Malaysian Government Freezes Film Release Over Communism Claims

Following a wave of criticism in the country's conservative press, director Wong Kew Lit’s historical drama "The New Village" has been sent back to the censorship board for a second review.

The Malaysian government has ordered the release of director Wong Kew Lit’s historical drama The New Village indefinitely delayed, following complaints in the country’s conservative press and on social media that it glorifies communism.

The film, a period feature told in Mandarin Chinese, tells a love story set in Malaysia’s tumultuous “Malayan Emergency” period of the 1940s and 50s, when a communist uprising, lead largely by the country’s ethnic Chinese population, fought for independence from British colonial rule.

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During the conflict an estimated 400,000 Chinese were forcibly relocated to guarded and contained “new villages” to keep them from intermingling, and potentially becoming recruited by, the communist insurgents.

According to the director and his team, the film was approved for commercial exhibition by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) on Sept. 4 of 2012 and given a P13 classification (roughly equivalent to PG13 in the U.S.). Following the stamp of approval from the LPF, the country’s National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) set its release date for Aug. 22.

But when a trailer for The New Village was posted to Youtube in June, a series of conservative editorials in local dailies attacked the film, suggesting – based solely on the trailer – that it portrays the communist uprising as heroic.

The historical insurgency carried on in diminished form after Malaysian independence in 1957 but ultimately failed. The communists have often been portrayed as traitors in the country’s press and state textbooks -- with an uncomfortable racial element also part of the perception, given that Malaysia is Malay-majority, and the uprising was mostly comprised of ethnic Chinese.

"Several posts on social media question the film for promoting the Malayan Communist Party's leftist struggle. We do not want sensitive issues to be raised, especially when the film is scheduled for release ahead of the country's National Day (Aug. 31)," the Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia quoted  Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as telling local reporters.

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The Home Ministry has sent the movie back to the Malaysian Film Censorship Board for further review.

It's not the first time Malaysian filmmakers have run into trouble for portraying the Malayan Emergency period.

Director Amir Muhammad’s lyrical documentary, The Last Communist, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006 and went on to screen at several other international festivals around the world. But it was banned by Malaysia’s Home Ministry and has never been shown or sold on DVD at home. The movie explores the life and legacy of Chin Peng, the one-time chief of the Malayan Communist party and leader of the military insurgency before he escaped to Thailand, where he continues to live in exile.

As with The New Village, Amir’s film was approved for screening by the censorship board, but weeks before it was due for local release, conservative daily, Berita Harian published a series of editorials deriding the film as an anti-Malaysian celebration of Communism -- it was subsequently re-examined and banned.

At the time, home minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said his biggest issue with the film was that it didn’t portray any violence, which could lead the viewer to think that Chin Peng was a peaceful figure – director Amir was quick to point out, in several interviews, that The Last Communist may be the only movie ever to have been banned for not being violent enough.