Associated Press article
Like his life, film about Malaysia's notorious communist guerrilla also in a limbo
By EN-LAI YEOH Associated Press Writer
(AP) - KUALA LUMPUR -Malaysia's most reviled communist lives in a limbo, unsure if the government will ever let him return home from exile in Thailand.
A somewhat similar fate has befallen a film about Chin Peng, the forgotten communist insurgent leader whose fighters battled British Commonwealth troops in the jungles of Malaya from 1948 to 1957, the most brutal period in the country's modern history.
Malaysia's Censorship Board has approved without cuts "Lelaki Komunis Terakhir," or "The Last Communist," a part-musical satire, part-documentary. But the board only approved it for restricted release in three cinemas nationwide, and it cannot be publicly sold in disc format.
"The Last Communist" by Malaysian filmmaker Amir Muhammad played at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the Singapore International Film Festival and is set to be shown at the Seattle Film Festival and Toronto's Hot Docs festival.
Amir said he has no intention of making a hero out of Chin Peng but made the film because he wanted to tell the story of a man who has virtually ceased to exist in Malaysia's official history.
Once demonized in school textbooks, Chin Peng, 82, merits only passing references today, said Amir.
"His role in Malaysian history has gotten smaller and smaller," Amir told The Associated Press. But the threat posed by Chin Peng and his forces was exaggerated by the British, he said. "He was like the phantom menace."
Underpinning the Malaysian censors' reluctance is a deep-seated dread of communism among Malaysian leaders, and fears that glorifying a leftist insurgent - even a reformed one - could lead some to question the country's hard-won capitalist prosperity.
The country's ruling party, the United Malays National Organization, said documenting the life of Chin Peng was tantamount to communist propaganda.
"This is an extremely sensitive issue. I don't think the people who have fought for our country will appreciate such a movie being shown, and I'm sure there will be protests," said Azimi Daim, the information chief of the United Malays youth wing.
There are other important stories in Malaysian history, he said. "Why are we coming back to this issue of Chin Peng again?"
Such concerns are also largely behind the government's refusal to allow Chin Peng to return home even though he has pledged loyalty to the country and laid down arms under a 1989 peace treaty.
Chin Peng, an ethnic Chinese whose real name is Ong Boon Hua, was not always the bad guy.
During World War II, he and his guerrillas provided the bulk of resistance to the Japanese occupation after Allied troops were swept from the Malayan peninsula and Singapore. For his courage, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
After the war, the communists began a nationalist fight against colonial rule. Leading a 10,000-strong force, Chin Peng faced some 70,000 British, Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, Gurkha and other British Commonwealth troops from 1948 until 1957, when Malaysia, then known as Malaya, was granted independence.
Some 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the decade-long insurgency, a period known as the Emergency.
After independence, Chin Peng continued to fight the Malaysian government. But with the dragnet closing in on his jungle hideouts and his Marxist-Leninist campaign losing steam, he fled to China in 1960. From there he went to southern Thailand where he settled with hundreds of exiled fighters loyal to him.
Amir's 90-minute film is essentially a documentary that tells the life of Chin Peng in chronological order. But it does not feature Chin Peng, referring to him only through captions describing important events in his life superimposed on shots of locations.
The movie also has song-and-dance numbers, performed by actors, about political events surrounding the Emergency.
It contains sound bites from his companions in their homes in exile. Like Chin Peng, they too yearn to return.
"Are you used to a wanderer's life? Do you miss your hometown?" one elderly former guerrilla belts out during a karaoke session caught on film.
Amir said the former guerrillas don't regret their years of in combat. "They speak kind of fondly of the time they have spent in the jungle.... What surprised me is how energetic they were," he said.
"The Last Communist "is based on Chin Peng's 2003 autobiography "Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History," co-authored by Singapore-based historian Ian Ward. It was shot over four weeks last year at a cost of 50,000 ringgit (US$13,620; euro11,107), financed by a Dutch foundation.
After the 1989 peace deal, the government of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said it would allow former communist guerrillas to return to Malaysia and to "freely participate in political activities" under the Constitution.
But none of the former fighters has been granted permission to come back. Malaysian officials have continuously cited suspicion over communist activities but no specific reason has been given for denying entry to the ex-guerrillas.
Chin Peng's appeal to be allowed to return home so that he could spend his remaining days here was expected to be heard by a federal court sometime in April, although no date has been fixed.
"He is hopeful," said his lawyer, Darshan Singh. "Why shouldn't he be allowed to return? The peace treaty allows for that. His home is here. His parents are buried here."