Pendatang movie takes on racial divide issue with courage, creative brilliance

By Yuet Mee Ho-Nambiar

Having heard much buzz in the local media, I recently watched the new local arthouse movie ‘Pendatang’.  The brainchild of writer Lim Boon Siang and director Ken Kin, it is described as a Malaysian diaspora-thriller movie on the triumph of humanity over racial extremism. Set in an imaginary future governed by a Segregation Act, this Cantonese-language film delves into a society where ethnic groups are strictly divided.

Truth be told, a sense of discomfort came over me from the very first minutes of the movie – not very different from how I felt when I watched the Academy Award movie ‘Parasite’.  Was it because I was affected by the mood that was cleverly created by the colours and the sounds? Or was it the title, which signals disunity and foreshadowing a bad ending?  The movie is grounded on our national history and extrapolates on one trajectory to a possible future. I found the ending ambiguous – is it intended to provide us the freedom to conclude the story as we desire, allowing us to project our own hopes onto it?  Perhaps it is also intended to underscore the importance of vigilance of our individual and collective behaviour as otherwise, we risk finding ourselves on a slippery slope…  

In our recent movie review session, we were joined by Samad Hassan, who was the post production supervisor, responsible for the technical quality from the shoot to the end and who ensured the director’s vision was carried through in the technical process.  He shared with us the backstory to this movie, the funding and the budget (crowd funded and on a shoe string budget), the reason why it is available freely in YouTube. 

We now know that the location is near Ipoh; that Pendatang could refer to anyone and everyone in the plot.  And yes, the ending is deliberately open-ended.  He also informed that the movie participated in some regional movie festivals, and shared very interesting stats – besides the ASEAN region, a healthy number of viewers came from Australia, US and UK too.

The people behind this movie must be lauded for working on movies such as this with themes of unity, hope and courage as central messages.  The movie also reminded us that our children are born colour blind and recognised how societal influences can impact their perspective.  And how in the guise of community protection, these communities can implode destructively, clearly revealing that racism originates not in the skin but in the human mind.  This erroneous idea that humankind is somehow composed of separate and distinct races, peoples or castes, and that those sub-groups innately possess varying intellectual, moral, and/or physical capacities, which in turn justify different forms of treatment, have given rise to false concepts of superiority and inferiority among human populations.

Surely by now we realise that there is only the one human race. We are a single people, inhabiting the planet Earth, one human family bound together in a common destiny, a single entity created from one same substance.  This guiding principle must be the underlying premise behind all our discussions and deliberations on the affairs of our community.

All in all, Team Pendatang, great job in crafting this cautionary tale intertwined with themes of hope and courage.