New Asian Currents [MALAYSIA]

The Big Durian

- MALAYSIA / 2003 / Malay, English, Cantonese, Hokkien / Color, B&W / Video / 75 min

Director, Script, Narrator: Amir Muhammad
Photography: Woo Ming-jin
Editing: Terence Raj
Sound: May Chan
Music: Hardesh Singh
Producer: James Lee
Production Company, Source: Doghouse 73 Pictures
17, Jalan 22/51 Taman Lin Seng Petaling Jaya, 46300 MALAYSIA
Phone: 60-3-7876-9578 E-mail: doghouse73@yahoo.com
URL: http://thebigdurian.tripod.com

When the director was fifteen years old, an incident occurred in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur, when a lone Malay soldier ran amok with his rifle. People became tense, fearing that the rising political rivalry between the Malays and the Chinese Malaysians was about to explode, and started hoarding food. Will some kind of truth emerge now as men and women of all ages recount their memories of that day? Professional actors appear, fake/enacted testimonies are included, and in addition to the political situation in Malaysia, there are popular songs from the time, royal family gossip, tourist agency advertisements, and many other superfluous tricks. Like a durian’s sharp thorns, the ironic humor hits the acupoints.

[Director’s Statement] October 1987 was the first time I remember national politics impacting my daily routine. The day after the amok of Private Adam, I was told to stay away from school because it would have been too dangerous to venture into town. Previously, politics was something on TV or in the newspapers. Now it was brought home. I would watch these politicians on TV and for the first time got the sense that some of them were “acting.” It was an omoshiroi (interesting) experience.

In early 2003 I put notices in the papers telling people to come forth to tell me what they remembered of the time when Private Adam ran amok. Over 100 people turned up. Almost all the older ones remembered it, while many of the younger ones didn’t, but they just wanted to appear in a movie!

So I compiled all these stories—which ranged from the relevant to the irreverent—and got some of them to be acted out, while others were uttered by the protagonists themselves. The combination of acting, non-acting and rehearsed naturalism made, for me, a very omoshiroi texture, reminiscent of the feeling I got way back in October 1987. Who’s telling the truth, and who is merely pretending?

Race, religion, politics and sex are some of the “thorny issues” that we’re not supposed to talk about in Malaysia, which means of course that we hardly ever talk about anything else. Like the King of Fruits referenced in the title The Big Durian, the final result is . . . prickly and stinky? Hard on the outside but creamy on the inside? Seasonal? Green and yellow? You decide.

I wanted this Malaysian mixture of languages, colors, polemics and cheap jokes—a “documentary” that sometimes spoofs the objectivist assumptions of documentary, something that can jump around—to make connections, tell a story. The target audience for this was young Malaysians, who like young people everywhere expect—no, demand—to be entertained. Along the way it would also be great if it made them a little more curious about the way our country is being run.

- Amir Muhammad

Born in 1972 on December 5, which also happens to be Walt Disney’s birthday, so he knew from the start that he was destined to bring joy to the world. Studied law in England but never practiced. Has been writing for the Malaysian print media since the age of fourteen, and has also done work for television and stage. His debut movie Lips to Lips (2000) was the first Malaysian DV feature. In 2002 made six non-fiction shorts, two of which won awards at the Singapore International Film Festival. The Big Durian is his second feature. Based in Japan for the second half of 2003 on an Asian Public Intellectuals Fellowship grant from the Nippon Foundation. One of the Japanese words he has learned is “omoshiroi.”

• New Asian Currents | Sand and Water | Wellspring | Three-Five People | Homesick | The Circle’s Corner | The Maze of Lanes | Nee Engey—Where Are You | NEW (IMPROVED) DELHI—Director’s Cut | A Night of Prophecy | 150 Seconds Ago | The Ballad of Life | Noah’s Ark | The Old Man of Hara | Dandelion | Hibakusha—At the End of the World | 3rd Vol.2—2 Light House | And Thereafter | Dust Buries Sabuk | Family Project: House of a Father | Edit | Gina Kim’s Video Diary | Ordo | Her and Him Van Leo | The Big Durian | Perpetual Motion | Debris | Hard Good Life | Nail | The Rhythm in Wulu Village | A Short Journey • Jurors | Kim Dong-won | Kawase Naomi • New Asian Currents Special | Part 1 | Part 2