History of Cinema in MALAYSIA

Historical overview

Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a federation of the former British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, including the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo. The first several years of the country's history were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession from the federation in 1965.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

The history of Malay cinema began in 1933 with the screening of Laila Majnun, a well-known Sanskrit play of two ill-fated lovers. Directed by B.S. Rajhans and produced by the Singapore-based Motilal Chemical Company of Bombay, the cast comprised a local opera group.

The public were so enthralled by the maiden effort that in 1937 two brothers, Run Run and Runnie Shaw, were prompted to import some equipment from Shanghai and start the production of Malay films from their small studio at Ampas Road in Singapore. However, they only managed to churn out 5 or 6 movies prior to the Japanese invasion in 1941.

Following the end of World War Two in 1945, the Shaw Brothers resumed production in 1947 with a Rajhans-directed film called 'Singapura Di Waktu Malam (Singapore by Night) starring Siput Sarawak. Backed by their chain of theatres, which they either owned or rented, the film enjoyed good response. The Shaw Brothers proceeded to produce more films and introduced new faces, one of the Sumatran-born Kasma Booty. Her first film Cempaka revolved around the life of a native island girl.

In 1948, P. Ramlee - who later became the living legend of the Malay film world, made his debut in the film Cinta (Love). P. Ramlee's talents in music composing and singing brought him prominence. He was very versatile as a leading actor, a comic, dramatic artiste, scripwriter and film director. Most of the early films carried plenty of singing and dancing scenes, a trend introduced by the Indian film directors. After Rajhans, Shaw Brothers imported many other Indian film directors, among them S. Ramanathan, Shastri, Phani Majumdar and D. Ghoss. There were also some local film directors such as L. Krishnan and K. M. Bashker who learned the trade and techniques through experience and apprenticeship. By the 1960s, many of the expatriates were replaced by local directors,

The success enjoyed by the Shaw Brother's film studio, known as the Malay Film Productions (MPP), encouraged a few other entrepreneurs to venture into the same business. There was a Nusantara film company started. In 1951, Hsu Chiu Meng started the Nusantara film company. However, he depended heavily on independent theatres, and after producing about a dozen films Nusantara closed down in 1954.

In 1952, Ho Ah Loke opened a studio in Tempines Road, Singapore, calling his company Rimau Film Productions. After producing one film, he changed its name to Keris Film Productions. Ho owned a few small theatres through his earlier venture as a film distributor. He managed to produce a number of films, and in 1956 merged with Cathay Organisation, owned by millionaire Loke Wan Tho. The company was renamed Cathy-Keris Film Productions with its studio in East Coast Road, Singapore. Supported by their own theatre chain throughout Malaya and Singapore, Cathay-Keris films posed a challenge to the films produced by Shaw's MFP studios. Shaw studios produced about ten films a year, while Cathay-Keris too produced about the same number.

During those early years, all the films were in black and white. The studios had their own laboratories, recording and editing facilities. Direct sound recording was the practice from the beginning, until the advent of the 60s. Then, post-synching or dubbing system appeared and is still in use until today. Scripts were mostly based on folk tales, stage plays, legends of fictional or real historical heroes or events. MFP made the movie about the legendary Melaka warrior Hang Tuah who lived during the heyday of the Melaka Sultanate. In response, Cathay-Keris produced Hang Jebat who was Hang Tuah's closest friend. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the duo became involved in a life-or-death struggle.

Hang Tuah, done in Eastman Color, was directed by Indian director Phani Majumdar, who was specially brought in to ensure that the film made it to the East Asia Film Festival. P. Ramlee acted as Hang Tuah and also composed the background music, for which the film won an award. Just before they ceased operations, both MFP and Cathay-Keris produced three colour films each. Shaw Brothers' produced Ribut (Storm), Hang Tuah and Raja Bersiong (The Fanged King). The latter, a legend from the state of Kedah, was written by Malaysia's first Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj. Cathay-Keris produced 'Buluh Perindu (The Magic Flute)', 'Cinta Gadis Rimba (The Virgin Of Borneo)' and 'Mahsuri (The Maid of Langkawi), another Kedah legend written by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Although many companies emerged, such as Nusantara Films, Tan & Wong Film Company, Rimau Productions and Cathay-Keris, many closed down due to escalating production costs and diminishing audiences, leaving only MFP and Cathay-Keris both operating in Singapore.

In 1961, H. M. Shah bought over a piece of prime land on the fringe of Kuala Lumpur and turned it into Merdeka Studio. It had a meagre beginning, but once the top stars started their exodus from the two Singapore studios, its growth surged dramatically. The Merdeka Film Studio, located adjacent to the National Zoo on Hulu Kelang Road, is 13 kilometres from the city. Today, it is the headquarters of the National Film Development Corporation, Malaysia (FINAS).

Shaw Brothers despatched some of their Singapore film directors, among them L. Krishnan, P. Ramlee and Salleh Ghani, Jamil Sulong, Omer Rojik, S. Kadarisman, Sudarmaji, Naz Achnas, M. Amin and Datuk Jins Shamsudin, to make films at Merdeka Studio. In 1975, a renaissance prompted a revitalised growth when Sabah Films grossed huge profits with its maiden offering, 'Keluarga Comat (Comat's Family)'. Soon, other companies mushroomed, such as Perfima, Syed Kechik Productions, Indra film Productions, Jins Shamsudin Production and others.

The Eighties saw numerous changes. A vital one was the setting up of the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia in 1981 to develop and stimulate the growth and maintain the standards of the film industry by various means, including the provision of research and advisory services.

FINAS has since set up numerous facilities to promote the industry, including a credit facility scheme which enables young and untiring film-makers to test their potential. The revival in the industry also made changes to certain formats of the local film productions. Nearly all the films were made in colour, some using the scope format and some the standard format. There were no fixed salaries for artists attached to a certain company or studio. A company can only do two of three functions: production, distribution or exhibition in order to avoid a monopoly by a certain party. The producers also might be able to recover part of their investment by the return of the entertainment tax as a way of incentive.

A further incentive to local film-makers is that they are invited to make television programmes either in film format or video format. As a result, there are now more than 300 film companies registered with FINAS. At present, Malaysia produces about 15 feature films annually, and between 300 - 400 television dramas and serials a year apart from the in-house productions by the individual television stations. Malaysia also holds its own annual National Film Festival .

There are about 250 movie theatres and cineplexes in Malaysia, showing not only our local films but imported ones. Foreign film producers are welcome to shoot on location in Malaysia, undertake film co-production ventures so that local artistes and technicians have the opportunity of gaining exposure and experience.




Cinema links from MALAYSIA

NAME DESCRIPTION
Cinema Online Extensive film portal featuring the latest in cinema, news and trailers
Filem Negara Malaysia FNM is a government department under the Ministry of Information Malaysia, producing documentary films and trailers, covering important and national historical events
Film Malaysia Portal to Malay Films including reviews, posters etc.
FINAS FINAS nurtures, promotes and facilitates the development of the film industry in Malaysia.
Kelab Seni Filem Film club aiming enable people to see and discuss films which are normally not shown in commercial cinemas
Malaysian Video Awards The Malaysian Video Awards Council is an independent non-profit organisation, funded by voluntary contributions from the industry.
Tanjong Golden Village Major cinema complex found is several cities



P. Ramlee

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