Columns | Brandon Wee answers Pierre Rissient’s “Letter on Malaysian Cinema”

By Brandon Wee

Mark forwarded me your letter in response to my article on Malaysian cinema (Cinema Scope 29). Thanks for your thoughts. Serious writing on film seldom undergoes the rigours of engagement, and I’m therefore grateful for the chance to furnish this rejoinder.

You’ve laboured under the impression that I’ve excluded U-wei from my article despite Kaki Bakar’s feting at Cannes. This isn’t the case. U-wei isn’t mentioned because I’m satisfied his work isn’t of the same ilk as the kind of Malaysian cinema that has been garnering attention recently. This was the article’s focus.

There’s no prejudice here because, for argument’s sake, we’re talking about two different generations: first, U-wei’s films for both television and the big screen from the 80s through to the 90s, and second, the present trail of independent films that has been gathering steam since the late 90s, led by a loose confederacy of younger filmmakers.

That U-wei isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean his work is less “Malaysian” or “independent” than those of his younger peers. With one exception, all the names I mentioned reflected filmmakers who gained some international prominence in the last several years. While they’re representative of what’s happening in Malaysian filmmaking today, there are other equally worthy filmmakers whom I passed over for mention—again, without prejudice.

But what’s most important is that I didn’t intend my piece as “a comprehensive survey of Malaysian cinema of the last decade.” I’m less interested to name-drop than I’m eager to capture what this generation of Malaysians has to say about Malaysia, for these are distinctly progressive voices previously unheard of. Had I wished to comment on the last two decades of Malaysian cinema, I, too, cannot imagine a survey where U-wei’s work would be absent—but also, the curiosity of how it’s his Malay adaptations of American novels that Europe seems to acclaim.

To this end, I disagree with your assessment that the absence of U-wei’s name has aggravated his present standing. Surely, a more credible reason for this “trap” is that after more than ten years, and in spite of Kaki Bakar’s showing at Cannes, this film, along with his others, remains largely inaccessible to the discerning public.

Brandon Wee

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