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Apa Khabar Orang Kampung

28 February 2009

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Apa Khabar Orang Kampung

Translated to English, Apa Khabar Orang Kampung (AKOK for short) means, How Are You, Villagers? It is a multi-perspective documentary that uses its form more than its content to convey a message.

Directed by SN Hamzah Awang Amat & Kumpulan Ser Setia, it contains three converging elements: the interviews, an on going Thai radio play and the footages depicting the Malay soceity.

When it comes to documentaries, one is always cautious of the hidden agenda behind them since nothing is truly objective. More importantly, we try to figure out the stance the director is taking. For AKOK, I would suggest that the director is concerned with the history and the fabric of the society. What exactly makes Malaysia what it is today?

The form of the film was rather abstract at first but through a little relaxation of the mind, that is, to stop trying to figure out what the film is about, I saw the connection that the director was trying to create. His unique technique parallels the past (a series of interviews), the present (the ongoing film footage) and an eternal/fictional world (radio play).

Essentially, the film is a recounting of the lives of past politicians and military persons. The film includes interviews with a variety of people: the infantry person, the medic, the scouts, a member of the past opposition party, a son of a soldier, an artiste and a student.

What I think the director is trying to do is get as many view and opinions as possible to create a more objectified historical account of Malaysia’s past. From the list of people interviewed, he has achieved a certain degree of objectivity, however, it can never be a total one.

One recurring segment in AKOK is a shaky image that starts out first as a black and white footage which, looks like whirring lights. About halfway through the film, that same footage is seen in colour and what I was imagining that particular scene to be, turned out completely different. It turned out to be the leaves of trees being shot from a low angle. Even then, it was hard to decipher what it was since the footage seemed to have been taken by someone who was on the move.

This concept of deception – what you see is not what you get – is the interesting part of the film, and it goes back to the technique mentioned earlier about paralleling the interviews, the footage and the radio drama.

The director has an interesting way of matching the narrative to the pictures. He does not use historical pictures, instead he uses present day materials which he thinks reflect the past. For example when one of his interviewees talked about how the soldiers underwent a long march, he did not use any footage related to that. What was shown, coupled with the voice over, was an army of ants walking on the forest ground.

Other instances include: talking about the 10th regiment and showing a cohort of students standing at attention; talking about politicians and showing a group of young boys congregating and talking; showing graves when talking about death; subservience being represented by a chained monkey; and a bee to represent aerial attacks.

It is this indirect matching of film elements that makes this documentary so unique. Perhaps through everyday images that are familiar, the modern day generation is able to grasp what happened and will be induced with more emotion for their history.

The Thai radio drama that pops up at certain intervals of the film talks about a King that believes his Queen has been unfaithful to him. So, the King tries to poison the adulterer but he manages to escape. The Queen was also imprisoned. After some time, she gives birth to a daughter and the baby is brought to the King in an attempt to soften his heart. But he sends the baby off to be left in the woods.

The ending of the drama is left hanging, just like the intentions of the director. Why put a Thai radio drama in the film? It might be a subtle criticism on the Malaysian government at that time and the opposing party’s secret relations with Thailand.

Apa Khabar Orang Kampung, I think, shows that the past always has a bearing on the present and the future. But more importantly, that the present tells us something about the past and if we look around us today, we can see the past manifesting itself in different ways.

Apa Khabar Orang Kampung will be screened on the final day of the SinemAsian showcase, ‘Filem Bagus!‘, held at Sinema OldSchool, on the 1st of March 2009. Don’t miss the chance to catch this film by highly acclaimed director Amir Muhammad!

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