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To the Editor:
Cinema Scope should be congratulated for its coverage of the Malaysian cinema in the latest issue.
I have not seen the work of all the filmmakers mentioned, but I do fully agree on the names of Ho Yuhang, James Lee, and Tan Chui Mui, and I did hear interesting reports on the films by the other directors.
However, I am perplexed not to see the name of U Wei. I suspect that Brandon Wee may not have seen Kaki bakar (a.k.a., The Arsonist or Barn Burning), which was in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and was considered by many who, in my eyes, are the best and most knowledgeable about film, as one of the best—if not the best—of that year’s vintage. The film was just as well received in Telluride and New Directors/New Films, amongst other Festivals.
Unfortunately, U Wei’s career did not develop as it should have, and he got trapped (part of it, in all fairness, being his own fault) in Buai laju-laju, a film which Brandon Wee may have seen and, legitimately, not considered. However, my friend Alain Jalladeau, director of the Festival of the Three Contents, in Nantes, who is the only person (other than me) who has ever seen the first 35 minutes or so in its starkest state (which could well have constituted a “novella”) also thinks that this section was at that time much better than what it has since become, disfigured by the “additional” attempts of the “second hand” producers to make it look “important.” Unfortunately, the second part of the film always fell short of the first.
Unfortunately and, I am sorry to say, again because of the same producers, his short Rambutan (Sepohon Rambutan indah kepuyaanku di tanjung rambutan) was not shown at the Directors’ Fortnight, where it had been enthusiastically selected by Olivier Père and his team, in its proper cut, as it had been seen a few months before as a work in progress at the Nantes Film Festival and was highly appreciated. It was reported by Jacques Mandelbaum in Le Monde as the highlight of the festival.
Jacques Mandelbaum, Olivier Père, Alain Jalladeau, Harvey Keitel (who dreamed of making a film with U Wei) and the selectors of Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight, New Directors/New Films, Telluride, Singapore and Pusan—especially all of them together—are no insignificant crowd. I shall let your readers and probably Brandon Wee himself wonder why U Wei is not present in what is otherwise, I believe, a comprehensive survey of the Malaysian cinema of the last decade.
It is certainly a loss that U Wei is trapped in a situation where his talent cannot develop as we all hoped it would. But the absence of his name in this survey can only make the “trap” worse.