fell swoop, Adman Salleh's Paloh touches every neurotic nerve
from racial hatred, taboos against intermarriages to political
bogeymen. It's that kind of film, important for a Malaysian
and $ingaporean audience but probably perplexing for anyone
who hasn't been here.
1945 during the closing months of World War II, the film sets
out to understand where the roots of racial hate stemmed from.
Paloh puts the figure of 60,000 as the number of Chinese killed
in the Sook Ching operation where the Japanese weeded out their
opponents and brutally massacred them. The story is set around
the town of Paloh, in the state of Johor, a communist stronghold
in Malaysia, which has a police station manned by Malays in
the employ of the Japanese army.
movement had been growing in tandem with rising Chinese hatred
for the Japanese. Unfortunately, this has begun to be transferred
to the Malays, who are working for the Japanese. Interestingly,
the love interest of the protagonist, Ahmad (Nam Ron), is a
Chinese girl, Siew Lan (Janet Khoo). Early on in the film, we
see them groping passionately in a love motel.
the reason Ahmad saves Siew Lan from being raped by his Japanese
officer and why he helps her family to escape. Siew Lan's father,
who is connected to the communists, wants to repay Ahmad by
promising that he and his Malay friends will be spared in any
is broken inadvertently and, in a final shootout, Ahmad is ironically
saved by a mixed-blood Chinese-Malay spy who was planted within
the communist camp. Besides the work of U-Wei bin Haji Saari,
Adman Salleh's previous film, Amok, was one of the other interesting
Malaysian films in the '90s. Paloh was shot with characteristic
restraint by Teoh Gay Hian, who has photographed many of the
new Malaysian digital films, Paloh is also consciously different
by its use of ethnic music.
by FINAS, the national film development agency, the sensitivity
of the film's subject has meant that its director has fought
hard to maintain authorial control. However, he has said that
he has saved about 85 per cent of his original vision.
vision is a pluralistic one. As one character notes, whether
it's the British or the Japanese, Chinese communists or the
Malays, it has always been the interest of one group, that the
other two kill themselves off. And it's not a case of whether
racial hatred is a reality or not but it's whether you can choose
to believe otherwise. Paloh tells us that that choice has always
been taken away from us. - Philip Cheah