If you want to criticise a movie, do as film critics do: watch it first and get the full picture.
HERE we go again, criticising blindly. Yet another movie gets mired in controversy with people screaming for its banning without watching it.
This time it is a local Chinese Astro-Shaw production called The New Village. Just based on a two minute-19 seconds trailer, various groups condemned it for glorifying communism.
The Government quickly suspended permission for its general release in cinemas on Aug 22, pending a review.
This reaction recalls the same pillorying of another local movie, Tanda Putera, last year. Again, based on snippets that came out, howls of protests were heard accusing the movie-makers of distorting history by portraying the Chinese and the DAP negatively.
They claimed it showed an opposition politician urinating on the national flag during the May 13 incident but there is no such scene, according to a colleague who watched the movie. It just goes to show how ridiculously sensitive and suspicious people can get.
Sadly, this propensity to attack without seeing the whole picture (literally) is not new.
I remember the controversy surrounding the TV series Peyton Place in the 1970s.
This US drama was centred on a small New England town and its inhabitants and dealt with themes like adultery, incest and abortion, shocking stuff on prime-time TV in 1960s America.
By the time the series reached our shores, its reputation was sealed. Peyton Place was the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hence the criticism that erupted when it was announced RTM was going to screen it. No one had seen it but many assumed the worst. Despite the objections, the series was screened. Our national morality level didn’t register even a tiny drop because while ground-breaking in its time, by the 1970s, Peyton Place was very tame.
More recently, Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut was nearly derailed by rumours. The movie which she also wrote and produced, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is set during the war in Bosnia (1992-1995). The central theme is that of a love between a Serb guard in a prison camp and his former girlfriend, a Muslim woman, imprisoned there.
But rumours about the plot, picked up by the local media, claimed that the movie was about a Muslim girl falling for her Serbian rapist.
That led to angry protests from rape victims of the war and the Bosnian government banning Jolie from entering the country to film it. When the movie was finally screened, it was critically acclaimed and Jolie vindicated.
Now comes The New Village. From what I can see from the trailer, the movie, set during the Emergency, shows a Chinese family desperately trying to defend their home, only to see it demolished as the British colonial masters ruthlessly implemented the Briggs Plan to corral Chinese into barb-wired settlements to stop the supply of food and other essentials to the communists.
I imagine the movie will try to capture the hardships suffered by thousands of Chinese caught in the mass internment into what were basically camps euphemistically called “new villages”, a name that is used till today.
And, as confirmed by Astro, it is about a forbidden love story, like In the Land of Blood and Honey. This time between a Chinese village girl and a young communist cadre.
The two accusations levelled against The New Village are: the suspicion it “promotes” communism and it jumped the queue ahead of Tanda Putera which has a screening date of Aug 29.
The first accusation is actually rather laughable. Hello, communism in the 21st century is practically dead, even in the two countries that are most associated with it. China and Russia are so capitalistic and open that most young people don’t even know they’re supposed to be bad-ass states. No one cares to be a communist; the romance is completely gone.
So, really, there is nothing to promote. Does the movie portray the communists in a sympathetic light? Well, that remains to be seen.
Perhaps the film makers want to offer an insight into why people, mostly the Chinese, were attracted to the communist ideology and gave up their normal lives to join the Malayan Communist Party.
It was certainly no walk in the park: life in the jungle was tough and dangerous. Billionaire Robert Kuok’s brother, William, became a communist and was killed in an ambush.
We can say they were misguided but they were people who, rightly or wrongly, were willing to die for a cause they believed in, much like the many suicide bombers of this century. We may not agree with them but there is no harm in trying to understand the reasons that drove them to such extreme measures.
As for the screening date, according to Astro, The New Village went through all the vetting processes and received a P13 classification with no cuts, in September 2012. That means the movie was in the queue for general screening for a long time.
Tanda Putera (Mark of Princes) is said to be a historical account of how Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and his deputy, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, set about healing the nation traumatised by the 1969 racial riots. That sounds like a very good premise for a movie.
It was set for release on Sept 13, 2012, but due to those unhappy rumours, the movie was pulled back.
It remains unclear why its release date has been delayed for so long even though many private screenings were held right up to the general election in May.
But at least the public will have a chance to see it finally and decide for themselves if there is any truth to the criticisms.
Amid all the loud protests to The New Village, it was a relief to hear Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s rational response.
He called for a review but also urged people not to condemn the film based on the trailer.
Pass the popcorn and may the movie pass the review too.
> The writer feels that our knee-jerk reactions to so many things will finally cripple and prevent us from becoming a thinking, rational society. Feedback to email@example.com or tweet to #JuneHLWong
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