Monday, February 18, 2008

The First Movie Made in Sibu and Kapit by Shaw Brothers

My Uncle Tiong Siew King owned the Eastern Cinema in Bintangor in the 50's but I never had a chance of watching a movie there or with the family. But many years later when I visited Bintangor with a group of school friends I was given a treat to watch Gidget. The cinema was the same one, but the ownership had changed hands. By then my uncle and his family had moved to Sibu.

Nevetheless cinemas and movies played a big role in my life. Cinemas were important to the social life of the people in Sarawak, in Sibu in particular, in the 50's and 60's. And several cinemas were actually owned by the Shaw Brothers, namely Rex, Kuching, Sarawak; Lido, Sibu, Sarawak; Miri Theatre, Miri, Sarawak; Lutong Theatre, Lutong, Sarawak.

At that time, it must have been very challenging to bring movies from Singapore to Kuching and the other towns of Sarawak as so much had to be carried by boat. The most popular ship plying between Singapore and Sarawak was the 'Rajah Brooke'. Later, with flight services, they could be airlifted from Singapore.

It was also recognised that those men who came with the movies were very posh people and they were not able to be like one of the locals. They were the managers of the cinemas and representatives of Shaw Brothers and they were a cut above the locals. They also wore neckties to differentiate themselves from the movie goers and the bystanders. They were mainly Cantonese speaking.

I remember how the motor launches were decorated by huge movie banners. The Lido cinema manager had asked the Chinese motor launches to help adverstise the movies especially before the Chinese New Year so that the villagers would know when to come up river to watch the movies. And as a result Lido and Rex would play to full house. The movie banners were painted on huge canvas sheets. And today I wonder how much they had paid the ever helpful motor launch owners for their advertisements. Probably nothing.

Perhaps many people cannot believe this. The first movie (yes full length movie) to be made locally was in 1957. It was called "The Long House". Movie cameras,and other film making machinery, men wearing foreign clothes, and sun glasses, were all put on long boats and motor launches in Sibu. They had to make their way up to Kapit. There was a great deal of talk actually but I understand no Foochows were recruited for the making of the movie. Perhaps one or two Sibu families who were suppliers of outboard engines and long boats were also part of the project team.

However, the greatest excitement must have been in Kapit where the film was made. A Kapit Iban girl, Luli, was a natural actress and she got the role to play opposite the English actor.

That was quite a stunning acting role for a Kapit young lady and she was the toast of the town. She appeared in Singapore for the premiere of the movie and the stage was decorated with a model longhouse. Luli and her father toured the Shaw cinemas in West Malaysia. The newspapers everywhere carried news about her because she was stunningly beautiful as well as a good actress. Furthermore she was a very good singer.

What happened to Luli later in life,no one would really know. I went away from Sibu for such a long time that certain stories were really "unfinished businesses". The threads just disappeared.

3 memories:

Judy said...

Thanks Chany yi.. You still have fantastic memory

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

wow! luli, a movie of our own.


Hi. Actually i posted about Luli on my FB few months ago. In fact i found mdm Luli a few days ago via my posting. i would like to interview those who have seen the film. Hopefully mdm can contact me via email.


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