Home Malaysian history Old Penang Emotional Hokkien movie set in 1970s Penang is the talk of town

Emotional Hokkien movie set in 1970s Penang is the talk of town


After all the bad news about money games in Penang, people here needed a lift, and along comes a movie, the first Penang Hokkien movie – a movie about difficult family life in Old Penang, which has received positive reviews from friends who have seen it.

“The hardest people to love, need it the most.”

I haven’t yet seen this movie, a semi-autobiographical flick directed by Saw Teong Hin, with cinematography by Christopher Doyle. But friends have described it as moving and incredibly authentic, conjuring up memories of what it was like growing up in 1970s Penang.

If you have seen it already, share your thoughts with us.

One thing is for sure: we need more local movies in local languages that depict local characters in authentic local settings, to show us how our past connects to our present, while inspiring us to a future as yet unknown.

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  1. A better movie than those local Malay movies with standard syiok sendiri formula, cliche plots, boring dialogue, poor cinematography that Finas is promoting.

    Director Saw has redeemed himself after the boring Puteri Gunung Ledang mishap.

  2. Hi Anil, have seen this movie three times and tomorrow I’ll watch it again. As a non Hokkien speaker the first time I was too busy watching the subtitles and trying to spot the buildings and scenes, but my local friends were talking about it so much I knew I would need to see it again. So I went for a second viewing with different friends and got so much more from it, not only from the masterly cinematography and skilfully woven story but also the dialogue it encouraged after the showing. The third viewing was enriched by friends discussions on how they grew up in Penang and my own experience of shophouse living amongst lively communities before the AKS repeal and UNESCO listing. And because it is just such a touchingly beautiful movie, when asked to go with another local friend, there was no way I would say no.

    Living now in the ghost town of a world heritage site, this movie at least captures the memories I have of the incredible place I came to live in whilst rents were controlled and the houses burst with life – happy or sad. Although I’m told no DVD at the moment – I will truly treasure one if it ever is made.

  3. Checked with pasar malam trader who told me many looking for this movie in DVD. Guess many on saving more after the collapse of money game schemes, and look for more economical way to watch this family at home….

    Having said that, do watch local movies in cinemas to sustain local movie making industry.

  4. Don’t jump the gun yet. Wait for the overall box-office results. We still do not know the reception from outside Penang. To many outside the island the film is in an extremely foreign language. Even the Taiwanese need the subtitles to understand the show.

    • You know that all local films are subject to “Skim Wajib Tayang” whereby a film must be screened for 4 days in the largest hall. Whether a film is a success or flop depends on the performance after day 5.

      Currently the film is at 5th place. The film would do better if a Mandarin dubbed version is released. Guardians of the Universe Vol 2 is guarding well the top spot. Talk of the town – perhaps in Penang and not outside the island.

    • The actor Frederick Lee is the NTV7 Golden Award best actor winner. The actress Yeo Yann Yann is the Taiwan Golden Horse best actress winner. For that you can be assured of good acting in the movie.

  5. Anil,
    We should make a storyline of our own….i think there is enough to make a movie. Starting off with us catching the ferry and jumping into ‘Ah Pek’s ‘beca’ going to school. Upon arrival, the Ah Pek would say…it tiam paik a jie (1.40pm)….and so the story continues….

    • It has to be a tale of travel back in time to the Gerakan-era of Penang in order for nolstagic Penangites to reminisce the jolly good times of undeveloped Penang island, possibly filming be done at Prai where there is no high rise building. Tunglang can provide the script and can seek funding from Gerakan or PCM?

      • How about an animated film on the Tokong based on the comic? Please remove the scenes pertaining to Rainbow and swimming as children will find it difficult to follow.

        To generate for income please sell Betty Bald dolls with a Happy Meal.
        Of course this would be the second Hockien film in the world. If it flops, the dumb Federal Government thought Skim Wajib Tayang would foot the bill. What better way to make sure Federal funds and generated to proper use.

        A film on Gerakan is boring.

      • Another idea. The bio about Khir Johari and Zairil called Daddy and Me. I hope they will pick a handsome Malay boy to play Zairil.

  6. Review:

    A deeply emotional, heart-wrenching film that is heavy to watch. Do not expect a feel-good, happy-go-lucky movie with a fairy tale ending. Nevertheless, it is one not to be missed – the roller coaster of emotions one feels throughout the film and the deep engagement with the well-developed characters in this family drama elevates it close to masterpiece level.

    Penangites would enjoy the familiar sights, streets, language and scenery but do not be mistaken- the heart of the shows lies in the family. It is a film about family in essence, and you will walk away from the theater appreciating your family despite their flaws.

  7. My Chinese neighbours watched Kabali although they don’t understand Tamil (subtitles help).
    Likewise, I shall go watch this Penang Hokkien movie in return. Can understand basic Hokkien anyway.
    The last time I watch local dialect show must be long long time ago. Not sure Anil young enough to know RTM’s drama “Empat Sekawan” ?

      • Anil
        All movies come with Bahasa subtitle otherwise FINAS won’t approve.
        I am awaiting review by tunglang from his perspectives on vintage Penang portrayed in this movie, probably can revoke his sentimental past living at Madras Lane house of similar settings?

    • Stupid for the world to see Malaysia gangsterism on movies like Kabali.
      Why not have movies featuring corruption in Malaysia for a change?

  8. Filming the movie in Penang Hokkien was very important for Saw because of the whole context of the story and where it takes place. In fact, he has mentioned in earlier interviews that he turned down some offers to film You Mean The World To Me because he’d been asked to change the language to Mandarin.

    “My parents spoke Penang Hokkien. All the characters speak Penang Hokkien. If you change that to Mandarin, you might as well be changing it to Tamil! It’s just not the same!” Saw stated.

    The film’s Hokkien title is Hai Kinn Xin Loo (which literally means “new road by the sea front”), the old Hokkien name for Penang’s Victoria Street (now known as Lebuh Victoria), where Saw grew up.

    Read more at http://www.star2.com/entertainment/movies/movie-news/2017/04/27/director-saw-teong-hins-you-mean-the-world-to-me-is-more-than-a-movie-its-his-life/#P0rCbwSQEgWMhyDo.99

    PS: Neo Swee Lin who plays the mother character in the movie is the Singapore actress aka Pua Chu Kang’s mother in the Singapore sitcom.

  9. Watch this movie with your parents, and you will have no life regrets thereafter.
    Because its made in Penang, i give it 6 stars!
    Go support local movies.

  10. As per their advertisement on TV, a second generation Proton Saga was shown as a car for a director was a big mistake ! Proton was only launched on 1986 by Dr. Mahathir !

    • If you have watched the show, you would know that it is set it contemporary times, with flashbacks in between to the 70s. The proton car used is set in contemporary times.

    • Should watch the movie in its entirety, and not make judgement based on the 3-minute trailer. Many watch the movie purely to witness the cinematography by the acclaimed Christopher Doyle, who previously turned down invitation to work in Harry Potters movies as he has preferred to work with non-commercial movies.

  11. GSC or TGV should give you and your Penang readers free tickets to watch this movie in return for your review and promotion.

  12. The Hokkien of Northern Malaysia from Arau to Taiping being branded as Penang Hokkien, a unique blend of spoken dialect different from Sourthern and East Malaysia, Singapore and even the origin from Fujian China.
    This film should spearhead more to venture out with such spoken dialects short DSLR made movies, and many young Penangites in particular do not abandon Hokkien in favour of speaking Mandarin or English at home.
    Hong Kong in the 70s was very popular with Cantonese movies, and may be now we can have more Penang Hokkien movies at world stage.
    May be Ivory Properties Dato Low Eng Hock can sponsor more local made Hokkien movies in line with its concept of Penang World City ?


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