Malaysia, the land that emphasises how united we are every time a sporting event concludes, every time a rally is called, and every year when the clock hits 12am on 31st August. Maybe we're an insecure bunch, maybe 'unity' is a rhetoric we tell ourselves, a security blanket we cling to but can never truly relinquish. How about we stop saying it, and start doing it? And what better medium unites people better than movies can? Didn't see that tangent coming, did you?
- Sarjan Hassan (1958)
Where would we be without the late, great Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Pute, or P. Ramlee as his father had registered him in school as Ramlee bin Puteh. The film follows Hassan, who dreams of joining the Malay Regiment during World War II. His adoptive father however, wants him to till the land of the family plantation. He finally gets his wish and in a rousing speech at the end of the film, we’re delivered this iconic line that reverberates today, “Memang bangsa kita masih muda dan masih lemah. Harapan ku hanyalah, kita sama bangsa, bersatu padulah hendaknya.” We’re getting chills just reading that.
- Bukit Kepong (1981)
Based on the true story of the brave policemen at Bukit Kepong Police Station, Bukit Kepong
was remastered in 2015 and is available for your viewing pleasure. The bloody battle at Johor claimed the lives of 40 communists and 17 police officers. The film was released in 1981, and the restoration of the movie costs RM100,000 and three months. “Biar kami mati di-sini! Bukit Kepong menjadi tanah kubur kami!”
- Matinya Seorang Patriot (1984)
The death of political veteran Haji Shahban throws the villagers of Kampung Seri Tualang into chaos. Power-hungry, some of the villagers seek to take his place and in the city of Kuala Lumpur, another scandal brews following the death of Haji Shahban involving his children. The film explores what happens when a figure head for unity disappears and tests the actual depths of a village’s supposed harmony. It experiments with the illusion of unity and how easily it can crumble.
- Paloh (2003)
Set in the small town of Paloh, Johor, during the final days of the Japanese occupation in 1944, the movie is about the confrontation between the Japanese occupying force and the Communist Party of Malaya. To survive, four friends--Ahmad, Osman, Puteh and Harun--choose to serve the Japanese Police Force. Amidst the chaos is a story of love, betrayal, and friendship. It tanked at the box office, with a budget of RM4.01 million and a retrieval of RM140,000. It won the award for Best Film at the Malaysian Film Festival awards. Curiously, the languages spoken in the film were Malay, Mandarin, and Cantonese. No sub-genre awards there for Best Non-Malay Movie with Chinese Peppered in Between but Still Mostly Malay Language Film of the Year Award?
- Leftenan Adnan (2000)
Produced by the Ministry of Defence, the movie shadows Adnan, who joins the Malay Regiment at the age of 18. He rises up the ranks quickly, culminating in a battle against the Japanese invasion in 1942. It’s here that we hear yet another iconic line, delivered with grit, “Biar putih tulang, jangan putih mata!” which means death before dishonour. We wonder how many soldiers in the heat of battle think of proverbs as pep-talk material.
- Embun (2002)
This is war told through the eyes of a girl named Embun. It is set during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia and it flies in the face of gender roles and stereotypes, and presents a headstrong woman as the anchor for the film's emotional delivery. There’s an interracial love story thrown into the mix and it becomes a tale of forbidden love as well by the end.
- 1957: Hati Malaya (2007)
If you’re not quite there at the history of Malaysia, this is the film for it. Five young (and racially diverse or ambiguous) Malaysians of different backgrounds and mindsets get together to publish a picture book, 1957 – Hati Malaya
. The film was touted as historically accurate and a lot of emphasis was placed on the team’s research and the portrayal of our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman as he fought for Malaysia’s independence. UMNO, national pride, the tyranny of foreign invaders, it’s all here.
- Bravo 5 (2015)
Set in 1989, a group of army special operations soldiers are tasked to combat the communist insurgency. The film was produced in collaboration with the armed forces of Malaysia and its launch was officiated by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. It costs RM4.5 million to make with a gross return of RM298,000. Yeah.
- Ola Bola (2016)
This is how you make a patriotic movie without resorting to war, but instead leans on the one thing that can truly unite us all, football and wigs. The film, based on true events, is told through a reporter, Marianne, who through a series of flashbacks learns about the national football squad during their preparations for the 1980 Olympics. The events and wigs are fictional, but the spirit of patriotism is fact. The star of the movie is its depiction of 1980s Malaysia and the idealised world that was truly united. Watch, laugh at wigs, try not to cry, cry a lot.