Three weeks after its release, “Mat Kilau: Kebangkitan Pahlawan” is still going strong on the big screen, garnering over RM71.27 million and claiming the No. Malaysian film. the story.
A director from the country says this is a positive development, whether or not the film has been critically acclaimed, as the encouraging ticket sales are proof that public interest in local productions is on the rise .
Al Jafree Md Yusop, who is also a screenwriter, said it showed that people “with money” were starting to care about the production process.
But more than that, it is also a comment on the Malaysian entertainment tax which is often criticized as too high.
Less than a week after its release, “Mat Kilau” had already earned more than RM12.2 million, but had yet to receive a return on its RM8 million capital.
Indeed, 25% of the collection was to go to the entertainment tax.
Film producers must also complete an agreement with the cinema, where the proceeds from the film collection for the first week are split 50-50.
Some had complained about the amount of tax levied, saying it was too high for entertainment purposes.
But Al Jafree said tax collection has been mandatory for a long time and no issues have ever been raised among film producers.
“Perhaps people didn’t know that because there had never been a movie that could pull off such collections,” he added.
He also said that the tax rate imposed by the government was not far off from those implemented in other countries.
In the United States, for example – the world’s largest film producer after India and its popular Bollywood film industry – cinemas are charged 40% for the first week of release.
Hollywood studios take 60% of what is collected.
For Al Jafree, the problems in the local film industry revolve around other issues which he says show no signs of reform so far.
“It’s true, ‘Mat Kilau’ hit the box office,” he said.
“But the potential of films that people have neglected all this time has been lost. There are no real efforts to develop Malaysian cinema.”
The Malaysian film industry began to pick up speed in the late 1930s, with “Laila Majnun”, the first film shown in Malaysia in 1933.
To date, Malaysia produces about 20 films a year and between 300 and 400 television series.
There are over 200 cinemas across the country showing local and international films.
Film producer Kamal Akram Ibrahim acknowledged that the 25% entertainment tax seemed high given the difference between cinemas and other entertainment centers such as nightclubs and karaoke centers.
But he, too, said the tax was not the only major problem for the Malaysian film industry.
For example, he said, international films enjoy more benefits than domestic productions.
“It’s like there’s a cartel monopolizing the film industry,” he said.
“They are the ones who determine the time slots and the screening rooms, which greatly influence ticket sales.”
Kamal, who produced the comedy “Bikers Ketal 2” in 2019, said local films placed under the mandatory screening regime are only given two weeks in cinemas.
It is then up to the cinemas whether or not to continue showing them, depending on ticket sales.
“If they think outside movies will bring in more sales, they’ll be screened as often as possible,” he said.
“Local films will be pushed into smaller theaters or removed from theaters altogether.”
According to Kamal, the body supposed to regulate the film industry has also been sleeping on the job.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia or Finas had been heavily influenced by “dream” people and now had political interests.
“Finas should be led by those who understand the film industry and are serious about elevating it to the world stage,” he said.
“But funding and grants are often given to those who haven’t yet proven themselves capable of producing good shows.”
Al Jafree meanwhile said that the Malaysian film industry would find it difficult to move forward because the efforts made by previous directors had not been continued.
He cited the introduction of the standard contract system by former Finas director general Kamil Othman for film crews and workers.
The system had established guidelines for a number of issues, including the ceiling price for salaries and services.
Al Jafree said the effort has been well received by art activists and the system used by the Malaysian Commercial Producers Association.
“But when Kamil’s contract ended, the system was dropped by the new chief executive,” he said.
“The problem is that changes can be made as people want them when they are not protected by laws.”