Malaysia's Namewee lost 30kg in two years after film ban
M'sian musician-director-actor seeks crowdfunding to recoup money
Malaysian musician-director-actor Wee Meng Chee is used to courting controversy, but having his latest film, Banglasia, banned in Malaysia was a big blow.
Wee, who is better known by his moniker Namewee, was so stressed by the ban and loss of box-office takings that he lost 30kg over two years.
Namewee was in town for the film's screening at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) at Shaw Theatres Lido last night. This is his fourth film.
The film's title is a reference to a joke about Malaysia's 2013 general election when the government was alleged to have used thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers as phantom voters, hence "Banglasia" instead of Malaysia.
At the Singapore press conference for Banglasia, director-actor Namewee and producer Fred Chong announced their plan to launch a campaign on crowdfunding site Kickstarter from Dec 9 to raise US$500,000 (S$700,000), so the film can be released online for free.
The money will be used to pay the film's investors. The film had an estimated budget of RM4 million.
When asked if he thought it would succeed, Namewee was frank.
"I'm not confident at all," said the 32-year-old. "Kickstarter works in Western countries, but Asians are very stingy. Still, we have to try."
He said having his film banned in Malaysia came as a shock, as he and his team had initially received the green light for the script from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).
But when the film was submitted for approval for screening to the Malaysia Censorship Board, it was rejected.
"I lost 30kg in the last two years after finding out we couldn't screen Banglasia in Malaysia," said Namewee, who now weighs 60kg.
"I was very stressed, and was unable to eat or sleep properly.
"When we first got the news that the censorship board wanted us to make 31 cuts, I laughed because some of the cuts they asked for were so ridiculous.
"But after we lost our appeal to screen the film in Malaysia, I wasn't laughing any more."
Namewee said one of the changes requested by Finas was to delete a scene with a T-shirt that had the slogan "Save Malaysia", as it implied Malaysia was not a safe country.
It was the same T-shirt Namewee wore to the screening, along with a pair of wacky sunglasses and his signature beanie.
The outfit is worn by his character Hanguoren, a pro-Malaysia activist.
There are plans for Banglasia to have a cinematic release in Singapore. If the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, a red carpet premiere will be planned in Singapore too.
"But it's not enough to recoup our budget as Singapore's market is small. I think audiences here will understand some of the jokes, but there are many references that only Malaysians will truly understand."
With a powerful social media following - his official Facebook page has over 1.4 million likes, and he has over 580,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel - Namewee's Kickstarter bid may yet succeed.
"Many people have told me, please release this film online. We will support you," he said.
"Now they have a chance to prove it."
I was very stressed, and was unable to eat or sleep properly.
- Malaysian musician-director-actor Namewee after his film Banglasia was banned in his own country
She finally gets to see her own film
Local actress Atikah Suhaimegets to see Banglasia on the big screen at last, and in her home country to boot.
"Banglasia was supposed to be released last Chinese New Year, so I prepared this red Bangladeshi dress for the premiere," she told The New Paper.
"Since it never got a cinematic release in Malaysia, I'm so happy I finally got a chance to wear it tonight."
Atikah, who was a TNP New Face 2011 finalist, is now a full-time actress based in Kuala Lumpur.
In Banglasia, she plays Rina, the daughter of the film's antagonist Omar.
She becomes enamoured with Bangladeshi worker Harris (Nirab Hossain), and has a tendency to faint at the sight of blood despite being a nurse.
"This is a very funny film, and it was so much fun to work with Namewee," said Atikah.
"I've always been a fan of his films, like Nasi Lemak 2.0.
"Most Malaysian directors play it very safe, but Namewee dares to be different. I like how his action is always fast-paced. Everything is colourful and larger-than-life."
Filmed three years ago, Banglasia was Atikah's first feature film, though her second major film, horror flick Kelibat, was released first.
"I'm really nervous about my acting here, as I was so raw then," she said.
"So forgive me if my acting is not so good."
When asked if she thought the Kickstarter campaign would succeed, Atikah said she was confident of the film's chances.
"Sure, I think we have a shot. Namewee is pretty popular; a lot of my Singaporean friends know of him."
Atikah works in KL as it offers more career opportunities. She comes home once a month to see her family.
"Kuala Lumpur is good for food, but Singapore is where my heart is," she declared.