While 2019 has been a lively year to say the least from the peaks of box office records to talks of censorship rearing its ugly head, the Malaysian cinema is going through some change, whether we like them or not.
This is also reflected in the movies made by Malaysians this year, and while there have been some misses, we think it's better to remember the hits that made our 2019.
If there is any hope for Malaysian cinema, it firmly lies within the animation studio. While animation quality has started emerging in the past few years, it seems to be reaching its peak in 2019. From the release of Les Copaque's "Upin dan Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal", every animation studio has been setting the bar higher over each other. But the biggest achievement would go to Wau Animation, not only for becoming the highest grossing Malaysian animation with their debut feature, but even holding down the likes of Disney's "Frozen 2" from local box office glory. Nevertheless, the Malaysian animation scene is going to be more interesting in the years to come, and we are only expecting more surprises and excitement from this corner of Malaysian cinema.
Many audiences who went to see Syafiq Yusof's latest outing may have gone in expecting a twist in the story they were watching, only to realise that the twist came after coming out of cinemas. Made to be dividing those who had watch "Misteri Dilaila" with two different cuts in cinemas, changing the villains or who the real victims are, it only made those who were curious of different endings to watch the movie twice (and having to hunt down the right cinema that showed the different cut). Accusations of plagiarism aside, "Misteri Dilaila" is an experiment with results that is yet to be seen in how directors can manipulate audiences.
With mixed martial arts becoming the new contact sport that needs more movies, we have seen two different movies using the sport as their basis for their stories. However, only one of these movies would be coming out on top and we have to give it to Adrian Teh's "Wira" over Kabir Bhatia's "Sangkar". Admittedly, both are rather different movies dealing with contrasting themes, but based on its stunt coordination and fight choreography, "Wira" delivers more kicks that MMA fans would be looking for, rather than the emotional punches that "Sangkar" put to the gut about a redeeming character and finding his way back to the righteous.
Every once in a while, Malaysia welcomes a bright new talent to shake up the scene and show what Malaysian filmmakers are capable of. 2018 had "Guang", and in 2019, our shining example is "Fly By Night". A decade in the making since he won the first BMW Shorties, Zahir Omar's feature debut got all the right attention that it deserves, collecting credentials from Busan, Macao and the Jogja-NETPAC film festivals. With a capable cast delivering solid performances from a thought-out script, and high attention to technical detail, "Fly By Night" is the quiet gem of genre filmmaking that Malaysians didn't see, amidst the noise of blockbusters crowding out our cinemas. Fortunately, Malaysians would be able to watch it on Netflix, and we can only hope that would encourage Zahir to make his next outing soon.
Last year has been a momentous year for Malaysia, not only for its cinema, but it is the first time that the country has seen a change in a new government after 60 years of hegemonic rule. Many a filmmaker have definitely tried to capitalise on this historic moment to various effect, and that includes this documentary by Dian Lee and Ineza Roussile. Rather than writing to rewrite history, "M For Malaysia" tries to capture it through the eyes of the people who voted and worked for the change of leadership in the new government, led by returning Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Honest and willing to face up to the troubled past, with a hopeful look to the future, there was a little surprise when "M for Malaysia" was sent to represent Malaysia for the next Oscars, but for what it represents, we don't think it is any less than a momentous movie for Malaysia.