I Love Malaya filmmaking team (part 1)
It’s a cosy Saturday in a small Viennese-style cafe where the smell of coffee is strong and the regulars spend long, lazy afternoons relaxing with a cuppa and the newspapers. But amidst this laidback atmosphere, the filmmakers of I Love Malaya — Ho Choon Hiong, Wang Eng Eng, Chan Kah Mei and Christopher Len (Eunice Lau was unfortunately not able to join us) — are deeply passionate when talking about their documentary.
The film looks at the plight of the ageing, exiled members of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). It premiered to a sold-out screening at the Asian Civilisations Museum on November 25, 2006 and will be screened at the Substation’s upcoming 2nd Singapore Independent Documentary Film Festival on March 7, 2007.
Ask the filmmakers about the origins of this film, and Christopher takes us all the way back to 2002, when he visited the Internal Security Department (ISD) Heritage Centre, run by Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs. The eye-opening moment was when he learned about MCP members currently living in exile in southern Thailand, many of them Singaporeans by birth.
“It got me really curious,” says Christopher, who is currently a researcher on security and conflict at Uppsala University in Sweden. “There were these Singaporeans, people who are in their 60s and 70s — and their children! — who had not set foot in Singapore for so long. I became interested in this idea of Singaporeans who are, for one reason or another, unable to come home.”
In 2003, when the former leader of the MCP, Chin Peng, published his memoirs My Side of History, the I Love Malaya team was again piqued by the story of these Communists living in exile. Chin Peng had previously applied for a permit to return to Malaysia, but the court case that was resulted was lengthy, with no resolution in sight.
Chin Peng’s fight to return to his homeland struck a deep emotional chord with the team, and they immediately (more or less) packed their bags and travelled to Thailand to look for the elusive leader. Even though they didn’t find him, their story evolved to include the lives of other former Communists they met along the way, like feisty Xueying, who remains vivacious and energetic despite spending many years by herself in Thailand, or Liu Po, who has settled down in Thailand and made it his home.
“Even though Chin Peng was the catalyst for this film,” Kah Mei says, “the main story is about the lives of these people, and how they’ve come to be where they are in southern Thailand.”
Filming I Love Malaya proved to be a challenging journey and, ultimately, a race against time. Most of the former MCP members were in their 60s, if not older. In fact, two of the elderly exiled Communists would pass away shortly after being interviewed by the team. Stories were quietly disappearing into the jungle from which they came.
Read more about the filmmakers’ journey into southern Thailand in part 2 of the interview.