"Support Malaysian Films" — 'Pulau' Producer Addresses Controversy With Local Horror Flick
Award-winning music producer and filmmaker Fred Chong has been a notable figure in the Malaysian entertainment industry for over 10 years, creating multiple highly publicised works
As the first Malaysian-Chinese producer to launch a fully-fledged Malay album, Chong's beginnings were originally captured in the local music industry. Having written creations for numerous top-tier Malaysian artistes such as Sheila Majid and Jaclyn Victor, Chong made his move to films back in 2011, with the release of his first feature movie, Nasi Lemak 2.0.
Moving forward to produce other established works, some of his creations include the likes of Hantu Gangster (2012), Kara King (2013), and the highly controversial film, Banglasia (2015). According to Chong, one of his proudest works is the film Juang (2022), which paid tribute to the frontliners fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consistently breaking moulds for racial and linguistic diversity, Chong's ability to curate monumental pieces in Malaysia's entertainment industry is clear and precise.
Despite his experience when highlighting numerous niche topics, his most recent work has garnered mixed views — proving to be one of his most discussed creations of all time.
Malaysian horror flick Pulau (2023) has arguably become one of the most controversial local films dissected in the past few years
Following a group of youngsters who are on vacation, the trip turns into a horrifying nightmare after a losing bet forces them to spend the night at a deserted island.
Stumbling upon a mysterious abandoned village, the group accidentally breaks an old spell placed on the island to restrain an antagonising spirit, forcing them to suffer at the hands of the evil creature who needs blood to stay alive.
The release of the movie's trailer this past January has sparked a polarising response from the public.
From risqué to fascinating, horrifying but entertaining, Pulau (2023) has remained in the spotlight over the past couple of months, receiving criticism for what has been described as "explicit and suggestive" scenes in the trailer.
But are all these comments fair in an industry where criticism and praise go hand-in-hand? Or has an overwhelming public perspective gone too far?
In an exclusive interview with SAYS, Chong discussed all the controversy that surrounds the film, what he believes the public will make of the film once they see it, and his hope for the future of the Malaysian movie industry.
Detailing the inspiration behind creating Pulau (2023), Chong expressed how an old friend's interest in Malaysian culture gave him the idea to amalgamate the beauty of nature and local urban legends
"The concept came along when a producer friend of mine, Michael Helfman, talked to me about coming up with something worthwhile. His idea came from our yearly travel to Langkawi for the holidays, and how we've never had the opportunity to show how beautiful the island really is," Chong said.
Expounding on Helfman's ideas, Chong mentioned how Helfman was fascinated with combining certain elements in Malaysian culture; exotic islands and their backstories as it related to local urban legends and myths.
Just like that, Helfman and Chong got on board to co-produce a film that would encompass all these aspects while maintaining Malaysia's multi-cultural essence.
Nevertheless, the feat to produce a movie in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic elevated many already complex procedures.
Filmed in November and December of 2021, Chong noted that it took about two months for the script to come together, followed by the pre-production team's continuous search to determine filming locations in Langkawi.
"There wasn't the right equipment in Langkawi, so we had to ship three trucks worth of items from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi just to get the logistics we needed," he said to this SAYS writer.
Nonetheless, Chong was grateful for the chance to film in a place with lush green forests, waterfalls, and exotic hotels, "We were very lucky to get Langkawi."
"Every film is like your baby — you put a lot of effort into it. My team often tells me I'm too picky with the details, but to me, there's only a number of projects that I will do."
Chong stated that he was certain about his intention for the film during the production process, and what he hoped viewers would get out of the feature.
"I hope they will enjoy a Malaysian story by watching diverse Malaysians going through their lives. I want people to see a film by young Malaysians that you rarely see in Malaysian cinemas," he explained.
Speaking on his impact in the industry thus far, Chong highlighted that while every film he has created is precious to him, each of them need to have a meaning behind it and to stand for something.
"For someone like me, what am I contributing to the film industry? What value can I bring? What are the things we don't see enough? To me, not enough Malaysian films are being produced which depict the true reflection of what Malaysia is," he added.
And while the production process went off without a hitch, the reception of the film's trailer caused shockwaves to run through the nation — including a ban on its premiere in Terengganu
In a report released by Malay Mail on 17 February, Chong revealed that Terengganu had banned the film from being released across cinemas in the state, despite the Malaysian National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) permitting a premiere nationwide.
"[FINAS] told me that this is unprecedented, and has never happened before because a state cannot overrule a decision made by a federal [body]. Decisions from the censorship board have also approved it," he said referencing the Film Censor Board (LPF).
Nonetheless, Chong reiterated his determination to find a way for the film to be screened in Terengganu, for the sake of future film productions in the nation.
"When it comes to this, it isn't about the film anymore — it's about the future of the film industry and producers like me. It is happening now, and that is why I am appealing. I am appealing for the film itself, but as a producer, where would this lead if it has not been addressed yet?" he continued.
At the time of writing, Chong mentioned that he is still waiting for an official response by the Terengganu Head of State, Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar.
"Please don't judge the film with a trailer — if people say that it's trash, please watch it before you judge it"
Speaking on the impact of the backlash received from the trailer of the film, Chong noted that the trickle has affected numerous members of the cast and crew.
"There is a lot at stake for the cast. My intention to have a film with a diverse cast was sucked into this controversy, and for that, I owe a deep apology to them, because they were all affected," he stated.
Having talked it out with multiple members of the cast, Chong remains hopeful that these issues will not overshadow the good intentions of the film.
"The good thing about the light at the end of the tunnel is that when the nation sees the film, they will change their mind. The film has a story, a message, production quality, and dedication put into it. I'm confident fans will see that message when it comes out."
When discussing the success Pulau (2023) has achieved ahead of its release, Chong shared that the film has received the green light for distribution in Singaporean and Indonesian cinemas. The film will also be broadcasted to over 120 cinemas nationwide.
As for audience members who do not have any interest in the movie whatsoever, Chong asked viewers to not judge the film until they have seen it in person.
"Give the film a chance. If people feel so strongly about it, they should watch it first. They have the right to watch it and then make their respective comments, it's fair. I'm prepared to take any criticism from people who have seen it," he added.
In his closing thoughts, Chong expressed his hope for the future of the Malaysian movie industry, as well as the talented people behind the scenes of these creations:
You don't have to support Pulau (2023), but support Malaysian films. That's the only way the industry will be able to survive and grow.
Will you be watching Pulau (2023)?
The film is set to premiere in Malaysian cinemas on 9 March.
Watch the highly-discussed trailer below:
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