Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thai Epics - We Can Only Dream To Match Them.

Thai filmmakers are getting more and more ambitious with their movies. Ever since Tanit Jitnukul's massive hit Bang Rajan was released in 2000, Thai filmmakers, who can pool millions of dollars for their quest of producing epic movies, have tried to better it.

One such filmmaker is Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol whose Suryothai in 2001 sort of set new standards for the Kingdom's epic movies.

Such was Suryothai's impact in global cinema, that Francis Ford Coppola agreed to lend his name as Executive Producer in the re-cut international release.
Award winning filmmaker, Nonzee Nimbutr, whose horror flick Nang Nak, became a massive hit domestically and internationally, also tried his hand at directing an epic - the 2008 movie Queens of Langkasuka. Nonzee's movie, even with its faults, to me was the best Malay epic ever produced in Thai language. Those who watched it know what I mean.

However, it is Prince Yukol that sealed his status as the Kingdom's best epic filmmaker. He stamped his class with his Naresuan Trilogy.

The first part was released in 2007. Part two, released as Kingdom of War overseas was released a year later. However, the final part (Naresuan 3) was only released earlier this year.
Budget-wise, the trilogy is the most expensive produced films in Thailand's history.
And if you had seen any of the three, you can see why.
I haven't seen Part 3 yet, but Part 2 was a truly amazing epic.
Eventhough the story is a little convoluted due to the many palace intrigues and the politics of ancient Siam, the pay off at the end is worth the wait.
The final battle scenes which lasted easily an hour in duration is also breathtaking.
Watching Naresuan makes me believe that unless we really have similar kind of funds, we shouldn't even try to make epics.
Naresuan makes both Puteri Gunung Ledang and Merong Mahawangsa look so pitiful. Not only in technical terms, but also in the storytelling department.
Just look at the trailer of Naresuan 2 and you'll know what I mean.

Catch the movie, be patient in trying to remember the names of the princes and lords, the numerous kingdoms at war, the beautiful heroines and the numerous colorful tribes involved in this bit of Ayuthiya history, and enjoy the movie as it sends you on a rollercoaster ride in the last act.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do Malays really care about their heritage and past?

This post is not about movies. Like I said, sometime I would write about something else that I think is important to me, and hopefully important to others too.
The title of this post as one can read is "Do Malays really care about their heritage and their past?"
Why of a sudden?
Well, I believe not many knew of plans for a Museum of Malay Civilisation. It was to trace the origins, traditions, beliefs, history and diaspora of the Malays and was to be located in Putrajaya.
I thought that this museum should have been constructed and set up a long time ago because I believe not many Malays actually understand their heritage and better still not many non-Malays appreciate the Malay race - its history, its culture and traditions and its origins.
Unfortunately, this project and proposal didn't see the light of day.
If I am not mistaken, the museum that was supposed to house the Malay civilisation permanent exhibit has now become the Museum of Natural History in Putrajaya.
I am not sure why the museum was scrapped. Maybe someone in the government believes that such a museum is not politically correct. If this is so, it is sad.
This talk for the above museum was maybe five-six years ago. Now it is a forgotten chapter in our history. Not even a chapter, hardly a footnote even.
Then sometime back, about two years ago, there was talk of turning the old Istana Negara into a Museum Di Raja Malaysia. This historic building, previously owned by a famous Chinese millionaire Chan Wing.

Wikipedia states:

The palace was originally a double-storey mansion built in 1928 by a l

ocal Chinese millionaire,Chan Wing. During the Japanese occupation from 1942–1945, it was used as the Japanese officers’ mess. After the surrender of the Japanese, the building was bought by the Selangor State Government. It was then renovated to become the palace of His Majesty the Sultan of Selangor until 1957.

The Federal Government then bought the palace in 1957, to be converted into the Istana Negara for the newly created sovereign post

of Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaya which was about to achieve independence that August as scheduled. Since then it has undergone several renovations and extensions. But the most extensive upgrading was carried out in 1980, as it was the first time that the Installation Ceremony of His Majesty DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong was held at the Istana Negara. Prior to this the Installation Ceremonies were held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Hall in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur with the first one held in 1957.

In about a year's time, the new billion over-Ringgit National Palace will be completed and it will be the new official residence of our Yang Di Pertuan Agong.

So the old Istana Negara will be vacant.

I thought then the idea to turn the old Istana Negara into a Royal Museum was long overdue.

Malaysia's constitutional monarchy is unique if not the only one of its kind in the world. The Malaysian Agong-ship is as old as the nation, created in 1957 when the country achieved its Independence.

But whilst the Agong's position is only 54 years old, the Malay Sultanate is much older. Quite old, in fact, and its history should not only be recorded, but should be exhibited and made known to all Malaysians and other interested parties in a single museum.

The content in such a Royal museum would be educational, interesting and entertaining.

Simple facts like the Melaka Sultanate is not the first nor the old

est Malay sultanate in the Malay Peninsula should be made available to the public, at least to correct misconceptions.

Little forgotten facts like the late Sultan Abdullah of Perak, who was exiled to Seychelles when wrongly found guilty by a kangaroo court of being involved in the assassination of Perak Resident J.W.W. Birch.

The British exonerated the Sultan and allowed him to return to Malaya albeit without allowing him to claim to his rightful throne. However he managed to retain the title of ex-Sultan of Perak upon his return to his homeland.

Whatever it is, the Malays hold the Malay Sultans or Rajahs in high esteem. They have daulat. The Malays lay all their hopes in terms of upholding religion (Islam), budaya (culture) and ras (race) on this system of monarchy.

It would not be far fetched to say that without the Malay monarchy or the Malay Sultans, the Malay race would be nothing.

So, archiving everything about the history of the Malay monarchy is akin to archiving the history of the Malays.

And since the museum of Malay civilisation was stillborn, I was really hoping that the plans to turn the Istana Negara into the National Royal Museum would materialise.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed.

I hear commercialisation again wins the day.

Reliable sources recently said that the proposal to turn the old Istana Negara into the Royal Museum has been officially scrapped and now, it seems, someone has won a negotiated bid to turn the 83-year old property into a 6-star luxury hotel.

Another one bites the dust.

What is again frustrating is that if my sources can be relied on, the proposal for the Royal Museum has been approved by various levels of government including the Economic Planning Unit. Yet, it was rejected without rhyme nor reason.

A building listed under the National Heritage list somehow manages to slip through leaks and into the hands of hoteliers who want to commercialise the area into something I believe will not be appreciated by most Malaysians.

Remember the old Majestic Hotel? Destroyed. Remember Bukit Bintang Girl School? It's now the Pavilion.Remember St Mary's Girl School? Flattened. Remember Pavilion Cinema? A carpark. Remember the old Museum of Kuala Lumpur in Dataran Merdeka? Now it's a restaurant.

What next? The Parliament building? The St John's Institution? Victoria Institution?

That's just in Kuala Lumpur. What about the hundreds of other historical buildings in danger of being torn down to make way for modern buildings.

If Istana Negara can be turned into a 6-star hotel, what can we say about other buildings with lesser historical impact?

I think the powers that be should really take pause, and realise that sometimes, the conservation of heritage is more important than dollars and cents. Their decisions can embarrass and even insult the people they promised to serve.