, and even jingoism.[9] However, some notions of contemporary patriotism reject nationalism in favor of a more classic version of the idea of patriotism which includes social responsibility.

And the dictionary says:
patriot |ˈpātrēət|
1 a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.

Does this help you in identifying patriotic movies?
I don't really know. In Malaysia, when you talk about patriotic themed movies - the authorities seem to have narrowed down to stories about the fight against the communists (Bukit Kepong), the British or the Japanese (Embun and Paloh) and anything to do with achieving Merdeka (hence Shuhaimi's 1957 has become the quintessential patriotic movie).

Nevertheless, I'm still not satisfied. I'm sure, patriotism and nationalism can be imbued in any genre of cinema. I try to. Inject a little bit of patriotism here and there. A little subtext. A little innuendo.

To me, patriotism in huge doses may work against the movie.

And war movies do not equate patriotism. If it is, can one consider the jingoistic TV series Combat a series that promote patriotism? Was Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan a patriotic movie? Or maybe Mel Gibson's The Patriot?
These are all war movies. Albeit some are actually anti-war movies. Hardly patriotic.
To me, even a contemporary movie can be patriotic. Or a comedy. Horror? Maybe (I once caught a movie about disgruntled dead soldiers going back to the US to vote against their Government). It is the underlying message that is important - the message that can be muted by overkill or a message so subtle that it can be very effective. This depends on the screenplay and on the director's skill in making the movie work.
My choice of most patriotic movie ever made in Malaysia?
That's a tough one. I don't remember seeing a Malay movie that upon watching it makes me feel full of pride at being a Malaysian. If you know of any, please tell me.
Anyway, to all true Malaysians - I wish all of you A Happy Merdeka Day!

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