Watch these iconic Malay films for a glimpse into Singapore’s history

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SINGAPORE: Some might remember that during the golden age of Malay cinema in the 1950s and 1960s, classic films like the popular P Ramlee movies were made in Singapore by the now defunct Cathay-Keris and Shaw Brothers’ Malay Film Productions.

A more obscure fact is that many of these movies were also filmed on location here, outside studios and sound stages.  

State of Motion – the Asian Film Archive’s (AFA) annual flagship film and visual arts series of programmes – is back for the third time to offer glimpses and insights into Singapore’s past.

Held from now to Feb 11, State of Motion 2018: Sejarah-ku (“My History” in Malay) will be not only be showcasing free screenings of 10 Malay movies that reflect the looming cultural and ideological changes of pre-independent Singapore, but also conducting guided tours to film locations used in the old films.

These ticketed tours provide a rare chance for participants to step back into Singapore’s history to experience for themselves how offshore islands like Pulau Sekudu were used as on-site filming locations for movies like Hang Tuah (1956) from Shaw Malay film productions and Hang Jebat (1961) from Cathay-Keris studios.

This is the first time State Of Motion is conducting an offshore tour via boat which will culminate in an immersive dance performance – Cinta Tuah Jebat (The Love of Tuah and Jebat). Conceived by akulah BIMBO SAKTI, it examines the final fight between the protagonists from both the above-mentioned films through recorded audio playback and live performance.

There are also tours around different parts of Singapore where participants will get a fresh look at old locations. 

For instance, Tanah Merah Besar, where the main road now ends at a fence at the perimeter of Changi Airport, was a beachside recreational park for swimming and picnicking. This made it a popular film location. In 1963’s Darah Muda, the park is the meeting place for a mother and her forcibly-separated daughter.

A film still from 1963’s Darah Muda (Photo: Shaw Bros.’ Malay Films Productions)

Other film locations include Shaw’s Villa at Upper East Coast Road, Punggol Point and Sungei Serangoon, where site-specific artwork relevant to individual films will be on display. 

All the artworks produced for this edition are curated by Kamiliah Bahdar, and include a sculptural work by Khairulddin Wahab that will accompany the exhibition at the National Library Plaza which showcases the history of the films and the themes of the era.

An independent visual arts curator, Bahdar told Channel NewsAsia that the objective and purpose of this project is encapsulated in this year’s title: Sejarah-ku.

“We are looking at all these films as a repository and a document of social history,” she said. “And because these films are audio and visual, we feel they are really a way for people to connect with a past society. And with the ideas circulating back then, people can also connect to that past history.”

Mogok (1957), Sri Menanti (1958), Isi Neraka (1960), Seniman Bujang Lapok (1961), Ibu Mertua Ku (1962) from Shaw Malay film productions, and Selamat Tinggal Kekasehku (1955), Noor Islam (1960) from Cathay-Keris studios round up the full list of films, which will all be screened at the Malay Heritage Centre. Admission is free with registration at stateofmotion.sg.

With more than 150 films that were made by Malay Film Productions, Bahdar admitted it was difficult to choose the final 10 to be screened. 

“In the end, we picked films that we felt we could use to highlight issues that were pertinent to the Malay community back then,” she said, adding that it was a good mix of both iconic films and lesser-known ones.

State of Motion is part of AFA’s efforts to preserve the rich film heritage of Singapore and Asia, and to cultivate an appreciation of history, film and the arts among a wider audience.

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