Sunday, March 29, 2009


I didn't read any of the pre-publicity stuff for the Nicholas Cage movie Knowing, which is last week's number one movie in the US. But from the trailer, I thought it would be somewhat interesting.
So, I caught it yesterday, and boy, there' are gapes and holes in this movie that trucks and buses can go through - maybe even a jumbo jet.
The story begins just over fifty years ago, when an elementary school decides to seal a time capsule as part of their school anniversary celebration. When students were asked to draw the future to be included in the capsule, one Lucinda wrote instead a series of numbers.
Fast forward 50 years later, a scientist and mathematician, John Koestler, is a single dad who has lost his faith because of the death of his wife a year before in a fire, and his son Caleb is a student who studies in the same elementary school mentioned before.
Caleb wears a hearing aid even though he is not deaf - this is because he hears whispers that bothers him. The same kind of whispering that Lucinda heard 50 years earlier.
The time capsule is finally opened and the students are each given the sealed envelopes, and of course, Lucinda's envelope ends up in Caleb's hands.
At home, John, who looks like suffering from insomnia, got curious and tried to make something out of the paper with numbers on it. Within minutes, a random series of numbers he chose from the paper coincided with the date and number of deaths of the infamous 9/11 incident. John is either a genius or a damn lucky mathematician.

The numbers it seems also predicts the date for the next disasters to come.
He tells another friend of his (an astronomer I think) about this, and as usual, as friends are in this kind of movies, they are sceptical. Whilst, most numbers synchronised with climactic events throughout the last fifty years, there are numbers in between that somehow John couldn't figure out. From a genius, he suddenly became an idiot.
Until of course, whilst driving, he saw his GPS and realised that the numbers that he couldn't figure out were global positioning numbers. And of course, the minute he discovered that the numbers were just that, he is actually on the same spot when the disaster happens.
To keep a long story short, he tries to find out more about the girl who wrote the numbers, and found a connection between the numbers, the whispering in his son's ears and a strange albino man who stands around at night ominously at their house.
From an ok and maybe suspenseful end of the world treatise, the movie veers unexpectedly and rather clumsily into sci-fi territory. I nearly screamed in disgust. Come on, Alex (the director). Don't hand me a cop out of a movie ending. This is just plain ridiculous.
I don't know whether the movie is just one big propaganda for Chistendom or even maybe Scientology, but the whole final act was to me disastrous. I could hear moans of disgust and laughter from the audience when this happened. I won't tell you what it is.
However, the parts that I like were the special effects - great aircrash and subway disaster sequences accompanied by solid sound effects and of course the final end of world sequence. I bet the SFX creators must have rubbed their hands with glee when given the task of destroying the earth. However, the best trick of all was to make Melbourne look like an American city.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


No I am not going to break out into the Abba song hit. Yesterday, in Finas, the Malaysian's Film Directors' Association (FDAM) organised a talk with SME Bank and FINAS about the funding available from the SPFC (Skim Pinjaman Filem Cereka or the Feature Film Loan Scheme).
This fund has been in existence for sometime now and they have basically doled out RM35 million of a RM50 million fund to help producers fund their feature films.
The turn out was surprising big with many new producers present.
You can find out more about the scheme from FINAS's website at
I personally disagree to many of the scheme's process of giving out the money. But it is nevertheless commendable allowing a loan to be given without collateral but with only director's personal guarantee and available twice in a company's lifespan.
The maximum available for each application is RM1.5 million.
However, at the discourse yesterday, a few producers conplained about aspects of the loan that I did not know about.
One particular person was this non-Malay producer whose approval was given by Finas. She said she was surprised that though Finas has approved her application in which she cited she was to direct the movie, the loan committee demanded that she instead select a director who has previously made a movie that has collected more than RM1.5 million in box office takings.
I find this particularly unfair to young first time directors or directors who make good movies that do not overwhelmed the box office statistics.
Instead of fighting for her right to direct her first movie, she kowtowed to this stupid 'rule' and has appointed Pierre Andre to direct her movie so that she can just begin production.
Another producer also pointed another clause that I did not know of (I do not know much of the approval clauses because I haven't applied nor receive any financial aids from the SPFC scheme).
This producer mentioned that it is quite exasperating that he has to be charged RM250 for every change he makes on the script that was approved. These include location and artistes.
I really don't know the justification behind this clause but to me it's just a stupid one.
These people don't realise that production is very much a dynamic entity - things do change - including sets, locations, people involved including artistes.
What the bank told him was that he needs to write in for dispensation citing reasons for the change to avoid being charged for the changes that occur.
I am now thinking twice about applying for the fund. A fund that is approved by a bunch of people who has receives no repercussion (except maybe the bank) if the project or people they approve make movies that either don't sell or of questionable quality.
As for me, I just gave Finas a piece of my mind because to me they are acting very much like ah longs - ready to give money to desperate producers but not doing anything else to help the final product succeed. Once the film fails, they just want the money back. However, what they fail to do was that they do not help these producers to promote local films domestically - no events like Jom Heboh!, no aggressive marketing strategy to help local movies get noticed by the film going public and such. Yet they spend hundreds of thousands, maybe millions a year attending markets and festivals around the world - Berlin, Las Vegas, Cannes, Hongkong and other other festival they deem important enough to secure potential markets for Malaysian movies. Yeah right. Whilst chasing rainbows, they allow their own products to die in their own backyard.


I am sure most of you have heard of the Earth Day initiative, where at a certain time very soon, you are to save energy by switching off anything electrical for one hour. This action is synchronised worldwide. Even a local TV station is getting into the act and will switch off transmission for one WHOLE hour. Are you going to do your bit to save the Earth?
I have to say this - most probably I won't. While all of you may be doing the idealistic thing by switching off for an hour, the industrialised countries, the massive factories in US, Europe and maybe even China, the traffic which emits Earth threatening emissions, the oil rigs which rapes the earth to gain access to petroleum will carry on.
I know it is a noble effort, but why one hour? Why only this hour in a month or year? Why not an hour every week for a year? Why not a whole day once a year? Maybe this is just a PR effort for most multi-national companies who just need a social event to show the public that they are concerned citizens of Earth.
Let me tell you this, the Balinese is already doing this every year. The Balinese understand the need to commune with nature. And they do it every year when celebrating their new year called Nyepi.
On this day, they observe nearly total abstinence from noise and aut0mobiles and light.
The whole island literally shuts down for a whole day. No partying, no clubbing, no watching movies, no shops opened, nothing. Total silence and relaxation.
And here we are making a big deal about saving Earth by shutting down one hour.
If only we were to follow the Balinese and walk the talk.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I hear with much dismay and shock a rumor that said RTM is destroying their old video archives for various reasons including the videotapes are fungus ridden and also because of space constraints.
If this is true, it is a sad day for all broadcasters and filmmakers who have made a living for the past 40 years in RTM. If their products, which were archived, are destroyed, there will be no trace left of their contribution to the industry.
I have given my own concerns to RTM about this matter a few times.
I believe archival material to be considered as heritage - a valuable one at that.
BBC and other TV stations put billion-dollar value to their archives. For example, Shaw Brothers archive was sold for millions to a company called Celestial Pictures, a company believed to be part of Tan Sri Ananda's vast media empire.
Imagine news archive, drama archives of popular 70s programmes, musicals programmes, interviews and other materials - all of them somewhere in RTM's vast video vault. Imagine the value of this archive. Yet, no one knows how to exploit them at all.
The problem may also lie in the video format. Video recording began as 2 inch C or B video formats, and then went smaller with the advent of the 3/4 inch Umatic format which was upgraded to the HiBand format. And then came the Beta SP mode which lasted quite sometime until digital Beta arrived. Now, video has gone leaps and bounds with true HD technology including Blue Ray disc recording technology. Also I must not forget to mention the vast productions done on 16mm celluloid well before video technology became affordable to producers.
The machines that play back these formats may be obsolete, but this is no excuse to destroy the materials. RTM should have these old playback machines up and running and transfer all the old archived materials into digital format - tape, optical or harddisk. These digital formats do not self destruct easily, have long shelf life and hardly takes any space.
Once digitised, once the video images data are embedded, searching for videos and images are just a click away from a computer console.
Once that is done, the archives has value - you can resell the stuff - to universities doing research, to private sector who needs various images and for themselves by reediting old materials and releasing it to the open market. For example, I am sure thousands will buy a special edition of Sudirman's appearances on RTM's programmes. I am also sure there are many fans of old TV hits like my TV series Gado Gado.
Furthermore, by doing these, the producers will be earning royalty from past works (that is if RTM feels it is morally right to pay producers for programmes they resell to ancillary markets). However, the ultimate reason for doing so, is that the videos and images are there for all time.
If the Information Minister reads this post, I do hope he takes measures to prevent this from happening. If RTM doesn't want the old video tapes, I do....give it to me. For RM1, the price of what a foreign firm paid for Lotus to Proton, I will take all the video tapes RTM doesn't want. I know what to do with them.


Most end-of-the-world film fans are waiting with baited breath Roland Emmerich's latest opus 2012 - an apocalyptic movie based on the belief that the world will end on the 21st of December 2012 - the date of the last day of the Mayan Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.
I've always been fascinated by the filmmakers' vision of post-world war three or end-of-the-world movies, amongst which comes movies like Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, I am Legend, The Day After Tomorrow and The Last Man On Earth.
No filmmaker in Malaysia has envisioned a bleak future through their lenses.
I would wonder how Kuala Lumpur would look like in movies such as these.
Yesterday I went location hunting and saw these ruins. I think, Kuala Lumpur would look like this if and when the apocalypse comes.
The scene is frightening, sad and yet, very very intriguing. What say you? Should it be about time for a Malaysian filmmaker to make a movie about the End of Days?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Copyright is something most people in the film industry takes for granted. Heck...most producers in the business actually don't give a shit about copyright or intellectual property. Legal aspects in this industry is basically non existent. Contracts are non-biding pieces of paper. As a worker working on a project, there's hardly a contract signed. You'd be lucky if the producer even covers your ass with insurance during a shoot.
And i don't see much change in the near future unless FINAS demands that production companies upgrade their management skills and administration.
Meanwhile, as a writer, my ideas are supposed to be sacrocanct. Unfortunately, stealing ideas is part of the industry here. Therefore, it is crucial that writers like me have various stop gap methods to prove that my ideas and concepts are mine.
I will from now on post all my concepts and proposal online dated and confirmed. Therefore if a certain TV station comes out with a show or concept that is similar to my idea, I will sue their pants. These guys pay thousands and millions to foreigners to borrow ideas and series like Who Wants To be A Millionaire and Dancing With The Stars, and yet they don't blink an eyelid when they steal an idea from a local writer and rehash it without paying the creator a single sen.
I hope other writers do the same - post their scripts in various script banks online or create a drop box and put your scripts in there because it is digitally dated.
To the other producers, buck up. People have legal rights. It would also be in beneficial for you to start doing things legally and with a paper trail - contracts, insurance, accounts and billings.
It may cost you a little bit more, but in the end, it ultimately helps improve the industry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Most friends know I go crazy over Singapore food. No, no, most Singapore food is not better than food in Malaysia, but some of the dishes are those that I grew up with. So maybe I am not objective when it comes to things like Singapore nasi lemak, kacang phool, mee rebus, murtabak, sup tulang or sumsum and nasi beriyani.
If and when I go down to Singapore, I really don't care who I am with or what my schedule is, nothing can stop me from making a beeline to Arab Street to get my dose of Singapore murtabak at either Zamzam or Victory restaurant.
So imagine when I found out that Victory Restaurant actually has an outlet in Subang all these months without me knowing it.
I was a llittle bit ambivalent as the last time a Singapore restaurant opened an outlet in Kuala Lumpur it failed miserably - this was of course the Islamic Restaurant which opened and closed down in Mid Valley some years ago.
So, this morning, I decided to go a seek out this Victory restaurant with my wife. I found it easily in USJ as a friend told me that it was adjacent to the Ayam Penyet restaurant and Pizza vs Satay restaurant and near the USJ Mosque.

It was empty. Not a good sign for a restaurant.
But the menu was tempting - all that I liked about Singapore food was there - Lontong, Kacang Phool, Soto Ayam, Sup Tulang Merah, Murtabak and Beriyani was there. Surprisingly, it also served Nasi Padang (accept on Sundays and Mondays).
I ordered the murtabak daging and the nasi beriyani ayam. Puteh, my wife, ordered Murtabak Sardin.

The murtabak looked good. But unlike the Singapore style which the cook 'destroys' the murtabak into innumerable pieces, here they served it flat and sliced. Like in Singapore, the murtabak comes with the cucumber slices dipped in sourish tomota sauce. Curry and dhal were also served - but true Singaporeans or ex-Singaporeans only eat the murtabaks with the cucumber and tomota sauce and not with the curry.
My take on this murtabak? It is 70-80 percent as good as the Singapore murtabak. The flour is not as tender or moist as the ones in Singapore - maybe a mite too thin and too crispy, but it gets my seal of approval anyway I would go again without much persuasion as I just love this kind of murtabak.

The beriyani ayam is also quite good. Eaten with the acar timun, it can be a great and simple lunch for most. Oh yes, don't forget to try the Air Bandung Ice Cream Soda....sweet and heavenly.
I would recommend this restaurant to all those who crave Arab street food. Slightly pricey but at least it is in Ringgit and not Singdollars.


The organising committee of the inaugural Celebrity Golf Tournament.
On the soggy Saturday morning, at the Tropicana Golf resort, about 120 golfers, mainly entertainment and sports celebrities, plus some media and corporate personalities, participated in the Celebrity Golf Tournaments. Sponsored by amongst others Astro, Berita Harian, Syabar and Tropicana, the charity event was great fun for most but not for me and I looked more at ease hacking and digging the fairways and rough for earthworms instead of hitting the golf ball towards the intended target. My swing is still on vacation so I guess I was there just to make up the numbers. Amongst the celebrities that turned up to play were Harun Salim Bachik, Riezman, Hattan, Ijoi, Dato' Ahmad Tarmimi, Dato' Tengku Annuar Musaddad, Zul Yahya, Thorpe Ali, Betty Banafe, Nancy Foo, Wendy Wong and Ahmad Idham. Sports guys include Khalid Ali and Dollah Salleh. Other guests include Dato' Hishamuddin Aun, David Teoh, Khalid Maulud and Dato Shamsuddin.
The monies collected were for various charities, including a donation to ailing actor M. Rajoli. During lunch, the participants were treated to entertainment by Fredo, Hattan and Betty.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


The event held three times a year in Yogyakarta called the Sekaten and Garebeg always blows my mind. It attacks all senses. Sights, smells, sounds and even the soul. It is after all a holy celebration to mark the Maulud, the Haj and the Eid Fitr.
This is my second time. The first time, I didn't really know what I was in for. This time I did. I was there early for the Sekaten on the eve of Maulud.

I knew that after Isyak prayers, the Sultan (HB X) would come with his magnificent entourage to bless the two ancient gamelan sets - Kiai Gunturmadu and Kiai Kaliwacina - and then throw offerings (rice and coins) to the peoples of his land. Later, he and his retinue would retire to the Masjid Ghede to listen to stories and sermons about the Prophet Muhammad.

How big is this event? Just to walk through the alun-alun would be a nightmarish experience for Monk. You would have to pass through a huge funfare and pasar malam, slowly pushing yourselfe through thousands of bodies to get to the masjid ghede that evening.
I believe that at that moment in time, when the Sultan appears from the Kraton to the mosque, there should be more than 250,000 people.
The next morning, at the Kraton, as early as six, people would have made a beeline to the kraton to catch the colorful Garebeg ceremony - a thousands soldiers amrching through the kraton, through the alun-alun and right to the Prabu Pakualaman kraton a few kilometers away, carrying offerings called the Gunungan (made of vegetables and other edible stuff).
For the uninformed, the Sekaten is a ceremony to commemorate the role the Gamelans had in converting the unbelievers to Islam during the rule of the Mataram kings. The gamelan was used to attract and entertain the citizens who would come to listen to the performance. After the performances, sermons were held and people were converted on the spot and told to recite the Kalimah Shahadah or Syahadaten (in javanese). This term is shorten to become Sekaten.
Since then, every year, the Gamelan is taken out of the kraton to be played and performed in public. On Maulud, the gamelan comes out seven days earlier and is palyed every night until the day of the Maulud.
The ceremony is unique, its colorful and its truly unforgettable.

Anyway, if you do go to Yogya and miss these festivals, there's always the short trip to Prambanan or Borobudur. That too would make the journey memorable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I really do not have to write much about this Jazz festival. Regarded as one of the WORLD's top jazz or music festival, it is an experience for all live music fans. Though some critics have said that this festival is pandering to popular music more than jaza aficionados, I beg to differ. Yes, there's hip hop artistes, pop artistes and even r&b and dance artistes. But there's also a section on world music plus the top quality jazz performers like Dianne Reeves, Laura Fygi and New York Voices. For the in-generation there's Jason Mraz.
For me, I go to listen to the selection of Indonesian musicians on display. At no point in time each year, except maybe at the up-n-coming JakJazz festival, can you savor live music from Indonesia's best.
Below is one such artiste who performed on one of the many stages at the Jakarta Convention on the first day. He's Joeniar Arief. He's more of a R&B dance performer. Unfortunately, where he performed, the sound system isn't that good.
I also caught a glimpse of Gigi's lead guitarist, Dewa Budjana, who is also earning a reputation as a top jazz guitarist. I could tell you more, but really, you should just make it a MUST to go attend this festival or if not JakJazz. It really is worth your time and money if you are a fan of good music. Below is one of Joeniar Arief's many music videos available at YouTube.

The above is a clip of Dewa Budjana at one of his earlier concerts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Internationally, not many foreign language (non-English) films make it big outside their own borders. Chinese movies whilst they cater to a huge global market - the market is still the Chinese-speaking market and not the English speaking market who despises subtitled movies. In recent memory, only Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon managed to attract non-Chinese language markets - including the US.
Even when the Japanese film industry was at its peak, they too find it difficult to penetrate Western screens - their movies only available for viewing at selected cinemas that screen art house movies. Even Kurosawa's movies wasn't a global or commercial hit internationally. Their reach was achieved mostly through videos (firstly through Betamax and VHS, later Laserdiscs and now DVDs).
When a movie does attract Western interest like Ring-O, or Ju On, or My Sassy Girl, the Western producers would rather just buy the rights and remake the movie in English with commercial Hollywood artistes. Sometimes, the remakes are virtually scene-for-scene and shot-for-shot identical.
Indian movies? Again they are shown only through speciality cinemas. Slumdog Millionaire was not an Indian movie - it is an English movie.
So, these are movies from established markets and filmmakers. Kurosawa, Ang Lee, Tsai Ming Liang, Johnny To, Andrew Lau, Wong Kar Wai. Yet their movies cannot penetrate the global market like the way Hollywood movies do.
The thing is, today, FINAS launched the theme for our national film festival for 2009. And the theme is Malaysian Films Going International.
I'm not going to belittle our filmmakers. I believe there are filmmakers amongst us who are capable of making movies of a standard that we can be proud of and not ashamed of to screen at festivals around the world. But to think that Malaysian films can do better at the international market when films from Korea, Japan, China, Hongkong, India, Thailand, Indonesia are still struggling to make an impact on international commercial screens, I just don't know what to think lah.
We cannot even attract our own citizens to pay RM10 to support our local movies, what makes FINAS think we can get cinema owners and distributors overseas go gaga over our products?
Unless we pay Discovery Channel money to then agree to help produce documentaries and screen it on their channel, I doubt they would even think of distributing, buying or screening Malaysian produced documentaries. So maybe, our powers that be are thinking of financing Western producers and distributors to attract their attention to help produce Malaysian movies for the international market.
I don't know. What do you think? Can our movies do better than movies from other Asian countries who already have a great fan base from their own global foreign-language movie circuit.