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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Malaysia flicks to new film fare

Local movie industry offering more than just horror shows as viewers crave variety
The Sunday Times - January 1, 2012
By: Hazlin Hassan
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Malaysia flicks to new film fare Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz and Malaysia's Maya Karin in Ombak Rindu (Waves Of Passion). -- PHOTO: THE STAR

Kuala Lumpur: In a country where horror movies have become a staple, more 'sophisticated' fare is fighting back - and some are winning.

Last year, several locally made action and romance movies raked in as much - if not more - money than their horror counterparts, bringing a refreshing change from the usual scream flicks.

One of them, Ombak Rindu (Waves Of Passion), has even become one of the country's top grossing movies.

Starring Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz and Malaysia's Maya Karin, the sizzling drama is about a woman sold into prostitution and her would-be saviour.

It has already crossed RM10 million (S$4.1 million) at the box office, making it the second biggest Malay movie in Malaysian history, and the most successful Malaysian movie adapted from a novel.

'Ombak Rindu has amazing cinematography compared to previous local films, with the beautiful background of local scenery,' says avid film buff Myra Amir, adding that she was starting to tire of the seemingly endless string of horror movies.

'The local film industry landscape is really changing.'

Another locally made film, action flick KL Gangster, became the top earning Malay movie when it took in RM12 million at the box office.

Industry observers say the success of such movies reflect a recent effort by directors to offer a wider variety of genres to discerning audiences just as a horror-movie fatigue is threatening to set in.

'There is a niche market of viewers who want to see something more intellectually challenging,' says renowned filmmaker Datuk Paduka Shuhaimi Baba, the president of the Malaysian Film Makers Association. 'It's a small audience but an important one.'

Datuk Paduka Shuhaimi was herself behind the critically acclaimed horror flick Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam (Fragrant Night Vampire), which in 2004 sparked the local craze for horror films.

But now, she is putting the finishing touches to a historical-fiction drama - Tanda Putera (The Mark Of Princes), about the friendship between former prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein and his deputy Ismail Abdul Rahman, set against the race riots of May 13, 1969.

The past few years have seen horror movies dominating Malaysia's movie scene, a trend that even raised concerns among Islamists, who feared that the endless scenes of supernatural goings- on and black magic rituals could corrupt young minds.

And - aside from Ombak Rindu and KL Gangster - it looks set to continue.

Close to half of the movies released last year were of the horror genre, while this year, four of the nine movies slated for release in the first two months are also horror flicks.

Still, industry players and movie goers take heart in the rising overall numbers, especially the renewed interest in locally made films.

Last year was a boom time for Malay movies, with the 42 films released far outstripping the 30 or fewer in previous years.

While pundits continue to predict the end of big screens and the takeover by home entertainment, cinemas in Malaysia are still packing the crowds in.

The number of screens around the country has almost doubled in the last five years, from around 60 to 104, while box-office takings are set to hit RM100 million last year, double the RM50 million seen in 2009.

Industry observers attribute the growth to better production quality and government funding, which they say has given a boost to locally made movies.

'Not all locally produced movies are bad and not all Hollywood movies are good,' says director Norman Abdul Halim. 'We just need technology and a bigger budget.'

For avid movie goers, it means an ever-growing range of options for the weekend.

'The local movies have really improved,' says movie fan Mayzatul Azura Sarip, 29. 'The filming technique is much better. I used to think it was a waste of time and money to watch local movies, but it's worth it now.'



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