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Malaysia: Remembering film director Yasmin Ahmad

Categories: East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Arts & Culture, Film

There is this joke going around – though not many people are staking claim for it – that 2009 is not a good year for public personalities. So many, like David Carradine and Michael Jackson, for example had left the world all too soon.

Last weekend, Malaysians, and many film aficionados around the world, mourned the loss of another personality – Yasmin Ahmad [1].

Publicity shot from Rain Dogs by Ho Yuhang.

Publicity shot from Rain Dogs by Ho Yuhang.

Yasmin passed away [2] on Saturday night (July 25) from massive bleeding in the brain. She had passed out during discussions for a project with a local TV station two days before her death.

Many people took to their blogs to mourn and grief the loss of this talented person, including Prakash Daniel [3]:

Looks like Malaysia has lost a talented person and its so hard to grasp the fact that she is has left this earth. The time she spent here has trully inspired many people in one way or another.

Yasmin is most-known for her poignant TV commercials and films, which often revolve around the theme of multi-culturalism. Her films have been screened around the world at prestigious festivals including the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, where she won the Grand Prix award by the Kinderfilmfest International Jury and Generation K-Plus Crystal Bear Special Mention in 2007 for Mukhsin.

Her breakout film was the 2004 romantic comedy Sepet [4], which told the story about a Chinese boy falling in love with a Malay girl – a subject some deemed controversial due to racial sensitivities. Sepet won three international awards including the Best Film awards at the 27th Creteil International Women's Film Festival in France and the Global Chinese Golden Arts Award.

It is arguable that Yasmin brought many people who would not usually watch local productions into the cinemas with her movies. She has been credited as creating films that are accessible and speaks to the heart of most of her fellow countrymen.

In his tribute to Yasmin, ehsharkj [5] spoke about

I’m not a fan to Malay movies, I don’t watch Malay movie in the cinema, I might ter’watch (“ter” is a Malay language prefix that has the connotation of “by accident” or “unintentionally” – GV Author) Malay movies during the Raya movie specials on TV.. but when it comes to Malay movies by Yasmin Ahmad, I never get bored watching, especially TV commercials made by her.

Before Yasmin was known as a filmmaker, she was most respected for her TV commercials. Even detractors of her film recognised her works in advertising. One such blogger is HTNET [6].

I’ll be honest and say it very early on; I don’t consider myself a fan of the late Yasmin Ahmad’s films. What I do admire her for is her work in the advertising sector.

Yasmin has the knack of delivering strong messages in very short time periods. In TV advertising, what you can deliver in a few seconds decides whether your campaign is a flop or success.

In this context, I cannot find any other Malaysian director who delivers this as consistently as Yasmin.

Some of Yasmin's works were highly controversial, and her films have been on the receiving end of the Malaysian Censorship Board's scissors many a times. In fact, some of her films are shown in other countries but not Malaysia.

Yet, in her death, bloggers like Anarm [7] are calling for people to remember her for the remarkable talent she had and the compassionate heart she possessed.

Tapi aku suka filem-filem dia sebab banyak mesej yang dia berjaya sampaikan. Pendek kata, beliau memang hebat lah.

But I like her films because she conveys a lot of messages through them. In short, she is amazing.

Even bloggers in neighbouring Singapore have been mourning this loss. Yasmin's is known there for her commercials commissioned by Singapore's Community Development, Youth and Sports Ministry – one entitled Funeral, and the other Red Shoes – both of which focussed on family ties.

erictbk [8], from Singapore, in introducing the YouTube videos he posted on his blog featuring his favourite pieces by Yasmin, said:

The departure of her did not only felt by fellow Malaysians, but Singaporeans too.

These are the works left behind by the legendary Yasmin Ahmad in the country's and international's film industry. You can see how beautifully,sincerely yet creatively her stories are being told…..

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Malaysians too were able to watch these commercials. In Funeral, an Indian widow of a Chinese man speaks about her husbands imperfections during his funeral service:

Many bloggers, like Peter Tan [9], chose to use Yasmin's words from the commercial to pay tribute to her. Part of it says: “In the end it’s these small things that you remember; the little imperfections that make them perfect for you.”


Adding to that, Peter said:

She made me sniffle, more often than once, usually during festive seasons. She made me chuckle, of all things about death. She is the greatest storyteller Malaysia has ever seen. There was never one like her, one whose talent and ingenuity will be a hard act to follow. Malaysia has lost a great daughter. Rest in peace Yasmin Ahmad.