Cinema of Malaysia

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Cinema of Malaysia
Malaysia film clapperboard.svg
Coliseum Cinema, Kuala Lumpur (February 2007).jpg
No. of screens185,997 seats (2017)
1,094 screens (2017)
151 indoor cinemas (2017)[1][2]
 • Per capita183 seats per screen (2013)
3.5 screens per 100,000 inhabitants (2015)
4.6 indoor cinemas per 1,000,000 inhabitants (2013)[1]
Main distributorsSkop Productions
Astro Shaw
Animonsta Studios [3]
Produced feature films (2019)[4][2]
Number of admissions (2017)[5][2]
National films4,520,000 (6.2%)
Gross box office (2017)[5][2]
TotalRM984 million
US$246 million
National filmsRM57.6 million (5.9%)

The cinema of Malaysia consists of feature films produced in Malaysia, shot in the languages Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, various indigenous languages, and English.

Malaysia produces about 60 feature films annually, and between 300–400 television dramas and serials a year apart from the in-house productions by the individual television stations. The country also holds its own annual national level film awards, known as the Malaysia Film Festival. There are about 150 cinemas and cineplexes in Malaysia, showing not only local films but also foreign films. 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. Nowadays, there are some internationally famous Malaysian actors such as Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding.

Early films, 1933–41[edit]

Malaysian cinema began in 1933 with Leila Majnun, based on a classical Persian story of two ill-fated lovers. Directed by B.S. Rajhans and produced by the Singapore-based Motilal Chemical Company of Bombay, the cast was derived from a local opera group. Observing the success of this project, two brothers, Run Run and Run Me Shaw, were prompted in 1937 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 produce five or six movies prior to the Japanese invasion in 1941.

Under Japanese colonial rule, 1941–45[edit]

In 1941, when the Japanese occupied Malaya, the first Japanese film companies found local film production to be extremely limited and noted that it was mainly an exhibition market dominated by "overseas Chinese" namely, the Shaw Brothers. Ironically, the Japanese would exploit Malaya for exactly the same purposes even obtaining the help of the Shaws to break into their extensive Southeast Asian film exhibition network.[6] Although Malaya never became a major film production center under the Japanese, it was a strategically important film market for Japan and a convenient outpost for moving films into and out of Southeast Asia.

The Japanese film studios shot a number of films in Shonan (what the Japanese renamed Singapore during the occupation) depicting the area as a sort of Japanese frontier. Films such as Southern Winds II (続・南の風, 1942, Shochiku Studios), Tiger of Malay (マライの虎, 1942, Daiei Studios) or Singapore All-Out Attack (シンガポール総攻撃, 1943, Daiei Studios) presented the area as a land rich in resources, occupied by simple but honest people, and highly exotic.[7] Japanese colonial films also associated the region with sex as many "Karayuki-san", or prostitutes had been either sold to brothels or chosen to go to Southeast Asia to earn money around the turn of the century. Karayuki-san (からゆきさん, 1937, Toho Studios), Kinoshita Keisuke's Flowering Port (花咲く港, 1943, Shochiku Studios), and Imamura Shohei's Whoremonger (女衒, 1987, Toei Studios), which were all or at least partly shot on location, are examples of the extent to which this subgenre dominates the representations of Malaya in Japanese cinema.[8]

Development and decline, 1945–75[edit]

Following the end of World War II 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 a good response. The Shaw Brothers proceeded to produce more films and introduced new faces, including 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, scriptwriter 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 (Malay film director), K.R. Seetharama Sastry, 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 (MFP), 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 Tampines 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 1960s. Then, post-synching or dubbing system appeared and is still in use until today.

The screenplays 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 but due to unfortunate circumstances became involved in a life-or-death struggle with him.

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.

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.

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 meager beginning, but once the top stars started their exodus from the two Singapore studios, its growth surged dramatically. 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). The Shaw Brothers dispatched 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 Jins Shamsuddin, to make films at Merdeka.

Renaissance, 1975–present[edit]

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 Shamsuddin Production and others.

The 1980s saw numerous changes. A vital one was the setting up of the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) 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 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.

In 1989 and 1990, over 20 feature films were produced, that was later decreased significantly, however, 15 feature films were made in 1995, with only one film that was not shown in cinemas, compared to only five feature films made in 1985. In the mid-2000s, Malaysian film industry saw an increase in number of domestic film production, from only seven films in 1999, to 26 films in 2009. The increase of domestic film production is because of new opening of cinemas and limitation to screening of foreign films in local cinemas. Currently, Malaysian film industry faces competition from surrounding regional cinemas such as those from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India as it has failed to come up with quality content films.

In 2007, Tan Chui Mui's Love Conquers All won a Tiger Award at the 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam.

In 2008, Liew Seng Tat's Flower in the Pocket also won a Tiger Award at the 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam.

In 2011, over 40 films were released in Malaysia.[9]

In 2012, National Film Development Corporation Malaysia had cooperated with Skim Wajib Tayang to allow 2 local films to be screened at local cinemas every weeks, effective on 24 May, to solve the delay of screening faced by local film industry.[10] As such, in 2012, there are 70 films queuing up to be pictured in Malaysia nationwide.

Category 18+ films[edit]

At the beginning of Malaysian film industry, while watching movies, there are no age restrictions, and films are done under strict guidelines. For instance, no sex scenes and crimes are permitted. Malaysian film classification was introduced in 1996 to provide parents of minors a chance to prevent their children from being exposed to inappropriate materials. There are four 18+ categories used in Malaysia, unlike other countries, which only used one classification for each age, there are 18PA, 18PL, 18SG and 18SX, however, 18PA is rarely used. Movies prior to 1996 also carry ratings, and some of the local movies prior to 1996 later carry 18+ ratings, for example, Mekanik (1983) (later rated 18SX) and Pelumba Malam (1989) (later rated 18PL). Two of the earlier local movies with 18+ ratings since its introduction, Litar Kasih (1996) and Panas (1998), were both classified 18SX. However, these movies still enjoyed surprising box office successes in Malaysia.

Non-Malay language cinema[edit]

Malaysian films were also produced in Tamil language and Mandarin. Examples include Malaysia's most successful action thriller film franchise Heads Up Fighters series. A Malaysian Tamil film titled Jagat won the best Malaysian film in year 2016.

New Films Classification[edit]

On 29 March 2012, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia released new colour-coded logo designs for cinema films' classification. U or 'Umum' is now blue, which meant that the film can be watched by all ages and consists of positive depictions of values. P13 or 'Penjaga 13' is yellow, which signifies that caution should be taken when watching the film as it is not suitable for individuals below 13 and any viewers of that age must be guided by a parent or guardian. 18 is red, which meant that the film is only suitable for viewers aged 18 and above as it contains images of violence, horror and sex, as well as religious, political and social elements. All those changes are effective starting 1 April 2012.[11]

Top 10 highest-grossing Malaysia film of all time (as of September 2018)[edit]

All languages[edit]

Highest-grossing Malaysian films (all languages)
Rank Movie Year Studio Nett Gross (RM)[12]
1 Munafik 2 August 2018 Skop Productions 37.78 million
2 Hantu Kak Limah August 2018 Astro Shaw 36 million
3 BoBoiBoy Movie 2 August 2019 Animonsta Studios 29.60 million
4 PASKAL August 2018 Asia Tropical Film

Golden Screen Cinemas

Multimedia Entertainment

Granatum Ventures

Astro Shaw

28.98 million
5 Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal March 2019 Les Copaque Production 25.28 million
6 Polis EVO 2 November 2018 Skop Productions & Astro Shaw 20 million
7 Ola Bola January 2016 Astro Shaw 16.67 million
8 BoBoiBoy: The Movie March 2016 Animonsta Studios 15.77 million
9 KL Special Force March 2018 Viper Studio & Skop Productions 12.22 million
10 KL Gangster June 2011 Skop Productions 11.74 million
  • Vedigundu Pasangge earned £222 on the first day and lifetime collection of £291 in the United Kingdom.[13][14] It was the highest opening collection for a movie from Malaysia in the United Kingdom and overseas box office.

Mandarin language[edit]

Highest-grossing Malaysian films (Mandarin)
Rank Movie Year Studio Nett Gross (RM)[12]
1 The Journey January 2014 Astro Shaw 16.87 million
2 Ola Bola January 2016 Astro Shaw 16.67 million

Tamil language[edit]

Highest-grossing Malaysian films (Tamil)[15]
Rank Movie Year Studio Net gross (RM)
1 Vedigundu Pasangge 2018 Veedu Production 1,330,219
2 Maindhan 2014 Astro Shaw 903,550
3 Geethaiyin Raadhai 2016 Vikadakavi Production 592,162
4 Appalam 2011 Astro Shaw 590,707
5 Mayangaathey 2016 Touchtronics Entertainment 536,102
6 Vetti Pasanga 2014 Veedu Production 339,036
7 Neeyum Naanum 2018 BGW Studios 307,956
8 Vennira Iravuggal 2014 Shine Entertainment 260,353
9 Jagat 2015 Skyzen Studios 224,370
10 Vere Vazhi Ille 2015 Veedu Production 220,208

Further reading[edit]

  • Millet, Raphaël (2006) Singapore Cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet ISBN 981-4155-42-X
  • McKay, Benjamin (13 October 2005). "A Conversation with Amir Muhammad" Archived 24 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Criticine.
  • Ku Seman Ku Hussein. Mengimbas filem Melayu abad 20 // Massa, 218: 57; 4 Dis. 1999.
  • Van der Heide, William (2002) Malaysian Cinema, Asian Film: Border Crossing and National Cultures. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press. ISBN 90-5356-580-9

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Industry Information - Finas".
  3. ^ "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Archived from the original on 24 December 2018. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. ^ "Table 1: Feature Film Production - Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Archived from the original on 23 March 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Table 11: Exhibition - Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  6. ^ Baskett, Michael (2008). The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3223-0.
  7. ^ Baskett. The Attractive Empire, pp. 99-100
  8. ^ Baskett. The Attractive Empire, pp. 94-97
  9. ^ Smith, Ian Hayden (2012). International Film Guide 2012. p. 257. ISBN 978-1-908215-01-7.
  10. ^ "2 local films per week". 7 March 2012. Archived from the original on 21 April 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  11. ^ "New film classifications". 29 March 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b "Malaysian Box Office". Finas.
  13. ^ "Mission: Impossible – Fallout in cruise control at UK box office". 31 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Vedigundu Pasangge - Financial Information United Kingdom".
  15. ^ Finas. "Finas Box Office". Finas. Archived from the original on 2 January 2018.

External links[edit]