The King and I, 1956
Innocuous, featherweight film adaptation of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Broadway behemoth, based on the 1860s shenanigans of Anna Leonowens, governess of the epically-fertile King of Siam’s 82 offspring. Starring big kahunas Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, the musical spawned earworms like “Getting To Know You” and snagged 5 Oscars.
Cause for offense: None, actually. The film was banned simply for causing b***hurt to the authorities of neighboring Thailand, who declared ‘The King and I’ “illegal” based on an inflexible 1930 lese majeste law.
Official reason for ban: The film’s “insensitive portrayal of the Thai king and its people”. (The ban was inexplicably lifted in 2005, long after every Malaysian everywhere had viewed, twerked and nae-naed to the movie thanks to pirated DVDs).
Trivia: Almost half a century later, Malaysia would awkwardly stand in for 19th century Thailand after filmmakers of its (arguably superfluous) US$100 million remake ‘Anna and the King’, starring Jodie Foster, were denied a permit to film in the kingdom. (Me no love you long time!)
Schindler’s List, 1993
Masochists’ and the KKK’s feel-good movie of the year, this is ‘grownup’ Steven Spielberg’s harrowing, please-make-it-stop Holocaust epic surrounding German Aryan Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of a thousand Jews. Perennially listed as one of the greatest movies ever made, ‘Schindler’s List’ raked in US$320 million (on a pasar malam budget of just US$22 million) and won 7 Oscars.
Cause for offense: Several crucial, non-gratuitous sequences of mass nudity (of skeletal, filthy, sickly, terrified and decidedly UNSEXY internees); and a brief, graphic rape scene. (And, secondarily, numerous, nauseating sequences depicting abuse, torture and murder – as one would expect in an unflinching film about genocide).
Official reason for ban: According to a letter sent by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) to the film’s distributor, the film was (a piece of) “propaganda with the purpose of asking for sympathy.” Reportedly, LPF would have allowed ‘Schindler’s List’ through with numerous cuts, but La Spielberg wouldn’t hear of it. Hello, ban! (The prohibition was overturned 11 years later and a censored, sanitized DVD was released).
The Prince of Egypt, 1998
DreamWorks’ first animated musical (of biblical proportions!) may have seemed destined to be excluded from LPF’s Facebook friends list, cartoon or not – it recounts the life of Moses as laid out by the Book of Exodus (oh oh!). But all indications were that ‘The Prince of Egypt’ would make his officially-set cinematic date with Malaysian audiences: trailers for the film ran for weeks in advance of its scheduled screening, and print media and billboard spaces were festooned with its promotional material. But the welcome mat was yanked away at the 11th hour, to the bemusement of many, and in spite of pleas from its violently-sideswiped distributor, United International Pictures.
Cause for offense: Let’s cover our a**es and skip this one, shall we?
Official reason for ban: Chairman of the LPF at the time was quoted by the BBC as saying the film was “insensitive for religious and moral reasons” and that the Board “bans films that don’t serve the interests of the people”. (Years later, the film was passed for VCD/DVD release).
Trivia: The movie’s Oscar-winning theme song “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey (who observed a brief cease fire for the clumsy ‘collabo’) enjoyed heavy airplay in Malaysia (heaven knows why), and is now a karaoke favourite among the singing-impaired.
One of Marvel Comics’ more ‘meh’ offerings, ‘Daredevil’ – whose principal character is a blind lawyer with the alter ego of a masked vigilante possessing ‘sonar’ superpowers – will be remembered chiefly as the movie in which now-Splitsville stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (or Bennifer, in E! parlance) fell in love.
Cause for offense: Noises were made by the government – including by the then-Deputy PM – about the film’s “violent content”. (It’s interesting to note that Gerard Butler’s ‘300’, and Brad Pitt’s ‘World War Z’, for example, were allowed to splatter intestines across local screens, and become among the highest grossing films in Malaysian history. Just sayin’).
Official reason for ban: LPF was quoted by the BBC as saying that ‘Daredevil’ would “encourage youngsters to hero-worship someone with a devil-sounding name”. But… but… but… the protagonist’s moniker is Matt Murdock – hardly satanic in tone or meaning. (Some posited that the Board’s members may have been unfamiliar with the religiously-neutral, non-supernatural-freighted, commonplace term ‘daredevil’ – and this was borne out a year later when ‘Hellboy’ found itself being turned back at Customs. After a hasty name change to ‘Super Sapiens’ (not bad!), the Guillermo del Toro-helmed white-knuckler – about, well, a DEMON with a conscience – was eventually allowed to proceed to Malaysia’s big screens, no hard feelings harboured).
Bruce Almighty, 2003
Although given the green light by the LPF, local cinemas-bound ‘Bruce Almighty’ careened into a longkang after the-then Minister of Religious Affairs suddenly condemned it as offensive. Advanced marketing blitz notwithstanding, the LPF made an abrupt gostan and slapped the movie with a ban. Years later, the quirky comedy-drama, which sees both Jim Carey and Morgan Freeman playing God, was approved for DVD release.
Cause for offense: Jim Carey (as far as I’m concerned)
Official reason for ban: The film had the audacity to “equate a human with God”.
Trivia: Egypt was the only other major country to officially ban the film (although it was never submitted for screening consideration in a number of conservative nations).
The Wolf of Wall Street, 2013
Yes, Scorsese’s deliriously-unhinged indictment on greed is a massive infestation of explicit nudity, graphic sex, hardcore drug-taking and epic profanity (the F-word is tossed a record-breaking 506 times) – but there were ‘expectations’ that the scaldingly scandalous movie would manage a local appearance due to its illustrious Malaysian connection (for those of you just emerging from a coma, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was produced by Red Granite Pictures – an American film finance and production company co-founded and chaired by Riza Aziz). Some entertained the possibility that a compromise could be reached, as between the LPF and Tsai-ming Liang over his spectacularly controversial ‘I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone’, which was allowed to briefly flicker on a handful of local screens following a re-edit by the Malaysian director. But local censors said: “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!”
Cause for offense: Guess!
Official reason for ban: Explicit content and language (no way!)
Trivia: Terminal Scorsese/DiCaprio fans intent on a big screen experience of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ stampeded into Singapore, where the film was screened in a limited number of theatres with an R21 rating (strictly for viewers 21 years and older).
Other major films sensationally banned in Malaysia (listed chronologically)
*Note: Some of the following films ran in cinemas for a limited period before being prematurely yanked following protests by “concerned members of the public”. They were officially banned shortly thereafter.
- Jaws, 1975 – Later passed for DVD release and TV airing
- Saturday Night Fever, 1977 – Deemed to be “liable to cause chaos in the community”
- Fatal Attraction, 1987 – Approved for VHS release shortly after
- Shawshank Redemption, 1994 – Banned for “depiction of cruelty, profanity and violence.” Prohibition was overturned for DVD release
- Babe, 1995 – The family film “portrays a non-halal subject matter in a positive light”, and its title sounds like the Malay word for ‘pig’. Years later, ‘Babe’ was approved for DVD release
- Barney’s Great Adventure, 1998 – Deemed “unacceptable for children”.
- Saving Private Ryan, 1998 – Ban eventually overturned (the same couldn’t be said for its notorious porno satire, ‘Shaving Ryan’s Privates’)
- American Beauty, 1999
- Zoolander, 2001 – Banned and condemned for its storyline, which involves a plot to kill our PM, and for its misleading depiction of the country (couldn’t they have made a country up? ‘North Fundonia’, for instance).
- Crash, 2004 – prohibited for its “racial themes”
- The Passion of the Christ, 2004 – Banned, before partial lifting for adult Christians only
- United 93, 2006 – Portrays Muslims in a negative light
- Waltz With Bashir, 2008
- The Hangover, 2009
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 2011 – Contains excessive nudity
- Noah, 2014 – Violates prohibition on visual depiction of Muslim prophets
- The Danish Girl, 2015
Movies you wouldn’t be surprised are banned (and not just by Malaysia). In other words, voila – your weekend viewing list!
Kill Bill, Brokeback Mountain, Basic Instinct, A Clockwork Orange, 50 Shades of Grey, Eyes Wide Shut, The Exorcist, The 40-year Old Virgin, American Pie, Dallas Buyers Club, Antichrist, The Human Centipede, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Sha**ed Me, Bruno, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Cannibal Holocaust, Deep Throat, Magic Mike, Showgirls, Saw, Borat, Team America: World Police, 120 Days of Sodom, The Evil Dead, Pulp Fiction, Beavis & Butthead Do America, Boogie Nights, Ichi the Killer, Blow, The Guru, Shame, Hustle & Flow, Wedding Crashers, Superbad, I Spit On Your Grave, Friends With Benefits, A Serbian Film, The Dictator, Ted, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Caligula.