The Story of Da Huang Pictures
By Amir Muhammad, written in early 2010s
Da Huang means ‘big void’. This can seem awfully pessimistic (who would want a big void in their hearts, minds or bank accounts?), but can be taken philosophically to mean ‘endless possibility’.
The company was established in 2004 and its initial members were Tan Chui Mui, James Lee, Liew Seng Tat, and myself. To date, the filmography has included 10 feature-length movies and documentaries (completed from 2006 to 2010), as well as dozens of shorts. The philosophy of the company: to enable the director to make the film that he or she wants!
Most of the movies have been released in some form or another in Malaysia - either through limited theatrical release or TV sales. Love Conquers All (2006) and Flower in the Pocket (2007) in particular have won many international awards, and this has done a lot to boost the company’s profile.
The circumstances that led to the company being created can be seen in large international scale (the availability of digital video; the ease of getting resources through the Internet) or the large national scale (the political ferment that started in Malaysia in the late 1990s, which questioned - but did not manage to overthrow - decades of rule by the same political coalition) to the smaller personal one (some friends who enjoy watching movies together decided to make a few movies together instead).
To a certain extent, all Malaysian films are ‘independent’ because there is no studio system anymore. But people who make movies that are not star-driven or genre-identified will always be vulnerable. In the region, there are other film companies or directors that operate in this way, with the most famous being Apichatpong in neighbouring Thailand.
But in Malaysia (unlike in, say, Thailand), there are people who can move with ease between what is considered ‘mainstream’ to ‘arthouse’. The best example would be James Lee, who can make a ‘commercial’ horror comedy and contemplative low-key drama in the same year: John Carpenter and John Cassavetes in a single person. Another example would be Woo Ming Jin, who is not under Da Huang.
In production terms, the most ambitious film we have done is the latest, Year Without a Summer. Our first film to be completed on 35mm, it will get its Malaysia screenings a few weeks after Fribourg. It’s also entirely in the Malay language, thus helping to dispel the stereotype that ‘Malaysian independent films’ tend to be in Chinese.
There are many films that Malaysia has not yet made. For example, we don’t have a tradition of experimental or even creative documentary films. Da Huang has gone some way to rectify this. This is not to say that its contribution is so large, but it has certainly not been a ‘big void’. An academic in Australia said that the ethos for Da Huang and its peers is the Nike slogan: Just do it. Or we can be loftier (certainly less capitalist) and quote Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world”.