Iconic Film Locations In Malaysia
I’ll be the first to admit that the Malaysian movie scene has a long way to go before we can sit amongst Hollywood giants. However, if it’s any consolation, the country has served as the backdrop for several blockbusters and foreign films. Clearly, tourists are not the only ones finding it hard to resist the appeal and splendour that is Malaysia. Without any further ado, let’s get right into some iconic film locations in Malaysia that managed to steal the scene on the big screen.
It’s no secret that Ipoh, Perak was Yasmin Ahmad’s favourite playground. If you’re familiar with the late director’s body of work, you would know that most – if not all – of her films affectionately capture the familiarity of the quaint, old city. Meanwhile, Ipoh has captivated filmmakers from abroad, too. After This Our Exile (2006) is an emotional Hong Kong family drama that was shot entirely in Ipoh, granting an unparalleled look at the city’s breathtaking scenery to the audience. Then, there’s Anna and The King (1999), a biographical drama film that tells a fictionalised account of an English schoolteacher and her encounter with the then-reigning king of Thailand, Mongkut. The plot, however, was met with disapproval from Thai authorities, hence it was shot mostly in Malaysia instead. A few locations in Perak featured in the film include the Ipoh Railway Station (pictured in main image), Papan’s Istana Billah and Batu Gajah’s Kellie’s Castle.
State: Kuala Lumpur
This capital city of Malaysia has had its fair share of movie appearances. Let’s start with the 1999 caper flick, Entrapment. The box office hit chronicles a cat-and-mouse chase between an art thief and investigator, played by Hollywood big wigs Sean Connery and Catherine-Zeta Jones. The thrilling plot takes audiences to Bukit Jalil LRT Station (renamed to Pudu LRT in the movie) before ending on a high note at the Petronas Twin Towers – definitely one of the most iconic film locations in Malaysia – where *spoiler alert*: the two decided to partner up for a multi-billion dollar heist.
Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of the Police Story franchise, you would know that in the third instalment of the series, Police Story 3: Supercop, the final scene from the film that Quentin Tarantino has said “has the greatest stunts filmed in any movie ever” sees Jackie Chan and a baby-faced Michelle Yeoh in a hijab pulling stunts at the Sultan Abdul Samad building, before moving on to the Moorish-influenced Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
Chan is then seen dangling on a rope ladder attached to a helicopter flying over Kuala Lumpur before landing in a train container full of thorny durians! Talk about taking sightseeing to new heights, huh?
For a darker, seedier portrayal of this cosmopolitan city, check out Crossroads: One Two Jaga (2018), now streaming on Netflix. The crime-action film is a brute commentary on wayward law enforcers embroiled in corruption as they tyrannise the disenfranchised communities of the city.
Apart from gaining notoriety for being one of two states in Malaysia that invokes fear among drivers (we’ll let you guess which state the other one is), Penang seems to be the Southeast Asian island that has captured the attention of filmmakers aplenty. As many know, the hit blockbuster Crazy Rich Asian (2018) catapulted the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion) to international recognition. The eclectic heritage building served as the private residence for the Chinese mogul, Cheong Fatt Tze in the late 19th century and is easily recognised by its dazzling indigo blue walls. However, did you know that an Oscar-winning film was shot here, too? Indochine (1992) is a period piece depicting the perils of a plantation owner in Vietnam during the French colonial rule, marking the mansion’s first appearance on the silver screen.
The Sleeping Dictionary (2003) is a romantic drama film set in the mystical forest of Sarawak, Borneo. The film was inspired by the Iban tribal courtship concept of Ngayap, shot across multiple locations, such as Batang Ai district in Lubok Antu, Kuching’s Matang Recreation Park and Buntal Fishing Village near Mount Santubong. However, the movie’s unjust portrayal of the Iban community, paired with the outrageous casting of Jessica Alba as the Iban girl left a sour taste among the locals. If you’d like to go back a few decades, look for Farewell To The King (1989) in which Nick Nolte plays an American who was considered divine by an Iban tribe in Sarawak because of his blue eyes. The film was shot in Bau and Kuching, where director John Millius said, “We could have shot this film in the Philippines for a lot less money… But this is where it happened. These are the real people. These are real Iban.” Meanwhile, on a lighter note, the Marvel superhero universe managed to namedrop Sibu in Venom (2018). We feel that Sarawakians deserve these bragging rights, as it’s not every day you hear about the sleepy town, especially not in a blockbuster film distributed worldwide.
Bollywood buffs might know this one. In Don 2 (2011), several scenes from this action-packed film were shot at Malacca’s Sungai Udang Prison. Yes, Shah Rukh Khan actually went to prison here in Malaysia. The prison block was cleared for filming purposes, and several inmates were reportedly roped in to be extras. Meanwhile, with the many colonial buildings scattered around the city of Malacca, this small city also acted as the stand-in for Hong Kong and Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s for the controversial espionage film, Lust, Caution (2007).
Of course, Malaysians have always had pride in the natural beauty of the country as well as its many interesting buildings in its towns and cities, juxtaposing the old and the new. For international filmmakers or even homegrown ones looking for inspiration, the Film In Malaysia website provides services for production teams looking to shoot in Malaysia, and features a comprehensive list of locations, landmarks and buildings that can be used in a film. Maybe we’ll see a Malaysian location add to this list of iconic film locations in Malaysia in yet another international movie soon!
Izzat is your regular 20-something, currently trying to navigate his way through the murky waters that is adulting. When he’s not hunched in front of the computer trying to catch deadlines, you’ll find him buried under the sheets watching films, or doing what he does best, which is sleeping.