Why I don’t enjoy nasi lemak any more
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 04 Nov 2011
The Auditor General Report 2010. Nasi Lemak 2.0. What do they have in common? Yes, that’s right – our nation is bankrupt.
We are financially bankrupt and creatively bankrupt.
Nasi Lemak 2.0 – Not so delicious
“Uhmmm... You know... it was at that point that I realised that maybe Thierry wasn’t actually a film maker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.”
That remark was made by the iconic street artist, Banksy, after watching an attempt by his friend, Thierry, at making a documentary about street art. The same can be said about Namewee, another person with issues who happens to have some money to make a movie.
Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a convoluted tacky mess. It was as if all the readers and commenters of Malaysian online media got together to create a movie. In other words, it was “syok sender” and sensationalising with an obvious Pakatan Rakyat bias.
Here’s a brief summary of the movie –
Huang Da Xia (played by Namewee) is a struggling chef because he cannot adapt to the localised cooking his customers are looking for. However, he is also Hero Huang, a local community hero, because he films and uploads video on his YouTube account. Xiao K (Karen Kong) approaches him to participate in a cooking competition to help her father win back the restaurant from his cougar sister. Huang seeks help from a popular nasi lemak seller (Adibah Noor), who sends him to learn about Malaysian cuisine from the Nyonyas, Malays and Indians and ultimately, the real hidden message of “Nasi Lemak”.
Namewee wanted to cram as many film genres, as many parodies on Malaysian politics and as many scenes of self-glorification into his 1 hour 48 minutes film.
In terms of technique, the humour mostly fell flat, the acting was overdone and the editing was amateurish. The slightly more critical reviews say its saving grace was the message behind it, which was Malaysian unity.
I guess they derived this message of unity from the scene of Namewee making the popiah wrapped with nasi lemak, rendang and sambal or from the multi racial Bollywood-esque musical with cheesy “We eat sambal, we become united” lyrics.
Fair enough, on its own or maybe as a 4-minute YouTube video, we might get a hint of encouraging unity. But in Nasi Lemak 2.0, these scenes seem hastily constructed as if Namewee had forgotten the original purpose of this movie and thrown them in at the last minute to justify his movie.
Why the box office success then? When your selection of local movies is either about i) Toyols and Pontianaks ii) More toyols and pontianaks iii) Unashamedly blatant B grade copies of Hollywood blockbusters iv) formulaic Malay romantic comedies, Nasi Lemak 2.0 becomes Citizen Kane.
This is completely understandable. When your film industry is bankrupt, Namewee becomes Martin Scorsese. Forget about appealing to viewers’ intelligence and imagination, just do something “different” and you’re hailed as a genius.
Meritocracy has a weird definition here. Decades of race politics have resulted in meritocracy being defined as a process based on including non-Malays, especially Chinese, in the competition, when the rightful definition is a process that rewards merit and nothing else. Nasi Lemak 2.0’s success was not based on merit, but merely because it was produced, directed and written by a non-Malay with themes that capitalise on our guilt for closet racism, but packaged into a politically correct manner in the name of justice to relieve us of such guilt.
We are diluting the notion of greatness by heaping the movie with praises like “unusually daring”. Daring is a term we use on someone like Yasmin Ahmad, who explored love between an upper middle class Malay girl and a Chinese boy from Ipoh. Great is a description for P Ramlee, whose movies focused on only one race in Malaysian society but are still loved by all races and all classes. When I see the description for Nasi Lemak 2.0 as “a Malaysian movie made for Malaysians”, I cringe. This suggests that Malaysian audience are setting the a much lower bar for a good movie.
So, we either choose to be critical or delusional. Guess which is the way forward?
Lee Lian Kong thinks the best nasi lemak is the humble but oh so good Nasi Lemak Marvellous. Send your feedback or angry YouTube videos to Lee Lian Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org