Article by Syafiq Khalid (Malaysia)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
Yasmin Ahmad is a Malaysian film director, writer and scriptwriter. She was born in Muar, Johor, and graduated from Newcastle University in England, majoring in arts, politics and psychology. Initially she worked at numerous private firms before ending up as an executive creative director at one of the world’s largest advertising firms, Leo Burnett Kuala Lumpur. Although she is known mostly for her work in Petronas’ Advertisements, she also wrote and directed several movies. Her rise to fame is primarily attributed to her work; containing humor, love, family values and more controversially, cross cultural relationships. Her works have won her multiple accolades both domestically as well as internationally. This article will detail on her works, the values she incorporates in them, as well as the reactions from the public regarding her advertisements and movies.
In terms of the advertisements in which she has created, her most famous ones were the ones she wrote and directed for Petronas (please refer to the links below to see her works on Youtube). Her advertisements were shown mostly during festive seasons such as Malaysia’s National Independence Day, Hari Raya Eid-ul Fitri and Chinese New Year. From her advertisements one can see that she instills family values – focusing on love between family members, to not forget the elderly by taking care of your parents, and to not take them for granted. It was because of this, she was criticized by some critics claiming that her advertisements deviate from its original purpose. Critics claim although her advertisements instill value, they fail to promote the product or company in the advertisement itself. Despite the critics, her advertisements still won awards from local institutions, and the public still supported her for her creative, unique, and heartwarming works.
Her rise to fame was actually elevated from one of the movies she wrote and directed called Sepet (Sepet in fact is a Malay term used to refer to people who have slanted eyes – mainly the Chinese, since the main character of the movie is Chinese) in 2004. Although the title of the movie may sound offensive, it still garnered a lot of attention from the public. Essentially, the movie revolves around the story of a Malaysian Chinese named “Jason” who sells Pirated VCDs and a Malay girl named Orked. Jason is a person who loves to read and write poetry, seeing himself as a romantic person. One day Orked stopped by Jason’s stall to look for a movie with her favorite Japanese actor, and from there onwards, feelings between the two blossomed. However as their relationship moved forward, they face both social and racial pressure by their family and friends. In the movie, Yasmin Ahmad shows how straining cross-culture relationships can be, and how love would always prevail, despite all the oddities.
The movie by Yasmin Ahmad sparked controversy – from the title itself, to the entire storyline, however mostly from movie criticis only. A large number of the public (particularly the youth) supported Yasmin Ahmad, and showered the movie with positive comments. The younger generation believes that the movie will further enhance and promote racial harmony, and national unity among each of the races in Malaysia. Movie critics and the older generation see it as something which should not be discussed, let alone be made the main plot in a movie. Regardless of the discrepancies of views between both of the generations, there were no serious incidents in Malaysia which occurred as a result from the Movie. In fact, a sequel to Sepet was released two years later in 2006. Although the plotline was different from Sepet, the storyline and the way the movie was depicted was controversial just like her previous works. Nevertheless, the movie still won numerous praises especially from the younger generation due to its authenticity, creativity and freshness.
On the 25th of July 2009, Yasmin Ahmad passed away after suffering from a stroke two days earlier. Although her surgery was successful, she remained in critical condition before succumbing to her injuries the day after her surgery. Some newspaper agencies which previously criticized her offered their condolences, as well as apologies for some of the criticisms they have given her. Personally, she is the only Malaysian-born Director I have ever respected and I was deeply saddened by her loss. She brought vision, creativity, freedom of expression and heartwarming aspects in her movie, and I firmly believed that she could revolutionize the Malaysian Film Industry landscape. A Malaysian citizen residing in Sydney epitomized her through an art exhibition and film screening titled “In Her Own Words, A Celebration of Humanity and Universal Love” which was launched in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Australia. Throughout her years she has won numerous awards domestically and international accolades from events such as the Tokyo International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and Asia Pacific Film Festival. She will be missed by all Malaysians particularly by the youth, and movie-lovers.
To View Her Blog & Works, Please Follow The Links Below;
Yasmin Ahmad’s Blog (Part 1)
Yasmin Ahmad’s Blog (Part 2)
*Take note that in Part 2, her last post is 3 days before she passed away.
More Works By Yasmin Ahmad;
Beautifully Imperfect (2009)
For The National Family Council,
Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports,
Advertisement For Petronas,
Malaysia’s National Independence Day 2008
Advertisement For Petronas,
Malaysia’s National Independence Day 2007
Advertisement for Petronas,
Chinese New Year 2006