I was waiting for the LRT one day when my eyes fixated at a peculiar billboard usually decorating the platforms. It was a movie poster promoting a local movie. A comedy/horror flick featuring all the Raja Lawak personalities, doing their best pose to tell everyone that the movie is going to be super funny. That was when I started to think about the state of our movies and TV shows in Malaysia now.
Movies filled with Ribena coloured blood effects, cheesy sound effects, and horrendous slapstick jokes that would have me cringing in shame and disbelief are flooding the cinemas, and TV shows are no better. We still follow the same ol’ template of making TV dramas; The rich falling in love with the poor, the evil rich mom who opposes the poor, the hateful ex-girlfriend who definitely sides with the evil mom to bring down the poor… RING RING..Hello? Oh, the 1980’s called, it wants its soap operas back.
As a fan of movies and TV shows I think that a breath of fresh air is what the Malaysian entertainment industry needs, DEARLY. No longer should we become the epitome of clichéd characters and cheesy comedy. I have compiled some pointers on how to somehow improve our movies and TV shows, and there are 10 of them!
1. Please Do Some Research
Time and time again we fall into what I call potholes in the highway of storyline. Rich businessmen talking about vague business projects without any explanation on what kind of business they are doing has become more stale than that kerepek you left unsealed a week ago. We should invest more on actually building a believable back story to anything we want to present to the audience.
It is good to provide some credible roots to the characters, what ‘business’ is he/she is involved in, what sickness has he/she befallen to, or why does he/she acts the way he/she does. It can be a way for the audience to fully understand and sympathize with the character they are watching. A lazy attempt on cruising over any details I noticed is by making the main character’s job a pilot, doctor, or lawyer, where details of their daily going-ons can be completely ignored to make room for sappy love story with a kampung girl.
I tell you, if I have to watch another scene where the conversation goes ‘Assalamualaikum Datuk, ape cerite projek RM3 juta kite?’ or the likes, I think I’m going to puke. Details is very important when you want to make high quality TV show, a perfect segway to my next point which is…
2. Details, Details, Details
As mentioned above, details is what drives a movie or TV show. It is what transforms a mediocre flick into a great drama series or movie. It is so unrealistic to have a lawyer’s office be so well-kept and clear from the boxes upon boxes of case files usually litter a real lawyer’s workplace. Scenes of students studying in classrooms are highly glamorized, and as far as I know, we do not have police that dresses like they are in New York, with a police badges hanging on chain around their necks.
Simple details can go a long way in establishing a believable scene in a movie. I once watched a TV drama where the main character goes to a hospital to visit his loved one, and the doctor that was attending to her looked like the janitor who happened to found a lab coat two sizes too big for him with a stethoscope in one of the pockets. He didn’t even have any lines, he only had to look worried while holding a clipboard and leave with a slight nod to the main character as he got close. Wait..maybe he WAS the janitor..DUN DUN DUUUUN!!
3. Cheap Sound Effects, Off You Go!
That DUN DUN DUUUN thing I did was to solely transition into this point. Please, pleeaase for the love of all that is good get rid of the absurd sound effect characters make when their fists makes contact with another persons face. That same sound effect can actually be traced back to the time when our beloved Bujang Lapok were practicing their Silat in its black and white glory. Bollywood movies are an exception to this because the whole charm of Bollywood movies are bad sound effects. We needn’t be copying them though.
On that note, comedy skits should dump the ridiculous sound effect of bad saturday morning cartoons already. Its like sprinkling salt on an open wound, an even worst addition to an already bad joke. Imagine Jim Carrey as The Mask, and the sounds he makes(or rather the sounds his actions makes), now use that exact sound to every comedy skits on TV and cinema, and you have yourself a typical Malaysian comedy TV show and movie.
Numerous comedy shows have excelled to become best comedy shows of all time with very little help from the sound department. Take shows like The Office or Parks and Recreation, the constant lack of background music is the perfect medium for the awkward jokes and situations. Proving that when given the characters actual funny lines, no added effect is needed. (I’m looking at you, screenwriters.)
I’m not saying sound effects should be removed altogether, it is just better to use a minimum amount, and try finding or creating new sounds that are not recycled sounds from older movies. Comedy should altogether be revamped in our local entertainment industry, another perfect segway to my next point..which is to..
4. Stop With The Comedy/Horror Genre
I am making it official, no comedy/horror movies for at least 5 years. It is just the same thing being recycled over and over again. I’ll give you an example, the main character is always the most sensible one, surrounded by quirky and somewhat dumb characters, with one (or two) leading female character(s), and the ever present bomoh. Oh yeah and there’s probably a ghost or two as well. It’s getting old and boring.
The last Malaysian comedy/horror movie I watched was ‘Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah’, which was an okay comedy movie in my opinion. It did recycled a few jokes from the ‘Zombi Kampung Pisang’ movie a bit, and had some dry and stale jokes that made me feel embarrassed for the actors. After that every other movie that came out was the same thing.
Malaysian movie and TV shows are in desperate need of turning a new leaf, especially in comedy. The horror genre is a whole other article if it were to be discussed about, so I’ll just leave it with this statement, horror movies are universally unoriginal(yes, Hollywood included). Its more of a point of reference in what creeps you out more, ‘Pontianak’, ‘Jin, ‘Saka’ etc etc. Yet comedy really needs to change for the better.
I apologise beforehand for using the same reference twice in this article, but if you look at comedies like The Office and Parks and Recreation; their constant 3rd wall breaking by looking straight at the camera in perfect comedic timing makes it one of the most enjoyable ‘mockumentary’ I have watched to date. A similar show had been done by Malaysian; ‘Keluarga Iskandar’ is one of those unique shows that uses The Office and Parks and Rec’s style of comedy and made it to work.
So my advice is to think of a new way to make comedy shows or movies. Stop relying on dumb slapstick jokes and be a little more creative in terms of writing. As for all the Pontianaks and Jins, stop sticking your creepy hands into comedy and just be scary.
5. Stop With The Gangster Movies
Another bane of the local entertainment industry is the copious amount of gangster related movies. Titles like REMP-IT, KL Gangster, Abang Long Fadil, and Anak Jantan are a minuscule example of gangster movies we have in Malaysia. Why are we so fascinated by this? The culture of substituting Aku and Kau with Wa and Lu has literally dumb down our way of speaking. It just needs to stop for like..10 years. After 10 years than come out with another gangster movie if needed be.
The exaggerated shootouts, silly dialogues, bad special effects, and stereotyping Malay people as a bunch of ‘kaki gaduh’ are a huge problem in these movies. Forget about setting a bad example for kids, it had taken our action movies 20 years backwards. Action movies from our neighbour Thailand has better action, special effects and dialogue than ours. We need to just get rid of our fixation on ludicrous slangs and unrealistic looking guns and try to make a different kind of action movies.
A good way to bring new light into this genre is to paint a different picture of gangsters. Make them more charismatic, mellow, and doesn’t take the form of a bald Rosyam Nor or a gun strapped Syamsul Yusof. Take example from movies like the Godfather or American Gangster, where the gangsters are much more sophisticated, well-dressed and soft spoken. The impact of a such person to do heinous crimes is magnified because of their complete opposite appearance. Directors, screenwriters, and movie makers, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse, and if you choose not to accept that offer, let’s just say there will be a dead horse’s head under your blanket tonight. Sweet dreams.
6. Crying and Helpless Mothers? Say It Isn’t So!
A total of 3 times have I walked into my living room to see 3 different crying mothers in 3 different Malaysian TV drama, either wanting her child to come back and visit her, or being bullied by their child, or just being sad all the time for no good reason. I understand that drama needs heartfelt moments and to make your audience cry is the ultimate achievement, but please stop depicting our mothers as being a basic cry-baby. Asian mothers are universally considered to be the toughest in the world. It has escalated to a point where it is offensive to our mothers.
Sure a son not wanting to take care of his mother after leaving home for so long is a very bad thing, and the mother will sure to be heartbroken, but to have a 20 minute scene where the mother is weeping uncontrollably in the kitchen is just too much. I would love to watch a drama where the son or daughter gets a good smacking from their mothers for not respecting them, its how it should be at least.
7. A Logical Storyline Would Be Nice
Whether its a simple drama, love story, comedy, horror or action film, the storyline is very important. It captivates viewers and makes a movie enjoyable and believable. This doesn’t mean outlandish settings such as post apocalyptic or fantasy movies are automatically bad movies, it just means that any movie with any type of setting behind it will be more appreciated if it is well-constructed than one with numerous plot holes and non-sensible storytelling.
Here’s an example, in a movie produced by Mamat Khalid back in 2014, it was told that the world had come to an end after a nuclear fallout and only a handful of people survived. These survivors had made it so that they were divided into 5 different tribes, each with different ways of wearing clothes (that’s about it). Props to Mamat Khalid for trying something new, a post – apocalyptic world which Malaysian movies are not accustomed to. But it was filled with plot holes and unclear narrative, making it a huge mess of a movie. Apokalips X was the name of the movie, or as one guy from the Youtube comments of the movie’s trailer said, “it should be named Apokomerepek ni?”.
8. Study Hollywood Movies.. No Other Way Around It
Yes, there’s a hard truth for you. Hollywood has proven through the ages that they are quite the storyteller. It has become a frowned upon act to say that Hollywood is making better movies than us, it doesn’t change the fact that its true. A good movie I watched recently is a movie based on the book by Andrew Hodges, which starred the famous Brusselsprouts Cucumber..I mean Brandysnaps Cauliflower..I mean Benedict Cumberbatch..sorry about that. Jokes aside, it was really a well-constructed movie with very little to non-existent plot holes. It plays with a simple yet heavy subject, a genius well ahead of his time trying to make normal people understand his vision and way of thinking. Coupled with superb actors and you got yourselves an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Malaysian film makers needs to study harder in the arts of storytelling. They need to take into account that the most important part of the art is the story, and how it is being told. Actors, budget costs and marketing comes last. This ties up with my first and second point, which is to do extensive research on the subject you want to make a movie about, and to insert as many details as you can into it. Lazy storytelling can only result in sub par movies, no matter how handsome or pretty the actors are. Also, to research properly how a scene is pulled off by the big time Hollywood movies, instead of having crappy green screen effects that are noticeable even after editing.
9. New Actors Needed!
I would like to say beforehand that I am in no way offending any of our local actors and actresses. They are hard working people doing the thing they love and making a name for themselves, I respect them as I would any other hard working person. But there comes a time when we tend to get bored of the same actors playing 4 different rolls in movies that comes out in one year. Our actors and actresses looks like a small group of people who comes in a meeting room every week to discuss which movie they will be starring in that year. They draw straws to see who gets what job, and Aaron Aziz usually cheats. That is how I pictured it at least.
My point is that I think new blood should be introduced into this small entertainment industry we have. Open castings for movies and TV shows actually sounds like a good idea, given the lack of new actors we usually see. We could sit through painful hours of audition for singing competitions but audition for actors? it is unheard of at best. It could result in fruitful discovery of new and raw talents, and if it doesn’t, well there will always be Zizan, Nabil, and the entire cast of Raja Lawak contestants to fall back to.
10. Actors Comes Second to Film Makers
“Lazy storytelling can only result in sub par movies, no matter how handsome or pretty the actors are.” – Norman Hussaini. Apart from being an obnoxious way to point to my previous statement in this article, it is a crucial point to take into account nonetheless. Talent can come from anywhere, it might just be in a film student graduating from college tomorrow, or someone who had made numerous screenplays but never once tried to show it to anyone else.
As important it is to have new blood in the acting profession, great improvement can be made for our movies and TV shows with the help of new talents behind the scene. Directors, cinematographers, and screenwriters are all the backbone of the art of storytelling. Current film makers should put up an effort to find new diamonds in the rough that could excel our movies and TV shows to new heights. There’s an expression where it can never be too late to teach an old dog new tricks, yet in this case, it would be better to have the tricks be passed on to new dogs and see what they can do with it instead.