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Malaysian Film Festival in Taiwan Lecture Series (1) - Grappling with representations of tradition/modernity in Dain Said’s films:Dukun (2018) and Interchange (2016)


Malaysian Film Festival in Taiwan Lecture Series (1)
Grappling with representations of tradition/modernity in Dain Said’s films:Dukun (2018) and Interchange (2016)

Speaker:Khoo Gaik Cheng (University of Nottingham Malaysia  )
Time:26th Apr (Fri), 1pm-3pm
Venue:Film Studies Center Theater, 3rd Floor, HA Building 2, National Chiao Tung University
*Lecture in English
Speaker’s intro:
Khoo Gaik Cheng is Associate Professor of Film and Television at the University of Nottingham Malaysia where she teaches Southeast Asian Cinema, and Master’s seminars on postcolonial theory and posthumanism. Founder of the Association of Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference (ASEACC) which is now into its tenth year, she continues to take a keen interest in cinema and filmmaking in the region, most recently co-editing a book manuscript Southeast Asia on Screen: From Independence to Financial Crisis (1945-1997) with Thomas Barker and Mary Ainslie. Her publications include Reclaiming Adat: Contemporary Malaysian Film and Literature (2006), and various articles on Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian filmmakers and films in numerous journals and books. She also researches on food, identity and heritage. Her other current research projects include Korean migrants in Malaysia: modernity, temporality and happiness as well as the globalization of the durian. Gaik is also the Director of the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute where she has been busy organising a series of events on food, ecology and sustainability entitled “Forgotten and Future Foods.”

Discussant: Zikri Rahman (MA student, Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies)

Zikri Rahman has consistently embarked on collaborations with cultural activist groups in various socio-political projects. Buku Jalanan, a community-based cultural literacy and street library movement he co-founded, is a loose cultural and knowledge workers network focusing on decentralizing the modes of knowledge production.
He is also the festival director of the inaugural Idearaya, a festival of ideas dedicated to celebrating progressive discourses within the vibrant grassroots community of intelligentsia, civil society, and community organizers in Southeast Asia. With LiteraCity, he initiated a literary and cultural mapping project in the city of Kuala Lumpur. Currently pursuing his postgraduate studies in Social Research and Cultural Studies in Taiwan, Zikri is also a writer, independent researcher, and translator for various ephemeral platforms

This lecture acknowledges that Malaysian films struggle in the age of anxiety to engage with many socio-cultural and political issues, ethnic relations, gender disparity, the denial of human rights, freedom of expression and nationalist discourses. In an early essay, “Just-Do-It-Yourself,” I pose cosmopolitanism as a way to describe what historian Sumit Mandal terms “transethnic solidarities” among independent Malaysian filmmakers in their collaborative projects (Khoo 2007). While many of the films screened in this festival reflect this cosmopolitan attitude (having an openness towards the culture of others as reflected in sensitive portrayals of the racial Other, being influenced by global film styles), there have been significant changes in the film industry, technology and among independents that make the cosmopolitan framework difficult to contain and apply to all Malaysian films.  That said, this lecture will take up some of the festival’s themes, namely by addressing the discourse of Malaysian modernity in the ‘Age of Anxiety’, through a discussion of two films by Dain Said set in the urban cosmopolis where the mystical exists.
I read the spaces of Dukun and Interchange via temporality and spatiality that gestures towards the idea of networked or circulating modernities, to eschew and deconstruct the often diametrically opposed binaries of tradition/modernity, past/present, colonial/postcolonial in favour of integrating the two and thinking of them as relational. As Walter Mignolo notes, modernity is conditioned on the presence of coloniality; so too has western modernity its dark side: colonialism (2011). While the resurfacing of ghosts, the mystical, beliefs in black magic and the monstrous feminine in Malaysian or other SEAsian films can be read positively as signs of pluralizing modernities, through positing “alternative” or “Asian” modernities, this gesture nevertheless returns the power of primacy to European modernity as the source of its planetary diffusion (Friedman 2015). Notionally the rendering of tradition in most Malaysian fantasy/horror reflects a postcolonial anxiety about our state of modernity, whether it’s ambivalence about the benefits of modernity (alienation in the family) or a sense of cultural lag that Malaysia is ‘not quite modern’, not quite scientific, not quite divested of its sometimes silly superstitions.
My analysis though hopes to make sense of the sleek modern architecture in Interchange that does not resemble the reality of a working class police photographer’s accommodations and the traditional blue and white buildings that are iconic of Malaysian police stations. The presence of the indigenous Borneo historical characters in the hypermodern city hearkens to the return to older layers of regional history: reminding Malaysian viewers of urban Malaysia’s deep-roots in the nusantara (archipelago). I will show how Dukun and Interchange do not only suggest that the past (in the form of the Sumatran dukun and the Tingang tribe of Borneo) haunts the present for colonial and postcolonial injustices that once addressed can be put to rest; but that the present and the past (and the future of the past) are deeply imbricated in temporal continuity. Thus, tradition and modernity are enmeshed and appear to evolve in new forms that may not be linear. Such a reading I hope can contribute to and enrich Friedman’s and Mignolo’s project of connecting local modernities.

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