Since I came back from watching Nasi Lemak 2.0 about a month ago, I find myself doing two things: One, I’ve been eating more nasi lemak, and two, I’ve been advising as many people as possible, especially participants in my programs to go watch the movie. Every single one of them, regardless of race, liked it and thanked me for the recommendation. They found it to be a very entertaining, Malaysian movie.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, with due respect to the Utusan writer Fauziah Arof, I too would like to give my take on the movie. I found Namewee’s work not only to be an entertaining example of 1Malaysia in comedy, but I also see creative and artistic value in it. As such I would encourage more people to watch the show and give support so that more such movies are produced.
I do not know Namewee personally, but based on the story of the movie, I see it as a reflection of his life, albeit in a comical way. It shows the journey of a young man who grew up in Chinese surroundings, in isolation from those of other races, rediscovering himself as a Malaysian. This is not altogether surprising to me, because I’ve met many Malaysians, regardless of race, who like Namewee have been through or are going through the same process. I will give you an example at the end of this note.
The premise of Nasi Lemak 2.0 is the story of a young chef in Malaysia who grew up in a Chinese setting, had minimal contact with other races, went to a Chinese institution, and consequently felt that everything Chinese is great and everything else is inferior. At the start, he refuses to touch any food other than Chinese food, which he believed was far superior. Somehow along the movie, he discovers nasi lemak for the very first time…. and is shocked by the wonderful new taste he had never experienced before. In the movie, nasi lemak symbolizes everything Malaysian - a combination of different cultures coming together into one great Malaysian flavour.
Stunned by his discovery, he goes on a journey to find out how he can achieve that wonderful taste. Along the way he rediscovers ‘Chinese-ness’ ala Malaysia, in Malacca among the Baba Nyonya. To find out more about making curry, he goes to an Indian curry master’s home. Interestingly there he goes googoo gaga over an Indian beauty. Later, he goes into a Malay kampung home. At the end, he discovers his Malaysian-ness that does not mean to let go of the pride of being a Chinese, but he becomes a Chinese Malaysian rather than a ‘Chinese’ Chinese.
Namewee also has managed to return the fun of Malaysian racial jokes and pull it off, funny but not offensive. We used to have enough sense of humour to be able to do that. He gives us the chance to laugh at ourselves again. For example when he visits an Indian home for the first time in the movie, innocently he says that based on the movies, Indians are always hiding behind trees or in bushes... we all laughed at that. Or how towards the end, the mythical-like Chinese sifu turns out actually to be a fraud… and the antagonist, a Chinese chef from China, marches out at the end in communist soldier uniform professing loyalty to China. A brilliant funny moment in the movie is when Namewee’s character was in a Malay home with a man and his four wives and tries to make a smart alec comment in Mandarin. Little did he realize that not only could one of the wives speak Mandarin but also recited Chinese classical poetry.
Namewee managed to sell the idea that it’s okay to be racial but not okay to be racist… something I have been proposing for some time. It is refreshing to see that now through Namewee’s work, we can laugh at racial jokes again, without being worried about hurting each other. This can only stand from the confidence that when we do so, we are not being racist, but in fact we can laugh at each other, with each other, because we can love each other.
Namewee is a talented young Malaysian who we should support. With proper support, mentoring, and opportunities, we have with us a Malaysian who is likely to produce creative, sellable, different and special movies that can not only be marketed in this country, but also worldwide. It will be a shame to leave this gem unpolished.
As I said earlier, this scenario of a Chinese, Malay or Indian growing up in a separate environment without interaction with other ethnicities is not an isolated case. One of my previous students grew up this way up to her University days. When she entered university and found out she had to share her room with two Indian girls, she cried for many days and opted to engage with them as minimally as possible. As soon as she could, she moved out of campus. However, when she started working, she could not run away from having to deal with others. After being in one of my programs, she wanted to have a chat with me and I suggested to meet at Nirwana Maju in Bangsar. She was very impressed with the food we had… and to my surprise - it was the first time she had Indian food in her life! She was 28 years old, grew up in Malaysia, and yet had not tasted Indian food until that time.
This same friend of mine emigrated as soon as she had a chance. When we spoke again after one year, she admitted some things. One, she confessed that she always thought that the non-Chinese in Malaysia were lazy, but she discovered that where she is now, those around her are even more lazy. Worse still, over here in Malaysia when she confronted others for their laziness, they would admit it and apologize… but in Australia they would flip her a four letter word. Secondly, when I wrote to her to wish her a Happy Wesak Day, she replied that she did not even realize it was Wesak Day… while if she was in Malaysia, ironically among different groups of people, she would have known. We joked that she’s discovering Malaysia in Australia.
My guess is Namewee too has also discovered Malaysian-ness in his own way. It’s a move forward. We have to have more hope and confidence that most Malaysians - like Namewee’s character at the start of the show, and like anyone who sees themselves as race first before Malaysian first - will one day discover their Malaysian-ness. Yes, he may be a bit offensive here and there and his video response to the Utusan writer’s negative comment was a bit rude. But most creative people will understand. Creative people see their work as if their own child and to criticize it evokes the ‘parental instinct’ in him.
I would give Namewee my support because he is definitely a gem. As a young creative producer and actor, I see in him a hint of someone with the potential to follow in the footsteps of the greats like P. Ramlee, Stephen Chow or perhaps even Kurosawa.
I wish Namewee all the best and I look forward to see his future creative work. I thank him for giving us a chance to laugh at ourselves and each other again.
By law I am Malay, by ancestry I am a mixed Malay-Arab, by choice I am a Malaysian but in the heart I belong to the Human Race :)
Peace, anas zubedy