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Five Malaysian Historical Epic Films That Are Better Than Mat Kilau

Mat Kilau is out now for Malaysian audiences to endure and watch. We sure as hell did and we had some fun with it, albeit in an ironic way.

While its fighting scenes are adequate and its aesthetics flashy, the film doesn’t do justice in portraying the history of Mat Kilau and Malaysian history in a respectable light. For a film inspired by serious history events, there are a lot of cartoonish villains and character dialogue that feels like exposition than actual storytelling and narrative.

But don’t worry, fellow viewers: there are a good number of Malaysian films that talk about historical subject matters and legends in the best light possible. Here are our top 5 picks among the Kakuchopurei staff:

Kanang Anak Langkau – The Iban Warrior (2017)

Let’s start with something involving some decent action. Kanang Anak Langkau is a military movie that focuses on a period very little spoken of in Malaysian history: the 1965 communist insurgency. It details the life and times of soldier Kanang Anak Langkau, and how he was rallied by the British Army to deal with said insurgency. The film portrays his training and fights in a serious manner, one that is accurate but also dramatic and gripping for the eyes. If anything, think of this film as a Sarawak-focused version of Platoon, but a lot more grounded & straightforward.

Ola Bola (2016)

Ola Bola is a feel-good throwback film about the history of Malaysian football, back when it was worth shouting about. Directed by Chiu Keng Guan, the film was made from the inspiration of Malaysian football team glories, and it clearly shows. The film does not require football knowledge to fully enjoy the film; just the fact that it’s about underdogs learning to be a brotherhood with one another while they play major football matches and attempt to win. The fact that the film has a ton of nice vistas and director shots also help make this film a helluva looker. And it also showcases the diverse groups of culture of Malaysia without resorting to cinematic stereotypes.

Leftenan Adnan (2000)

It wouldn’t be a Malaysian history movie listicle without yet another war movie, right?

Leftenan Adnan tells the story of the late Malaysian war hero Adnan Bin Saidi, a Lieutenant in a Malay Regiment who was instrumental in defending against the Imperial Japanese invasion during World War 2. It’s widely considered to be one of the best Malaysian-made historical war movies and the remastered version is currently available on Netflix. The film’s cinematography and story is well-paced and shot with care and detail, while Hairie Othman’s titular character role sells the role as a man fighting for his life in Malaysia during the Japanese invasion during World War 2. It’s a testament to Malaysian cinema and really deserves the “epic” film moniker.

Embun (2002)

Malaysia too has it fair share of romance period movies that don’t look like they’re taken out of TV3 or public television. Embun is one of them, following the lines of similar shows and films like Atonement, Allied, Casablanca, and your obligatory Jane Austen entry.

Embun is set in the 1940s and is about girl named Embun who is conflicted with her love for a Japanese army PR guy Koishi and the fact that her dad and brother are freedom fighters trying to deal with the Japanese occupation. Also, this was a harrowing time in history where women in Malaysia are dragged by Japanese soldiers and forcibly serve them as “comfort women”. It’s an ugly truth, but the film itself does a great job at portraying a dark time in Malaysian history while also showcasing that love can indeed bloom in the battlefield.

Puteri Gunung Ledang (2004)

We’re going to cheat a bit here since this is more “myth” than “history”, but it is still an epic film all the way through. Puteri Gunung Ledang is about the Gunung Ledang princess who lives on the top of a mountain and her lover, the legendary Melaka warrior Hang Tuah, as every other important person in the story seems to go at great and antagonistic lengths to quench their thirst for her. There’s magic and swordfighting involved in the many-side war of love.

If anything, Puteri Gunung Ledang is proof that with a lot of care and effort, you can make an enchanting film that’s based on a “mythical” piece of history.

Know of any other Malaysian-made movies centered around its rich history? Let us know in the comments!

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