P.Ramlee Memorial, Kuala Lumpur – A Tribute to Malay Cinema’s “Golden Boy”

Hollywood’s Golden Age had figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, James Dean and Clark Gable.

Early Malay cinema had Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

Potret P. Ramlee.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Born Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Puteh on the island of Penang, Malaysia (then the Federated States of Malaya) in 1929, P. Ramlee was a man of many hats. Beginning the late 1940s, he acted in, produced and directed numerous films (some of which are still considered beloved classics till this day), and also performed and wrote hundreds of songs. At the height of his career, his fame reached as far as Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan – cementing his name in the annals of classic Malay music and cinema. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 44.

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My dad is a big fan of P. Ramlee’s black and white films, and as a kid, I often joined him to watch movies like Bujang Lapok, Nasib Do Re Mi and Tiga Abdul, which were usually shown on weekend afternoons on national TV (or during the patriotic month). Being young, my comprehension was limited – but I still enjoyed the acting and stories, which often had a moral behind them.  Now as an adult, I can fully appreciate the simple and heartfelt artistry that went into the characters and the film, something which I think is missing in many modern films, despite the big budget CGI, better equipment and techniques, and whatnot. Old films had soul. 

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If you’re keen on finding out more about our national icon, there are a few places dedicated to remembering his contributions, such as the P.Ramlee Memorial House in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Tucked within a housing estate, the building is one of Ramlee’s old homes, and was converted into a mini museum in 1986. The space is small, but there are a couple of interesting exhibits. I suggest pairing a visit with nearby attractions such as the Visual Arts Gallery and the National Library.

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PS: Filming is not allowed within, but you can take photos.

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The exhibition space is neatly divided according to themes. There are sections dedicated to his childhood growing up in Penang to Achehnese parents, his directorial debut, and his love story with another iconic Malay actor, Saloma. Ramlee was married twice, but it seems third time was the charm for these two lovebirds. In fact, Saloma was so overwhelmed with grief at the death of her husband, she suffered from depression and various illnesses, and passed away at the still young age of 48, 10 years after Ramlee’s death.

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There is a small AV room within where visitors can watch old P.Ramlee films.

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Ramlee’s impressive filmography. My favourite is Tiga Abdul, which draws inspiration from old Malay folktales. Set in a fictional Middle Eastern Country, the movie tells the story of three brothers, who are tricked by the cunning businessman Sadiq Segaraga, who uses his three daughters to force the brothers into parting with their wealth. The story is lighthearted, humorous and dramatic all at once, but with a moral lesson behind it about greed and honesty. Another must-watch is Anak-ku Sazali, where Ramlee shows off his acting chops playing dual roles as both the father and son characters.

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Films were not the only thing Ramlee was known for – he often sang and wrote/composed the soundtracks for them as well. In total, he wrote about 400 songs throughout his career.

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He was also apparently quite a tall man, judging from these clothes!

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Ramlee’s old piano.

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Although he is celebrated today as an icon of Malay cinema, it was said that Ramlee’s final years were mired in financial trouble and setbacks, with his once celebrated movies flopping, as the entertainment scene moved on to better, shinier things.  Some even saw him as a ‘has-been’, and Ramlee died a broken man, ridiculed by the public and the industry he loved so much. Recognition might have come too late and he might have died poor, but he left behind a rich legacy – one that will hopefully inspire and entertain new generations for years to come.

“Karya seni adalah satu daripada kerja Tuhan. Oleh itu, buatlah sungguh-sungguh dengan penuh kejujuran.” (Art is god’s work. Do it with diligence and honesty.) – Allahyarham Tan Sri P.Ramlee

P.RAMLEE MEMORIAL HOUSE 

22, Jalan Dedap, Taman P Ramlee, 53000 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM (Tuesdays – Sundays, closed Mondays). On Fridays, they open from 10AM – 12PM and 3PM – 5PM to allow for Muslim prayer break.

Admission: FREE

*There are no designated parking spots, since it is a residential area – so you can park by the side of the road. Do be mindful of where you park the vehicle though as you don’t want to block someone’s front gate! 

 

**PS: I am now on Patreon!  You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting REX KL – The Iconic Cinema Turned Creative Space In Kuala Lumpur

What do you do with a once iconic cinema that eventually turned into an abandoned eyesore in the middle of Kuala Lumpur? You give it a new lease of life – by turning it into a creative space for events and entrepreneurs.

Back in the 1970s, Rex Theatre, located close to KL’s Chinatown, was THE place to be. It operated for years before shutting down in the early 2000s, as people flocked to newer cinemas in glitzy malls, and ‘classic’ theatres, which did not have the facilities and technology to match, lost their appeal. The Rex Theatre was used as a backpacker’s hostel, low-cost housing and even an entertainment outlet, but the crumbling building was not well maintained, attracting drug users and unsavoury characters into its disused halls.

The old Rex Theatre. Image via Says.com and https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/3313616/all

It would have been easy to just bulldoze it down and build something new. After all, the old theatre was sitting on prime land that would be perfect for a shiny office building, another mall or whatnot. Instead, a project to revive the theatre, spearheaded by a group of architects, was put into motion, and REXKL opened its doors earlier this year as a space where entrepreneurs, small businesses and artists could meet, share and thrive.

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Went to check out the place over the long Malaysia Day weekend. Vestiges of its days as a cinema remain, such as the old fashioned tiled floors and signages, giving the space an air of nostalgia, while neon lights added to the retro vibe. On the ground floor, which sported an open layout, was a chic bar called Modern Madness Beer, an old-school barbershop and a cafe.

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Malaysia Day bazaar, with trendy outfits and flea market-esque clothing on sale.

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Hand made pottery

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Store selling various knick-knacks and curios, from camp equipment to traditional games

 

 

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We also bought a bottle of sugarcane tuak, a traditional fermented rice wine drink commonly enjoyed by the people of Sarawak. Although no sugar was added, the concoction was naturally sweet, with an alcohol level of about 10 percent.

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Moving on to the first floor, there were shops selling beautiful arts and crafts, such as bowls, handwoven items, bags, jewellery and souvenirs.

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A store selling items many of us growing up in the 1990s and before would recognise – tiffin carriers for food, vinyls, casettes, snow globes (do people still buy them these days?), paper weights, pen holders, and more.

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Spot Mr Pricklepants!

 

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Up on the second floor, we met Mr Lam Ching Fu, author of the book My Journey By Bus, in which he documents his journeys by bus around several states in Northern Peninsular Malaysia. The book is a fascinating insight into the characters he meets and his observations of the towns and places he visited, many of which are off the beaten path. The book is available in Chinese and English.

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A collection of Lam’s beautiful photos, mostly depicting scenes in small towns

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The bus tickets Lam accumulated on his journey

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Also on the second floor was the main theatre which has now been converted into an events/concert space. The hall was intentionally left looking unfinished, with a massive brick wall, age-darkened concrete and exposed skylights to give it that industrial, ‘abandoned’ vibe. REX KL regularly hosts bloc parties and music shows in this space, so visitors can keep updated via their Facebook Page. 

REX KL 

Jalan Sultan, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 AM – late

What Do You Think Of Disney’s New Mulan Trailer?

So. The trailer for Disney’s live-action Mulan was just released a couple of days ago; and honestly? I have mixed feelings about it.

As a kid, Mulan was one of my favourite Disney heroines. I remember coming home from school and watching it religiously every other week on VHS (Yes, I existed in the era of VHS. lol). Being somewhat of a tomboy myself, I completely related to Mulan’s struggle to conform to what her parents wanted for her, but still stay true to who she was on the inside. She was also one of the few Asian characters in Disney, and I loved everything about the film – the art, the characters (Mushu and Cri-kee’s dynamic), the humour (Mulan’s ragtag gang of soldiers, ie Yao, Chien Pao and Ling) and of course, the music.

Disney has been in the habit of making live action remakes lately, like Beauty and the Beast which played it pretty safe by following the animated film’s storyline, and Aladdin, which screened earlier this year to mixed reviews. Of course, another Disney remake that has gotten a lot of flak lately is the Little Mermaid, after it was announced African-American actress Halle Bailey would play the titular character of Ariel, who has always been portrayed as white with red locks – launching the #NotMyAriel hashtag on Twitter.

Coming back to Mulan, the less-than-two minute trailer seems to indicate that the film would depart significantly from the original animation, with most of the notable characters missing (aforementioned Mushu, Cri-kee, grandma, and Mulan’s team in the army). There is apparently no love interest either, as we don’t see Li Shang.

All accounts considered, the upcoming Mulan seems to more about her own journey, which would fit the feminist element which Hollywood is pushing strong these days with films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (I fkin hate that film and nothing you say will dissuade me). While I can’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing until I’ve watched the actual film, if this is how it’s going to be, I can’t help but feel a pang of loss and nostalgia – that Disney would take away so many elements that essentially made the original animation such a well-loved, everlasting classic.

Sure, we all want a strong and confident Mulan who doesn’t need no man, but we also want all the other stuff that made us laugh and relate so much to the 1998 version. Perhaps the argument is that Mulan is based on a Chinese legend, and they want to stay true to the source material, but there are plenty of other films out there that have already covered that angle – like the excellent 2009 Hua Mulan starring Vicki Zhao Wei. I want my Mushu and Cri-kee!

Another argument is that concepts/values in old animations have changed, and in order to showcase diversity and the values of today, they should be updated to reflect the current times (eg how Jasmine ended up ruling Agrabah in Aladdin rather than in the original where she was just a ‘princess’).  The thing is, Mulan has always been a strong, independent and badass character – heck, the Emperor bowed to her after she saved China – and she still had time to go home and bring honour to us all. I find there is little need to change what was essentially a perfect film on its own.

Disney’s need to ‘push diversity’ is a bold move,  but it risks alienating a large group of Disney fans who have waited for years to see their favourite films come to life in live action reenactments, only to find they’ve been changed to the point that they lose their essence. For me, I’d love to see more original Disney films with new and fresh characters promoting diversity (like Moana) – rather than trying to shoehorn stuff into what is supposed to be a ‘remake’.

BTW one of my favourite scenes from the original. Pure, raw, powerful emotions – no dialogue needed.

Also this:

Time to go rewatch the cartoon!

Movie Review: Train to Busan

Being a fan of zombie films, I’m always on the lookout for a good one – and Train to Busan seemed to be getting rave reviews from fans and critics alike. ‘It will make you cry! A must watch!’ as one of my friends posted on Facebook.. so of course I had to check it out.

….Can’t say it lives up to the hype, BUT it’s a decent enough zombie film.

Taking inspiration from the ‘fast-moving’ zombies in World War Z, Train to Busan is a tried and tested zombie apocalypse story where a bunch of survivors try to make it to safety – on a moving KTX train headed to Busan.

Synopsis: 

Seok-Woo is a fund manager and single father to Su-An. Work and commitments keep him from spending time with his daughter, but after accidentally giving her the same birthday gift as he did last year, Seok-Woo decides to take some time off and take Su-An to see her mother in Busan. They board the KTX train (South Korea’s version of the bullet train?) – but not before a mysterious woman jumps on board and hides herself in the toilet. As the passengers head to their destination, news reports come in describing mysterious and violent ‘riots’ happening all over the country.

The mysterious woman turns out to be an infected, reanimating in one of the coaches and attacking a train stewardess. More passengers get zombified and the survivors run to the business class coach, managing to trap the zombies in the previous car. At instructions over the radio, the train driver stops at a station – only to realize that quarantine has failed and all the soldiers ‘protecting’ the area have been zombified.

Seok-Woo gets separated from Su-An, and barely escapes by jumping onto the moving train together with high school student Young-Guk and the rough but kind-hearted Sang-Hwa. They receive a call from Sang-Hwa’s pregnant wife Seong-Kyeong, who is trapped in a bathroom cubicle along with Su-An and a homeless man with a horde of zombies outside. Together, the group has to figure out a way to get to Coach 13, where they are trapped, and then to Coach 15 to the safety of the business class coach.

Verdict 

Movie sites praise the film for its ‘character development’, with Rappler calling it ‘exhilarating and clever’. It certainly seems so in the first few minutes as the film introduces the cast that will soon turn into a group of rag-tag zombie fighters. But as the action ‘intensifies’, so the unraveling begins – mostly due to the slow reactions whenever something happens.

Imagine this – a zombie is attacking your high school friend, and you spend 10 seconds staring instead of hauling ass out of there. Maybe they were going for the shell-shocked thing, but the scene took way too long: and it wasn’t the first. There were several, all applying the same formula: if someone gets attacked, stare until the zombie finishes and turn their attention to you. It got to a point where the effect was really annoying for me and took away from the flow of the story.

And for a bunch of people who just got attacked by crazy people, sealing them off in the back of the train, the survivors are surprisingly nonchalant as they disembark at the midway station, strolling at a pace as if they were simply going home after a long tiring day at work.

Or how about when Sang-Hwa gets ‘mad’ at Seok-Woo when the latter tries to close the door on him and his pregnant wife when the outbreak first starts in the train? Sang-Hwa’s ‘angry’ outburst of “You’re an asshole” hardly seems enough – if anyone ever closed the door on ME while I was running away from zombies and I survived it, I would have knocked the mofo out and fed his ass to zombies.

The story, to me, is well thought out, but these draggy moments quickly left me bored of the whole film, and I found myself checking my phone often, impatiently waiting for the characters to snap out of their stupor. That’s not to say the acting was bad per se – there were some good/touching moments – but they were few and far between. The only ones with believable, consistent acting, imo, were Su-An (she’s quite good actually) and the archetypal bad guy, the selfish corporate dude who won’t hesitate to throw his fellow passengers on the track (pardon the pun) to save himself. Sang-Hwa is likable as the protective father-to-be, but like all the other characters, suffer from 10-seconds-too-long-expressionless-shots.

And oh, if you’re expecting realistic gore like in World War Z, forget it. The blood/gore in this is minimal; cartoonish even. That’s not to say a lot of blood = good zombie film, but the impact is less if you see a character bashing what is supposed to be a wooden bat with little to no effect on the zombies lol.

Is Train to Busan a bad film? No, not by a long shot; there are plenty of worse zombie films. But I wouldn’t call it the best in the genre, or groundbreaking.

Rating: 7/10