Tembak: Wed 9 – Wed 16, May 2007

Opera Pinocchio
Sat 12, May 2007

Once upon a time there was an old carpenter, Geppetto, who wanted a son. A fairy heard the man’s wish, and – as Geppetto lay asleep – granted the gift of life to a wooden puppet. This was how Pinocchio was born. However, the fairy neglected one detail: Pinocchio was still wooden. His journey to become a real boy would involve a cat, a fox, a whale, and some nasty people.

Everyone has heard of this story in some form or another. I make this assumption because that was what Opera Konnyazuka must have done, when they issued the statement that there was not going to be any subtitles in “Opera Pinocchio”, a musical version of the story, mainly spoken and sung in Japanese.

At the beginning of the evening, they told us this lack was due to technical and creative reasons. I can understand why that was; it can be quite distracting, trying to listen to sung music, concentrate on what was going on onstage, and read projected subtitles – all at the same time. As the play began, however, I wonder if that was any less distracting than flipping through the programme booklet, skimming the brief summaries in the dark, while trying to keep an eye on what was happening onstage. At least when you’re reading the subtitles your eyes would be on the actors’ action on the stage. The summaries were more vague than helpful – and, although it did sum up each scene in general, it did little in helping a person understanding the small details and nuances that made up most of the play.

For those who were fluent in Japanese this would not have been a problem; most of us weren’t, however, and felt very lost. It did not help that a great deal of “Opera Pinocchio”‘s jokes were done mostly in Japanese. In one scene, when Pinocchio greeted the Cat and the Fox, half the night’s audience burst out laughing – while the other half dove into their programme books, unsure what to make of it. There was a row of children sitting on the other side of the black box who looked quite bored, and could be seen asking their parents – who were just as lost – about what was happening.

In other moments, the actors broke out into random English and Malay. At the beginning of the performance, when Geppetto started to carve Pinocchio, he gestured towards the puppet’s face and recited “mata” and “mulut” for no apparent reason. It was a gimmick that soon wore its welcome – especially since it showcased the obvious, instead of being used to explain the scenes that were not mentioned in our programmes.

Overall, we left the theatre feeling as though our fairy – who left Pinocchio in his wooden dilemma – also forgot to grant a gift to this particular performance. The gift of comprehension. – Tengku Amalia

“Opera Pinocchio”, presented by Opera Theatre Konnyazuka, ran from May 12th & 13th, 2007 at the The Actors Studio in BSC.

Tengku Amalia is an intern currently with Kakiseni.


Sleeping Alone with Tsai Ming-Liang – A Film Retrospective
Fri 11, May 2007

As a prelude to the Malaysian screening of Tsai Ming-Liang’s made-in-Kuala Lumpur film “I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone” (opening at The Picturehouse, Cathay Cineleisure, Damansara from May 16th, 2007), a retrospective of earlier films by the Taiwan-based filmmaker was screened at Central Market’s Annexe – and, although the Kuching-born Ming-Liang has had an enormously successful career internationally (In a poll conducted by The Guardian in 2003, the auteur was ranked 18th in a list of the world’s 40 best directors), with his idiosyncratic and luminous body of work, Malaysian audiences may be among the last on the planet to discover the richness of his films. It was a retrospective was long overdue.

Among the films screened were “Vive L’amour” (1994), “The Hole” (1998) and “What Time Is It There?” (2001) – all of them rich examples of the narrative and stylistic quirks that helped secure Ming-Liang’s place in the pantheon. As part of introducing this body of work afresh to Malaysian audiences, we were privileged too to have, for a series of public discussions, the filmmaker himself. I was honoured to have been asked to moderate two of these sessions – the first of which took place after the screening of the provocative 1997 film “The River”.

Ming-Liang spoke about the struggle to make serious and original films in world dominated by formula and sameness. He spoke to us about how we could engage with fresh, new and challenging spaces on our screens. After he spoke at length about the overall vulgarity of censorship per se, Ming-Liang was questioned as to the nature of the five cuts his newest film was subjected to, by local censors.

Among them, we learned, was a scene of KL shrouded in that ubiquitous annual shroud, the haze. Apparently, its inclusion was deemed not to be in the best interests of promoting Malaysia. While most of the haze survived, a scene that showed a haze­-shrouded kiss was cut.

The good news for local cineastes, however, is that the haze that surrounds the often vexed question of being able to relate to so-called “art cinema” has lifted, after an engaging and entertaining dialogue with the filmmaker himself. For those who were privileged enough to have encountered, at last, Ming-Liang’s films, there will no doubt be much anticipation for “I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone”, opening this week, a cinematic homecoming: the filmmaker finally addresses the land of his birth on­screen. – Benjamin McKay

Jointly organised by The Annexe @ Central Market and Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia, the Tsai Ming-Liang retrospective screens his final two films, “Rebels of the Neon God” (1992) and “Goodbye Dragon Inn” (2004), this week at its base at HELP University College, on May 16th (8pm) and 17th (7pm), 2007, respectively.  Another public discussion with the filmmaker ends the session on Thursday.

Benjamin McKay is a lecturer and film critic.


That Was The Year
Thu 10, May 2007

“What went wrong?” asks Elaine Pedley, her hands clasped academically, her body suspended upside-down by Megat Sharizal Yusoff. Elaine is repeating Chapter Two of “The Malay Dilemma”, Mahathir Mohamad’s sweeping dissection of 1969 Race Riots; it may be argued that the night’s performance is that text’s diametric opposite: an impassioned, microcosmic look at the ethnically supremacist sentiments that left our protagonist’s mother maimed, in a ditch.

If it had worked.

“That Was The Year” inevitably draws comparison to “In 1969”, last year’s workshop performance and its direct predecessor; three quarters of a year on, I still remember the pained expression on Mark Teh and Imri Nasution’s faces. In comparison, the recent show was a collection of declamations.

What went wrong? I struggled to identify the reason why “That Was The Year” contained so little to offer in terms of emotional engagement. Was it spatial? The cast, seven strong, was lost on Pentas 2, by no means Kuala Lumpur’s biggest stage. At several points, the performers would sit on the sides as one of their number told us a crucial piece of the story – but whoever it was who was talking never failed to give us just another piece of text.

Beth Yahp’s short story – of which “That Was The Year” is an adaptation – is stylistically dense: its verbose imagery would require an equally invested delivery; its non-chronological plotting would need performers to form a strong sympathetic bond with their audience, for it to make any sense. We needed to know that the people we were watching cared enough for their collective mother. It didn’t seem as if they did.

Granted, non-traditional stuff like “That Was The Year” is easy to get wrong, and it may not even be the fault of the cast. Hardesh Singh’s music was competent, building on Shanon Shah’s solid songwriting (“Demi Kedamaian”, a rah-rah patriot’s anthem that goes “Hanyalah diri mereka sendiri / yang akan terancam oleh bisa sengatan / Oleh itu fahamlah kita hanya mahu melindungi mereka”, is probably our most nuanced songwritten satire yet). But the “play music, sing, stop music” numbers sounded interruptive more often than not, and the soundscapes were too disjointed to provide a cohesion already lacking in the cast’s own movements. When we heard “The Future”, the play’s lovelorn heart, it was a non-sequitur.

Maybe it was the lights. Mac Chan’s light-bulb curtains, so effective at Sunway’s Rooftop Theatre (where audiences sat on the floor and looked up at the unfolding tragedy), did not translate to KLPac well; beyond the first few front rows, the glare was at eye level. If this was an intentional reflection on the events of 1969 – where we are either blinded from the action, or peering into the darkness to discern it – it worked quite well. But I’m not sure that’s the kind of obfustication that we need for May 13th. – ZS

First Published: 16.05.2007 on Kakiseni

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