Masters of Their Craft
An art as much as it is an occupation, filmmaking has long been welcomed by societies around the world as both a source of entertainment and information. From the days of the shadow puppets to the current visual treats in 3D, these story-tellers are responsible for crafting interesting and thought-provoking narratives, utilising various geographical and chronological settings in an array of economic, social and political contexts, executed using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques. With that, we share some of the top 10 Malaysian filmmakers responsible for either carving windows into the nebulous Malaysian way of life or successfully presenting a more international subject.
Born in Kuala Lumpur during a period of transition and thorny circumstances, renowned filmmaker Amir Muhammad sought higher education in the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. However, the visionary had already begun writing by then; penning stories for Malaysian print media since the age of 14, notably for the New Straits Times. His foray into feature length filmmaking began in 2000 and since then, he has gone on to create movies and documentaries that were the highlight of various prestigious international film festivals – his creation The Big Durian made history as the first and only Malaysian film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. Amir Muhammad’s movies are well-known for their hard-hitting political commentaries subtlety cloaked beneath the art of storytelling.
Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba
Originating from Negeri Sembilan, where she was born and raised, Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba graduated from Universiti Malaya majoring in English Literature, where she was an active member of the Film Club. She then went on to become involved in theatre productions and later joined Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) as a television producer.Since then, she has made several movies and went on to win both local and international movie awards as testaments to her works. Her movie, Layar Lara (produced in 1997), has amassed her numerous accolades including the Special Jury Award at the 6thPyongyang International Film Festival and Best Director for Foreign Film at the Brussels International Independent Film Festival. She also ventured into blockbuster horror movies such as the Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam series and Waris Jari Hantu.
Born Lee Thim Heng in the picturesque city of Ipoh, Perak, James Lee is revered as one of the pioneers of the Malaysian Digital Film movement. Originally trained as a graphic designer, James is a self-taught filmmaker. He started by acting and directing theatre plays before venturing into independent movie-making. Having worked in the film and TV industry since 1999, directing commercials, TV series and documentaries, he made his film debut in 2001 with the feature film, Snipers. His 2004 offering, The Beautiful Washing Machine – a psychological drama symbolised by malfunctioning washing machines – won the Best ASEAN Feature Award and FIPRESCI Prize at the Bangkok International Film Festival 2005.Besides directing, he has also produced the early films of other Malaysian filmmakers, namely Amir Muhammad and Ho Yuhang, under his production house, Doghouse73 Pictures.
Liew Seng Tat
Born and raised in Jinjang, Kuala Lumpur, Liew graduated from Multimedia University in Cyberjaya, majoring in 3D Animation. Actively involved in the Malaysian independent film scene since 2003, his first live-action short film Bread Skin with Strawberry Jam was critically-acclaimed and emerged victorious at the 8th Malaysian Video Awards. He then set up Da Huang Pictures with Amir Muhammad, James Lee, and Tan Chui Mui in 2004. His first feature film Flower In The Pocket made its world premiere at the 12th Pusan International Film Festival in 2007 and won the New Currents and the KNN Audience Awards, besides bagging the VPRO Tiger Award at the 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2008, ‘Le Regard d’Or’ (Golden Gaze) Award at the 22nd Fribourg International Film Festival 2008, and the Jury Prize (Lotus du Jury) at the 10th Deauville Asian Film Festival 2008.
Dain Iskandar Said
Based in Kuala Lumpur, writer and director Dain Iskandar Said graduated from the University of Westminster in London in 1990 with a major in Film and Photography. Without steering too far from his education, he started working on several short films, television programmes, commercials, media installations and documentaries right after graduation. He directed his first feature film, Dukun in 2006, based on the infamous murder of a local politician by a shaman. Meanwhile his second feature titled, Bunohan or Return to Murder was significantly more successful and was screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012. It was also selected as Malaysia’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 85th Academy Awards in February 2013 but did not make the final shortlist. It was the second movie with the honour; the first movie being Puteri Gunung Ledang in 2004.
Dato’ Prof. A. Razak Mohaideen
An academician of more than twenty years, Dato’ Prof A. Razak Mohaideen is prominent for his hands-on approach in teaching – balancing knowledge with its practical application by using his own students as crew members of his films. As a leading professor, he was one of a team of four to set up the Faculty of Performing Arts (now known as FiTA Faculty of Film, Theater and Animation) at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Shah Alam in 1998. His years of service and 34 feature films earned him the Malaysia Book of Records Award in 2011 as the Most Prolific Academic Director in the country.With regards to his relations with the film industry, on average his films have generated revenue of RM2 million per film, with twenty of these films being box office hits. Some of his famous movies in the Malay language include the Mami series, Kuliah Cinta and Lady Boss.
Saw Teong Hin
Film producer and director Saw Teong Hin still considers himself to be a Penangite (where he was born and raised) even though he is currently based in Kuala Lumpur. With a career in the film industry that spans for more than 20 years, it should not have been a surprise when his directorial debut, the critically-acclaimed and financially-successful epic fantasy Puteri Gunung Ledang won countless awards and was even long-listed for the Academy Awards. Besides movies, Saw is also heavily involved in theatre productions, such as Chow Kit Road! Chow Kit Road! – a musical tribute to the legendary singer Sudirman – staged at Istana Budaya and the theatrical adaptation of Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. He also received the Boh Cameronian Award for Best Writing for his work on the musical version of his hit movie. His other film credentials as a director include Hoore! Hoore! and Apa Kata Hati?
Tsai Ming Liang
A Malaysian director based in Taiwan, Tsai Ming Liang is one of the most celebrated ‘Second New Wave’ film directors of Taiwanese cinema alongside earlier celebrated peers such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang. Graduating from the Drama and Cinema Department of the Chinese Culture University of Taiwan in 1982, Tsai worked as a theatrical producer, screenwriter, and television director all over the world including Hong Kong. A true visionary and social commentator, his movies are hailed for their poignant narrative style. Some of his film honours include a Golden Lion – Best Picture for Vive L’Amour at the Venice Film Festival in 1994; the Silver Bear – Special Jury Prize for The River at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival; the FIPRESCI award for The Hole at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival; and the Alfred Bauer Prize and Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for The Wayward Cloud at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival.
Aziz M. Osman
Born in Hougang, Singapore, Aziz M. Osman is one of the most-recognised film personalities in Malaysia. Not limited to just directing, he is also active in various other areas of the movie industry including acting, producing, screenwriting and editing. Having made movies since the 1990s, Aziz has amassed a lengthy directorial sheet, with big blockbuster names such as Puteri Impian, Baginda and Femina – which he won the Best Editor and Best Art Director Awards at the 11th Malaysia Film Festival. He is currently the director general of film and TV production company, AceMotion Pictures Sdn Bhd.
Datuk Yusof Haslam
Born Mohd Yusof b. Md. Haslam Khan in Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Yusof Haslam is one of the most-celebrated icons of Malaysian filmmaking. His first venture into the film industry was as an actor in the 1970s, before producing his own films in which he starred. Some of these movies include Permintaan Terakhir, Bukit Kepong, Penentuan and Ribut Barat. A clear affinity for the world of law and order, his directions and productions mainly constitute police storylines as evidenced in Gerak Khas and Roda Roda Kuala Lumpur. Besides directing, producing and script-writing, he also serves as the Managing Director for his company, Skop Production