Thursday, February 5, 2009


Movies have been known to push political agenda of individuals and also countries. For example in the early 40s and 50s – Hollywood churned out movies with the Nazis and Germans as the evil force to world peace. Before that, in the good guy bad guy genre, the white man had the Red Indians as the main screen culprit or foe.

After the war, and with the communist Russians playing havoc with world geopolitics, they then became canon fodder for Hollywood. I believe, the communists were the most easiest and most convenient enemies to create for most Hollywood movies. Not even the Chinese communists were spared as films like The Manchurian Candidate showed how devious the Chinese were or are in trying to destabilize world politics.

The Japanese too weren’t forgotten. If not the Nazis, the slanted devious Japanese stereotypical character became quite a cliché in many Hollywood movies using the Pacific as its canvas. The American Green Berets and the GI Joe’s were the saviors of world peace.

After the cold war, and the so-called death of international espionage, the commies began a slow cinematic death. So who were the next villains in Hollywood’s list? For a while, it was the drug lords from Columbia, and then it was the Mafia.

The Korean War also allowed the Hollywood dreams machine to make more war movies with a new Asian enemy, but somehow that wasn’t as attractive to the moviegoers as they cannot seem to fathom the threat of the North Koreans.

Vietnam began and the Hollywood producers smiled with glee. The unpopular war became their favourite war theme.

The Vietcong became a household word for a truly ruthless group. The Americans were there in Vietnam to fight for peace – to prevent Asia falling to the Domino Principle – one country after the other. The communists again has come to the fore as cinema's most favourite and durable foe.

Then the Vietnam War ended, and the Vietcong became passé. Even Rambo had to forget fighting the Vietcong and help the Mujahideen fight the Russians (back again) in his third outing.

I believe, Rambo 3, was one of the first times Hollywood introduced the Mujahideens to cinema screens. At that moment in time, because the Russians were the bad guys, the US was still friendly with the Mujahideens and they were partners in the fight for freedom.

So, when the Vietnam War ended, and the communist threat fell by the wayside after the fall of Berlin Wall and the CCCP Empire, who shall Hollywood turn to for new bad guys?

The terrorists!!

Yes, they were ideal villains. Especially when they attacked and killed Israelis during the Munich Olympics.

So, the terrorists became the flavor of the month. But note – terrorism has not yet been made synonymous with Islam extremism. This is because terrorism in Europe was the tactics used by IRA and Baaden Meinhof gangs and not the Al Qaeda.

Pre-Al Qaeda Muslim terrorists in the movies were basically radicals from PLO.

Of course, 9/11 became that catalyst for Hollywood. When that happened, Islamic terrorists and Islamic extremism were fair game and instantly became the new and most durable movie bad guy for Hollywood. Even TV has made Islamic terrorists as their favourite bad guy with series like Sleeper Cell and 24 giving Islam (extremists) a very bad rep. Case in point – The Siege, The Peacemaker and True Lies.

However, I am not slighting Hollywood at all for its current ‘anti-Islam’ stance – its makes money, makes good drama and gung-ho Americans, already inundated by one sided media reports of Muslims as the world’s worse people, readily lap up what they dish out.

Remember Kingdom of Heaven? The lavish Crusades and Islam movie directed by Ridley Scott? The movie was so sympathetic to Saladin, the it left a bad taste in Western moviegoers so much so that it did not do good box office.

(Note: One can wonder what has happened to the multi-million Ringgit animated movie Saladin or Sallahuddin produced by MDEC. Maybe they cannot sell the movie to a Western market who do not want to see the Crusaders as bad guys and a Muslim hero like Saladin).

Especially when you know who controls Hollywood – the ‘bergs and the ‘steins.

Hollywood is not the only film industry that create and fictionalise enemies from other countries as a threat to their national security. Other film industries around the world also create convenient enemies in their movies.

The Indians cannot be blamed if they make movies with anti-Pakistani themes. The South Koreans too cannot be condemned if the war movies they make portray the North Koreans look like the really bad guys the world media make them to be.

I am sure, if there is a political Palestinian movie produced, they too would make the Israelis as the bad guys. And who can blame them?

"Now, this is where I consider Malaysians as cinematic cowards. We are so politically correct that we cannot make movies that belittle or accuse other countries of doing bad things. No? If you exclude historical movies, you try naming me one movie that has a villain with foreign origins.

Unless it is a war movie, we can show the Japanese being bad guys. That’s it. Its history, so it’s safe. However, if we were to make a contemporary fictional piece that slanders any other country, that’s a no-no. It doesn't matter if Hollywood has in a few movies refer to our country is various unsavory ways.

Is there anyone out there who is willing to produce a movie that shows a thriller about American Intelligence undermining and orchestrating our political arena?

Can we make a movie showing how Singapore’s version of CIA, infiltrating Malaysia’s corporate world in order to control our country’s economy?

Can we make a movie showing Thailand army’s atrocities in Southern Thailand and a group of concerned Malaysians going to Yala to help Southern Thai Muslims fight such atrocities?

Are we allowed to make a fictional movie about the Indonesian government knowingly allowing criminals, including Muslim radicals and extremists, to illegally enter our country to wreck havoc on our social fabric, much like what Castro did when he sent criminals to the US to do exactly the same thing?

Can we do that? Remember, this is fiction okay? So, we are basically taking cinematic liberty to make our country’s neighbours or another country as bad guys.

Is there a rule that says we cannot have Singaporeans, Thais, Indons or even Americans as the bad guy in our movies? How can we make conspiracy movies if we cannot have a viable and a believable foreign villain in our movie?

If Hollywood can turn the face of Muslims into something villainous why not Muslims do the same? It’s not as if all Americans are nice guys.

I remember once making a telemovie for RTM (about ten years ago) called Yazan. I wanted to do a CIA or spy movie that I haven’t seen anyone do for local TV (it was also a kind of tribute to my father's secret agent movie Gerak Kilat which starred Jins Shamsudin as Jefri Zain). Yazan, played by Ebby Saiful, is supposed to be an agent of a special counter-terrorist task force unit that is so secret no one officially acknowledges its assistance.

Yazan was assigned to protect a Muslim leader from the Philippines, who was in Malaysia in discussions with Malaysian leaders. Obviously, there is a party that wants to assassinate the Filipino Muslim leader on Malaysian soil and create an international incident and also to embarrass Malaysia for hosting negotiations with a man who is leading a Muslim uprising in the Philippines.

Sofea Jane, plays a Filipino secret agent (I can’t remember her character’s name) assigned to protect this Muslim leader. Both agents had to work together to identify and neutralise the threat.

The telemovie was rejected outright by RTM because it contains too many politically incorrect subject matters.

I was quite shattered as I had spent quite a lot of money on the production including importing proper movie ammunition and hiring authentic movie guns and rifles for the action sequences. I did this because I read somewhere that John Woo gives each of his characters a unique gun-flash colourand sound. I wanted to do that, and only with special movie ammo can we get the correct gun-flash. Each bullet was about RM8 so we were actually counting the number of shots in the movie.

However, we showed it to TV3 and they wanted it but with slight changes. We must take out all audio references to the Philippines. We did that.

Since then I never ventured into that genre again, just in case it gets rejected. So I am a coward.

Nevertheless, when are we going to to be brave enough to do that kind of movies or TV series? Don’t you think it’ll be change from the current storylines you see in the cinemas and TV? Or are we all afraid?

1 comment:

loong said...

We are not cowards, but do we have support should we embark on such an ideas!Story line must always have 2 things! 1) a beginning and an end 2) a hero and a villain!
What happens in the story is the composition and it is the ideas that make the audience wanting to look forward to seeing the movies!
What make a Film a Box Office?
A Show which is unique,good story line and plenty of ACTIONS!
If you do not have these, forget it! A B grade film sometimes do get to box office but not most of the time!If you want to make a good movies, following RTM and FINAS guideline, forget it! Your audience is restrictive and definitely not box office! I have once watch a local produced Film by am Independent Malaysian Filmmaker screening in Bandar 1Utama GSC , sad to say I was the only audience in the cinema at that screening!
Are we cinematic Cowards?