Why does the Malaysian Censorship Board want to mute seven parts of Chong’s film? They have already cut five parts of it.
On 18 November, Chong Keat Aun, the 42-year old ‘Anak Kedah’ brought fame and glory to Malaysia, when his film, The Story of Southern Islet, bagged four awards at the 57th Golden Horse Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan, and Chong received the Best New Director Award.
FINAS congratulated him as did the Communication and Multimedia minister, Saifuddin Abdullah. He was told that his film “Islet” would be featured at the closing ceremony of the 4th Malaysian International Film Festival (MIFFest), scheduled for early next year.
Chong’s euphoria was short-lived because on the following morning, 19 November, he received a telegram from the Malaysian Censorship Board, saying that 12 cuts would be made to the film.
The censors said that five of the cuts were necessary, because he had delved into mountain gods, bomohs, snake gods and fairies, which he was told, were contrary to Islamic teachings.
Chong is currently in quarantine after his return from Taipei. In a telephone interview, he said that he would need to convinces the censors that the other seven parts, which include elements like black magic and ‘little ghosts’, are satisfactorily explained, and therefore, need not be censored.
He is very keen on Malaysian history and traditions. In Taipei, many people were curious to find out more about the rich cultural heritage of Kedah and they were fascinated by the Gedet shadow play (Wayang Kulit Gedet) for which Kedah is famous.
He said that in his youth, during the 80s, wayang kulit Gedet was common but today, only two wayang kulit experts are left. He was keen to stress that these arts and cultural traditions should not be confined to the history books.
Chong grew up in the padi growing belt of Kedah and his childhood experiences of living amongst the Malay community, may be recognised by many older, rural farmers, but they may seem strange to younger Malaysians.
In his film, he successfully blended his childhood experience with the agricultural and cultural aspects of Kedah’s folklore and history.
He said, “I am not trying to promote supernatural beliefs or be anti religion, but I am merely trying to promote the culture of the Malays of Kedah, their culture, legends, history which few people talk or even know about. I also want people to know about the fascinating Gunung Keriang legend.“
He talked about the rich tradition and rituals of those who grew padi and revered the “semangat padi”. He described the way farmers prepared for the harvest and erected a jelapang padi, which is a small structure beside the padi fields. These are no longer seen in Kedah, as most farmers have moved their jelapang padi structures to the backs of their homes.
Chong said that The Story of Southern Islet is based on a true story and describes a time when his father suffered from a mysterious illness, after an altercation with a neighbour. His mother went through great pains and much sacrifice to treat him. She consulted doctors, then shamans and bought various medicines to try to cure him.
The film is not a horror story, but it brings out the blend of the three cultures of the people who live in northern Kedah; by the ancient Langkasuka kingdom, the Malay and the Thai influences.
He said, “In the olden days, stories were told by these wayang kulit performers with the skilled use of musical instruments, voice, colour, light and imagery to entertain and educate the public. These are all crucial aspects of the story. There is no story if any of these, like the voice, the story or the music, is missing.
“Today, films have replaced the traditional wayang kulit.”
Chong is quick to stress that there is nothing controversial in his film. He does not encourage people to dabble in the spirit world and said, “It is important that we tell the whole world about Kedah’s rich heritage which is thousands of years old.“
The censorship board should be pleased with Chong’s film which has brought fame and recognition to the Malay culture of Kedah.
Chong is the embodiment of multicultural Malaysia – a Chinese Malaysian who wants to share the Malay wayang kulit with the world. He skilfully uses the latest film technique to tell the world about the traditional centuries old wayang kulit.
NB: The Story of Southern Islet will be screened at the Hainan Island International Film Festival, in Hainan, in December.