Let’s face it. It’s the costume that makes Batman better than Superman.
An actor’s performance is the primary piece in a film, but costumes create the illusion of the film’s setting, who the character is and even as a network for the actor to truly embrace his or her role. For instance, observe the rumpled and simplistic shirts that Redza Minhat wore in Kil where his character is introduced as a man who is tired and depressed. We wouldn’t be able to comprehend this if he was garbed in a perfectly ironed suit and shiny shoes. Film history has documented many memorable costumes since the Golden Age of Malaysian cinema after the Second World War which is why drawing a list of the most iconic costumes in our local cinema is difficult but after much deliberation, the search came down to five costumes that are notable in terms of design, personality and its impact.
P. Ramlee’s white suit in Anak-ku Sazali.
Mention the film, Anak-ku Sazali in public could actually rouse at least one person to sing the first line of the song with the same name though, there is also the central scene in the film that is outstanding even to those who haven’t seen it which is the argument between the father, Hassan and the son, Sazali both played by P. Ramlee. The white tux that P. Ramlee wore as Sazali was a divergence to the heated dispute; the colour white which is typically associated with purity and innocence was in contrast with Sazali’s arrogant behaviour and stood as a bearing to the change from the beloved child to a spiteful man. The suit also symbolised wealth and sophistication and was distinctive against Hassan’s modest clothes.
Tiara Jacquelina’s costumes in Puteri Gunung Ledang.
The period film that inspired one of Malaysia’s renowned musicals presented a line of traditional attires during the late 15th century Sultanate Malacca and the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit. These include the gold and yellow garments of the royal family and the colourful apparels of the commoners particularly, the Gusti Putri’s (played by Tiara Jacquelina) dresses of patterned sarongs and elaborate gold accessories. In the legend, the princess is not of this world and in the film; she was portrayed as having supernatural abilities and the detailed textile of the costumes brought an eerie element and elevated Tiara Jacquelina’s role as a celestial royalty.
Sharifah Amani’s baju kurung in Sepet.
The paramount film of the Orked trilogy (followed by Gubra and the prequel, Mukhsin) presented us the cinematic universe of Yasmin Ahmad and in the hustle of the small town of Ipoh is the fictional love story that is known to almost all Malaysians. Sharifah Amani played Orked, a ‘baju kurung’-wearing Malay girl and this incidentally became a part of her quirky and down-to-earth persona since not many young urban women would wear the traditional attire daily especially during the late 90’s. In this case, it isn’t the design of her costume but, what the ‘baju kurung’ contributed to her performance; making her a more relatable yet unique character and made the Malay traditional garment eminent among foreign audiences.
Saiful Apek and Zizan Razak’s Cicak Man suit in the Cicak Man franchise.
In tradition of superhero films; there is a montage of the main character, Hairi Yatim played by Saiful Apek in the first film where he designed and sewed his costume which was the orange, full body-suit made from leather and became the highlight of Malaysia’s first superhero series. In the final film of the trilogy, the superhero costume worn by Zizan Razak’s character, Man was criticised for having an amateur finishing and was ill-fitted though, this was defended by KRU Studios since the character bought the costume at a shop so it’s logical that the costume is not immaculate. Nevertheless, the franchise is undeniably a masterpiece of pure action, humour and entertainment and showed us what a Malaysian superhero might look like.
The Malaysian football team’s jersey in Ola Bola.
What is more emblematic than football in Malaysia? The black and yellow football jersey has been the standard outline of the Malaysian national football team’s uniform and in the film that stole our hearts last year which was inspired by the event when Malaysia was qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics; the football jersey of that period made a comeback however, there were minor alterations from the original design specifically the design on the shoulders. The sight of the classic jerseys brought us back in time to reminisce the historic moment which is why the Harimau Malaya jersey deserves a spot in our list.
These are just a miniscule preview of the creative and limitless world of costume design in Malaysian films and if you’d like to add more to the list of memorable costumes, do tweet us at @thedailyseni!