Monday 31 December 2007

Another book launching simultaneously

What an embarrassment of riches. Looks like New Malaysian Essays 1 will not only have Sufian Abas as a launch-mate.

Chuah Guat Eng will unleash her first volume of short stories, The Old House, at the same time and place. Guat's previous book was the novel Echoes of Silence (1993) and she has since been busy with matters academic.

I do have a copy (autographed, natch) but have not read it yet. And if you (yes, you) wanna get your hands on the book, you know where to come.

Wednesday 26 December 2007

'Apa Khabar Orang Kampung' DVD now on sale

Yes, my documentary is now on sale courtesy of Singapore's Objectifs Films. It is without cuts and rated NC16 (not suitable for those below 16).

It can be ordered from anywhere around the world here.

Friday 21 December 2007

Amcorp Mall this Sunday

My final flea-market push for the year will be this Sunday at Amcorp Mall, PJ, from 10am-5pm.

I will be flogging the book and ... a DVD. The exact location: 2nd floor, next to Popular bookshop.

Datanglah kalau sudi. Kali terakhir untuk membeli-belah sebelum menyambut kelahiran Yesus Kristus!

Thursday 20 December 2007

Out of the Top 10

MPH Local Non-Fiction Bestsellers
for the week ending 19 December

1.Teh Hong Piow: A Banking Thoroughbred
Author : Bowie, Paddy

2. 1957 - 2007: Chronicle of Malaysia (Fifty Years of Headline News)
Author : Mathews, Philip (Editor-in-Chief)

3. Growing Up in Trengganu
Author : Awang Goneng

4. Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures
Author : Kam Raslan

5. In Good Faith: Articles, Essays and Interviews
Author : Zaid Ibrahim

6. Judging the Judges
Author : N.H. Chan

7. News from Home
Authors : Chua Kok Yee; Shih-Li Kow; Rumaizah Abu Bakar

8. The Certain Way to Life's Riches
Author : Peter Yee; Alexandra Ng

9. Rahsia Raja Lelong
Author : Eruwan Gerry Norsen

10. Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires
Author : Adam Khoo

* Yes, after 10 consecutive weeks, the book is nowhere to be found in the Top 10. But that's OK because:

a) Unlike, say, the film box-office or pop singles chart, what goes down can come up again. Witness the case of Kam's and Zaid's books, which were both not around last week.

b) 5,000 copies in the first three months is quite good what.

c) I own five of the books here, and I am glad others are buying them too.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Six teasers for 'Flower in the Pocket'

How can one not be proud to have a colleague like Liew Seng Tat? He has a funny bone in places that other people don't even have places.

Yes, his movie Flower in the Pocket, a bilingual comedy, opens this Thursday in four GSC cinemas: MidValley, One Utama, Pavilion and Gurney Plaza.

Monday 17 December 2007

Oh look, a year-end list!

I managed to see, in the cinema, 14 of the 21 widely-released local films of the year. (There used to be a time when I would make it a point to watch all, but this year I somehow wasn't up to it).

Although no one's asking, this is my ranking anyway:

1. Mukhsin
2. Anak Halal
3. Puaka Tebing Biru
4. Zombi Kampung Pisang
5. Jangan Pandang Belakang
6. Waris Jari Hantu
7. Syaitan
8. Chermin
9. Kayangan
10. 1957 Hati Malaya
11. Diva
12. Cinta Yang Satu
13. Impak Maksima
14. Orang Minyak

I missed the following:

Haru Biru
Qabil Khushry Qabil Igam
9 September
Budak Lapok
Nana Tanjung 2

My own co-directed, much-delayed Susuk should be out sometime in the middle of next year. It's basically done, but the studio wants to release two of its other films first: Dunia Baru The Movie and Sepi. Mwahaha!

Friday 14 December 2007

Recommended: ANAK HALAL

Saw it last night. Although not a perfect film (Why on earth would we want to watch a perfect film? Wouldn't it be as intimidating as knowing a perfect person?) I am amazed anew at Osman Ali's empathy (heart), energy and skill with actors. If nothing else, this film is significant for finally making a credible leading man of Farid Kamil (!)

If Osman's earlier, underrated film Puaka Tebing Biru reminded me of old Malay movies, Anak Halal is like gritty Bollywood. As such, some would flinch that it's all 'too much', which is fine. But the excess is wedded to a generosity of spirit, which makes it all right by me.

Osman has been creating a consistent cinematic world since his graduation short in 1999 (also called Anak Halal), a world of sensuality, underdog camaraderie, outrage, provocation, pathos. He always goes that little bit further than anyone else would dare to – just to get that little bit closer.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Simultaneous book launch

A bonus! New Malaysian Essays 1 will be launched simultaneously with this:

Who is Sufian Abas? His first published short, My Chicken Story, was one of the highlights of Silverfish New Writing 1 (2001) that I edited. Weighing in at only 3 pages, it was darker, funnier and bitchier than an entire Mami Jarum movie. Then he had a few shorts in Wilayah Kutu (2005). But other than that he's been notoriously slow.

Now, inspired no doubt by the success of Malaysians who have been published abroad like Tan Twan Eng and Preeta Samarasan, he has awakened to unleash the first volume of his collected fiction!

Nantikan kemunculan
Kasut Biru Rubina: Koleksi Pop Fiskyen Untuk Jiwa2 Hadhari Vol 1. The launch is Saturday, 16 Feb, 8pm at the Annexe. But you'll be hearing about the launch many more times closer to the date, fret not.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Interview in The Jakarta Post

Proving it's two strikes you're in as far as film festivals go

By Paul Agusta. 12 December. The Jakarta Post.

Neither of the documentary films Amir Muhammad of Malaysia has in this year's Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) have ever been screened publicly in his own country. They were banned; The Last Communist was rejected after initial approval due to the outcries of an influential conservative newspaper, and Village People Radio Show was banned before it was born, having been deemed a sequel to its notoriously naughty big brother.

"I've learned not to anticipate anything. After all, Ching Peng's (the last communist from the film's title) memoirs were sold openly and it was not banned," said Amir of the banning of his films. "The Information minister, Zainuddin Maidin, had a beautiful explanation of this discrepancy: `Malaysian's don't read books'."

"The irony is that I just wanted to show it on three small digital screens and the book has been read by more people than those three screens could pack in even if it played for a solid month," said the constantly smiling filmmaker and author, who just celebrated his 35th birthday on Dec. 5.

"Both were released in Singapore at one cinema, and then on DVD," said Amir.

"They were also both sold to Korean TV," he added. "The Last Communist even made it into 30 film festivals, and it got positive responses in Berlin and Toronto," Amir explained.

Back home, the Malaysians who forked out 10 ringgit (Rp 27,000 or US$3) at pirated DVD stalls to see what all the fuss was about were left scratching their heads.

"The main response I heard was `Full of old people talking only'. I guess they were expecting an action movie," Amir said.

"Even the die-hard leftists who saw it were disappointed," Amir explained. "So I managed to disappoint both conservatives and radicals."

Whatever the fate of the two films in their land of origin, they have garnered a lot of interest abroad, and not only because of the banning controversy, but also due to the experimental approach Amir takes to documentary filmmaking in general.

Know for his surgically sharp wit, this law school graduate who never practiced because he never felt it necessary to take the bar exam, has consistently pushed the boundaries of what documentaries are assumed to be, while affectionately dissecting the complex irony that colors the way of life and being in his homeland.

Yet, according to Amir, it was Indonesia that inspired him to do both of the films now on JIFFest screens.

"It all came directly out of my experience of making The Year of Living Vicariously, where a lot of it consisted of interviewing people about their memories," Amir explained.

The Year of Living Vicariously (2005) began as documentary of the production of Indonesian director Riri Riza's Gie, a film whose backdrop is the communist drama of 1960s Indonesia. However, while Amir was on set, he started asking actors and crew members what they knew about the events of that time. What he got was what he refers to as "inherited memories". "So I wondered what the Malaysian equivalent would be, and that was about the same time that Chin Peng's memoirs were released. Chin Peng was the last secretary-general of the Communist Party of Malaya," Amir explained.

"I read the book when I got back to Malaysia, and I was struck by the towns he grew up in. So I wanted to do a road tour as I was not familiar with those towns," Amir said.

"So it (The Last Communist) is a map of two different kinds of landscapes, the physical one and the one mapped by memories and myths," Amir explained.

"Seeing that Malaysians are much less politicized than Indonesians, most people ended up talking not about 'the communist era' but about their own livelihoods, so I kept that in," Amir said.

Amir feels that the main function of documentaries is not to impart information, but to communicate a sense of place.

"Documentaries are a branch of cinema rather than a branch of news," he said. "But art isn't the doily on the table; art is the material of the table itself."

He continued: "If it is obvious that your intention is to lecture or hector, people's responses will be programmed from the opening minute. I think that if you are very sure of what your film will be like before making it, why bother making it? I think that filmmakers should challenge themselves too."

* The Last Communist is to be screened on Dec. 14 and 16 and Village People Radio Show on Dec. 12, 13 and 14. For more information go to or phone (6221) 31925115.


MPH Local Non-Fiction Bestseller List

1. Growing Up in Trengganu
Author : Awang Goneng

2. The 2008 Tong Shui Monthly Planner
Author : Joey Yap

3. The Unmaking of Malaysia: Insider's Reminiscenes of UMNO, Razak and Mahathir
Author : Ahmad Mustapha Hassan

4. Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol. 1)
Author : Amir Muhammad

5. Chronicle of Malaysia: 1957–2007 (Fifty Years of Headline News)
Author : Mathews, Philip (Editor-in-Chief)

6. Feng Shui for Apartment Buyers - Home Owners
Author : Joey Yap

7. Memulakan Bisnes Sendiri (Edisi Kemas Kini)
Author : Ainon Mohd

8. Xuan Kong Flying Star Feng Shui: Your Guide to the Flying Stars Feng Shui System
Author : Joey Yap

9. I Walked the Dollar
Author : Dr. Saiful Bahri

10. In Service of the Law - Simplicity & Greatness: Tun Suffian's Legacy
Author : Salleh Buang

1. This is my 10th consecutive week on the list. Woop woop!

2. I am thrilled that Awang Goneny is #1. I started reading his book and it's terrific. Very nicely published,too.

3. Joey Yap must have a writing desk in a very auspicious location to manage three titles in there.

Monday 10 December 2007

'Evening is the Whole Day'

I am going through this phase when I just can't read contemporary fiction. But I hope to snap out of it by the time Preeta Samarasan's debut novel Evening is the Whole Day is released in March. [correction: May!]

A description at Amazon says that the novel "illuminates in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family's layers of secrets and lies, while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself."

I have no idea who she is, to be honest, but she writes some terrific blog comments over at Sharon Bakar's joint – her elucidation of atheism makes a great deal of sense, not to mention her defence of the word apartheid (but not ethnic cleansing) for Malaysian race-based politics.

Complex underbellies are A-OK with me. Go Preeta!

Sunday 9 December 2007

Gloomy Sunday

To call Malaysia a dictatorship would be an insult to the millions who had to live under the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Marcos and Suharto. But the peculiar aspect of Malaysia's illiberal democracy (to use a phrase that Rustam Sani either coined or popularised) is to be confronted by small bits of dehumanisation on a regular basis.

I was manning a booth at the Bar Council this morning, to make up the numbers. After all, the crowd shouldn't have consisted solely of lawyers, activists and undercover cops! It was, also, a festival to celebrate human rights – an inconclusive and sometimes maligned concept, true, but which should include the basic right to assemble peacefully.

And it was a peaceful gathering, despite the Falun Gong activists' loud propaganda machine just next to me. But right from the start, the police made their presence very much felt. I've never had cause to be angry at the police. They are, as the saying goes, just doing their job. But shouldn't their job involve better things than snooping around, taking surreptitious photographs and telling people to disperse? How many crimes can be solved with greater speed if these very same men and women in blue (or in plainclothes) were to instead get cracking on them?

I've never been a demonstrator type. The banal truth is, I simply don't like to be part of a huge crowd; I don't even attend concerts. In fact, the only real demo I have ever taken part in was in a foreign country, where I was shocked to see the authorities actually cooperating rather than being intimidating.

Watching the spirited and principled young lawyer Edmund Bon (left) getting taken away by a swarm of blue, simply for refusing to take down banners, left me with a feeling of sadness. For some reason I couldn't quite summon outrage, but it was indeed sad to see that we have come to this.

A student at an MMU screening of The Big Durian a few days ago asked me what a 'perfect government' would be like. I daresay that since governments are composed of imperfect human beings, there will never be a perfect government. The very quest or presumption of perfection is fascist. But there can be a much better system of checks and balances; for each of these imperfect institutions – the executive, legislature, judiciary, police force, media, civil society – to then create, through negotiation, a system that allows for not just stability but difference. Stability without difference is inertia. And how can we move forward from inertia?

The weather was gloomy this Sunday but it did not quite rain. Those who commit the literary sin of pathetic fallacy will not be able to say that the sky cried. There were no tears, of the real or allegorical variety. But there was a sigh – if you cared to listen.

* Photos by SN.

Friday 7 December 2007

The cover painting

All covers of the New Malaysian Essays series will feature a Malaysian art work by someone I know. As I don't know all that many artists, the series might be shorter-lived than I initially thought...

The first cover features a detail from Ahmad Fuad Osman's oil painting titled Hoi Hoi...Apa Ni? Dia Kata Hang Salah, Hang Kata Dia Tak Betoi, Sapa yang Salah Sapa Yang Betoi Ni??!! Hangpa Ni Sebenaqnya Nak Apaaaa??? It was made in 1999, measures 252cm by 272 cm, and is used courtesy of its owners Pakharuddin & Fatimah Sulaiman.

I have known Fuad for about a decade and this is among his more striking works. It was painted at the height of the reformasi era but even without the political context, I like how lacking in serenity it is. Choosing it as the cover is my way of anticipating how the Malaysian public would welcome a book of damn long and frequently argumentative essays.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Site of the day

The Malay Concordance Project has the searchable, Romanised texts [although not fully available for download] of many Malay manuscripts dating from the 14th century to the 1930s ... and it's always being updated.

I shall certainly be spending many hours on it from now on.

What a great idea for the university to have started it! (No, it's not a local U).

Wednesday 5 December 2007


MPH Local Non-Fiction Best-Seller List
for the week ending Dec 2

1. The Unmaking of Malaysia: Insider's Reminiscenes of UMNO, Razak and Mahathir
Author : Ahmad Mustapha Hassan

2. Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol. 1)
Author : Amir Muhammad

3. May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969
Author : Kua Kia Soong

4. Feng Shui for Apartment Buyers - Home Owners
Author : Joey Yap

5. Memoir Shamsiah Fakeh: Dari Awas ke Rejimen Ke-10 (Edisi Baru)
Author : Shamsiah Fakeh

6. In Service of the Law - Simplicity & Greatness: Tun Suffian's Legacy
Author : Salleh Buang

7. Malaysia and the Club of Doom
Author : Syed Akbar Ali

8. My Rewards
Author : Chong Kah Kiat

9. Bukan Kerana Pangkat: Tun Dr Ismail dan Masanya
Author : Ooi Kee Beng

10. Rahsia Raja Lelong
Author : Eruwan Gerry Norsen

1. This is the 9th week on the chart. The trajectory so far: 2-1-1-1-1-5-1-5-2

2. 6 of the books are by or about Malaysian politicians!

Monday 3 December 2007

Where I will be this Sunday

Do join us!

I doubt if I will be well enough to, you know, march, but I will be there for the second half of the programme at CM.