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Not Your Parents’ Movie

3 minute read

What do you get when you throw together a Chinese, an Indian, a Malay and a campy queen in a rock band? The plotline of Spinning Gasing, the best Malaysian movie to come along in decades. It’s a film that strums all the most jazzed-up chords of contemporary Malaysian societyincluding interracial and homosexual lovewhich prompted a yearlong battle with Kuala Lumpur’s squeamish censors, who ended up taking a parang to the director’s cut. Even so, reviews have been glowing, theaters are packed and screens are finally filled with a slice of modern Malaysian life as it really is.

Spinning Gasinga gasing is a Malay spinning topfollows the fortunes of 23-year-old DJ-wannabe Harry Lee (Craig Fong) when he returns to Malaysia after many years abroad. Dreaming of recording contracts, Harry pulls together a band that just happens to include a representative of each of the country’s three major races, plus a Eurasian lead singer and a flamboyantly gay keyboardist, played by Edwin R. Sumun. The band’s bassist, Yati, is a young Malay woman torn between her love for Harry and his Western ways and her conservative, highly religious family. Yati, played with glowing conviction by Ellie Suriaty Omar, carries much of the film.

But Spinning Gasing refuses to descend into art-house glumness. Whenever the plot shows signs of faltering, the campy keyboard player is summoned for another one-liner. (Such as: “It’s so anal being straight!”) There are enough inside jokes to keep Malaysian audiences happy without alienating international ones. It is Malaysia’s first motion picture shot almost completely in English, and U.S. giant Columbia TriStar plans to distribute it in Singapore later this year and possibly throughout Asia.

“People thought I was crazy making this movie,” says director Teck Tan, himself a returnee from expatriate life in Australia. “‘You’ll never get it made,’ they said. ‘You’ll never get it past the censors.'” He did, barely: large chunks of the movie were cut by the officials, though Tan says he hasn’t had the heart to go back and figure out exactly how many minutes were lost. “Local audiences are thirsting for this sort of thing,” says Tan. “After all, economic development is not enough: we have to feed our cultural souls, too.” The question is whether other filmmakers will be inspired by Spinning Gasing or if this story of an all-too-fallible Malaysian band will prove a one-hit wonder.

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