May 8, 2009 / 4:25 AM / 10 years ago

No kung-fu, Asian beauties in Malaysia Cannes film

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - A Malaysian film maker whose first feature-length film has been picked for the Cannes Film Festival aims to prove that Asian cinema can appeal to international audiences without resorting to stereotypes.

“Karaoke,” directed by Chris Chong who was born in Sabah on Borneo Island and which is about village life, will be the only Malaysian film to be screened at the festival since 1995’s “Kaki Bakar,” the “Arsonist.”

“I think gradually people will get to know what Malaysian film is like because it’s very different from kung-fu, martial arts films with beautiful Asian girls and that kind of erotic film making,” Chong told Reuters.

The film is centered on village life and the Malaysian palm oil industry, with bustling scenes of harvesting and processing during the day contrasting against the flickering lights of the karaoke club where the workers retire at night.

Betik, the film’s central character, is a young Malaysian man who returns to his village from the city. With dreams of taking over the family karaoke business, he settles back into village life with his new love interest Anisah.

However Betik soon finds that life isn’t as simple as the scenes in karaoke videos and that home is not what it used to be.

The karaoke videos were custom-made for the film and written by Malaysian singer-songwriter Shanon Shah, so they could remain true to Malaysian karaoke culture, Chong said.

“I like using every-day elements in creating a more in depth understanding of greater issues surrounding us. So why not use karaoke?” he said.

Chong has directed other short films, but the inspiration for his first feature came after a three year break from film-making and while watching a karaoke video.

The lack of Malaysian representation on the international film scene is something Chong attributes to the fickle nature of festivals that follow global trends.

The gloomy world economic outlook might however provide support for home-grown independent titles.

“You can see in Bollywood and in Hollywood. Because of the downturn in the economy the film industry has turned to its own film-makers and has been met with great acclaim, I think in Malaysia we have to do the same thing,” Chong said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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