Stereotypical Malay Film Tropes We Hate (& Secretly Love)

1) Lumba haram (Illegal street racing)

(When the squad feelin cold after that sick wheelie)

Ah street racing movies, arguably the quintessential stereotype of Malay movies. Ask anyone for what they think passes as a norm in Malaysian movies and 8 times out of 10 the term ‘rempit’ will pop up. Illegal street racing as a subculture has been around for a long time here and evidently left a pretty big stamp to boot.

(source: IMDB – Gila-Gila Remaja Theatrical Poster)

Spanning from the days of charming 80s flick Gila-Gila Remaja to KL Menjerit (2002) and even car racing movies, interest in this genre has grown massively in local cinema today. 100s of god-awful ones mind you (counting telemovies), but if you scrape through the mud long enough, you’re bound to find a few treasures eventually..

Remp-It (2006)

Or as i like to call it, the pioneer and unintended cause for growth in the appeal of street racing movies. Without going into much detail because this one’s gonna be a doozie of a read,

Remp-It’s plot was kinda meh. Directed by the one and only Ahmad Idham whose movies as of recent.. well, they’re.. yeah.

This feature film screams stereotype while still managing to portray a pretty realistic depiction of that lifestyle at the time.

Partying at seedy clubs, getting high, scandalous encounters and what ‘rempit film’ would be complete without RACING. The acting was pretty solid too! No over-the-top performances like in most Malay dramas we find today just raw emotion and dialogue that made (almost) every scene seem natural… okay maybe there were some pretty outlandish scenes too involving fire (it’s still a movie, go figure).

(“Luu.. bikin gua panaaaaas”)

Spark (Zul Huzaimy), the antagonist, steals the spotlight with an amazing performance that is considered to be one of his best roles to date (I wanted to be like this man when i first watched the movie at 7 years old but thankfully I know better now that i’m older).

Unfortunately, after its release much of the landscape in Malaysian cinema tried to copy this formula but many failed very miserably.

Impak Maksima (2006)

LAJU KU LAJU JAUHKU SEMAKIN JAUH. sorry. But a lot of people today have either never heard or don’t know that the song ‘Marabahaya’ was the official soundtrack to this movie. This was one of the first street racing movies to feature cars in Malaysia around the late 2000s, which helped to garner more interest in the genre overtime, making it bigger and opening doors for more car-based racing movies as motorbike racing movies were crushing it and made a lot people want to get a Yamaha RXZ.

It was all decal Nissans and Toyatas after this mess.

Unlike Remp-It, this one didn’t really have the best acting but to a young impressionable child watching modded out cars with neon under-lights going against each other at full speed, it was exhilarating. Can’t say much for the acting, wasn’t the best wasn’t the worst. Plot was even more meh than Remp-It as I can’t recall a thing regarding the film’s storyline. You could blame that on how long ago I saw the movie but I’ll stick with the belief that maybe it just wasn’t that good.

BUT THE CARS, RACING SEQUENCES + THAT POP SHUVIT THEME SONG man. That’s why this makes the list. Oh and also the fact that similarly to Remp-It, Impak Maksima was a pioneer in the sense that it popularised this specific style of movies. Early Fast & Furious knockoffs really. I mean.. no yeah, early Fast & Furious knockoffs that evolved over the years to an amalgamation of stereotypical Malay film tropes. All of them have fight scenes sbb benda boleh gaduh buat apa nak bincang (why talk it out when we can fight).

Speaking of fights..

2) Gangster movies

(Takpe Malik, Malaysia byk lg cuti.)

Adoi. What should I say about this. Gangsters man. I don’t think I should say anything at all as a means of protecting my life. You’ll hear a lot of angry voices, Lu‘s (You) and Gua‘s (Me), multiple races speaking BM in heavy Chinese accents (baru la 1 Malaysia), but that’s the reality of these cold Malaysian streets. Underworld ain’t pretty.. from what I’ve learned watching. But damn Malaysia, you sure do love your organised crime stories and/or people getting caught in those situations. Machismo’s the name, fight scenes and shootouts’ the game.

I’ll jump right into what started the whole gangster movie outbreak:

KL Gangster (2011)

From unlimited quote-ables to the outrageous and heart-pumping choreography of fight scenes paired with stellar performances by each actor in their respective roles, every detail made this movie a memorable gem. Plot’s okay. They tried to milk the success of the first movie by making a sequel which wasn’t bad but definitely not as memorable as the first, and now there’s a mediocre series on streaming platforms.

Dampak (2013)

Y’all still with me?

Dampak is a film that caught me off guard though. If you’re really into well choreographed fight scenes this one’s a must. The story is pretty decent and gets deeper as it progresses and will even leave you uncomfortable at times. Some messed up 💩happens and things go from sweet to scary in a second.

On that note of scary…

3) Cerita hantu (Ghost movies)

In South East Asia, it’s common for most households to have spiritual beliefs. Beliefs that grant superhuman abilities, wealth, love and more through bone-chilling practices who some claim are still used to this day (if you believe in that stuff).

There’ll generally be imams or silat practitioners equipped with Quran verses to fight off bomohs summoning evil demons or to lift a curse and more Quranic verses before the credits roll for a lesson on how to avoid the protagonist’s mistakes. We sure love those.

Jangan Pandang Belakang (2007)

This movie freaked me out so much I didn’t dare go to the kitchen at night for a glass of water. It mentally scarred me with nightmares of deranged neneks and long haired women slowly crawling on all fours to me from various angles in positions that should be anatomically impossible.

And corn. For a good while, even thinking about corn put me in a bad place. If ya know, ya know.

Good flick. Some cliches here and there but the sights, sounds and overall atmosphere of the film gets the job done nevertheless.

Jangan Pandang Belakang… Congkak (2009)

Another common talent Malaysians have is mixing scary sh!t with jokes. A lot of times, these movies get confused on what genre they truly wanna be so they lack focus on either end of the spectrum and just fall flat. Somehow, a couple of films manage to make it work like this one.

The film’s name is a combination of two different horror movie titles, both decent in their own right, and manages to find the perfect balance and timing of when to create laughs and screams. It’s funny at times and the ghosts are scary. Only downside is you’ll feel stupid for watching at some moments but what’d you expect? This ain’t no Sundance Award winner.

4) Filem cinta (Love stories)

Malays are very emotional people (source: being Malay myself).

Many of these big-screen releases provided the basic template for the tiresome ‘drama melayu’ plot archetypes. Feelings and love triangles between the female, male leads and usually the son of a Dato’ who wears polos exclusively and almost always drives a BMW.

If that’s not your cup of tea, how about disapproving rich parents who get unhappy with their daughter’s partner of choice which usually ends in them accepting said partner. Most times the disapproval will stem from the male lead either not being rich enough or because he simply isn’t the dude that mama n’ papa chose for their darling daughter.

I mean suka hati anak perempuan kau la nak date siapa. I kinda get the whole worrying parent angle and there are instances where these movies try to justify a reason for the parents’ disapproval where the man is revealed to be a total douche and the studio thinks to themselves “Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming” though most audiences probably did from just watching the trailer. Let’s carry on..

Ombak Rindu (2011)

Perhaps the most famous movie of the genre (don’t hate me but I’ve never actually seen the whole thing to this day). I heard from multiple women (and some guys too) that this one will get the waterworks flowing. From what I’ve read on the story’s synopsis it seems pretty intense while still including the usual Filem Cinta tropes.

Pulang (2018)

To end the post on a sweet note, I HIGHLY recommend watching this one. Pulang chronicles the life of Othman played by Remy Ishak who becomes a sailor traveling across different parts of the globe in hopes of providing a better life for his family back home. The movie is shot in different time periods spanning from the Japanese Invasion during World War 2 up til’ the age of cellphones.

Pulang will tug on your heartstrings and make you shed tears (more than once). Scenes are brilliantly shot and the transitions between scenes and time periods aren’t rushed or out of place. Acting-wise, the entire cast killed it producing some of the best performances in any genre of local films to date. Go ahead and watch it on Netflix if you haven’t already seen it.

Fun fact: It’s based on a true story!

(Oh wait… my Editor has pointed out a problem with this movie – it depicts the Japanese coming to Malaysia specifically to kill the Chinese – as if China, which is next to Japan, didn’t have enough Chinese people). Well, can’t please everyone.

So there you have it.

(If you’ve managed to stay with me up til’ this point, I appreciate you.)

Even with all the nonsense we find in Malay movies, there’s still a rare handful of them which I’m certain will stand the test of time.

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