This article was originally published in June 2014 and updated in May 2021 with the episode from Archer
Let’s face it, how many times have you watched a Hollywood movie that takes place in Asia or features Asian characters and went “WTF am I watching?!”? Yeah, accuracy of portrayal has never been Hollywood’s strong point.
With that said, let’s look specifically at Malaysia. How has Malaysia been portrayed in Orang Puteh-made games, songs, and movies?
Other than Zoolander (which we will be leaving out of this article due to it being the most well-known example), we’ve managed to uncover some other portrayals from the sorta-accurate to the completely cringeworthy. But more importantly, we learnt a number of lessons from these as well.
Here are some of the lessons we’d like to share with you:
1. Archer becomes the Raja Lanun (Archer, 2011)
Archer is a long-running animation for adults that riffs on workplace culture and spy movies, but with tons of dirty jokes and promises of nudity that were never realized. Basically, the show revolves around Sterling Archer, who’s a secret agent at ISIS – the International Secret Intelligence Service – that’s run by his mom.
In a 3-part series opener titled Heart of Archness, Archer finds himself taken hostage and later being declared the king of the pirate fortress of Pangu Island. Unfortunately, despite forming a really strong lacrosse team, his lack of leadership causes an unhappy pirate named Bucky to call for an election called Melawan Raja which involves a fight with Bucky’s girlfriend. This eventually leads to a mutiny which gets Archer being captured again, while his ISIS colleagues are en route to rescue him. Yeah, you kinda have to watch it for yourself.
In any case, although Pangu Island is vaguely located in Polynesia, any Malaysian watching it on Netflix would instantly recognize (and be amused by) the badly-accented Malay. Or it could be Indonesian. We can’t really tell.
2. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the master baiter (Entrapment, 1999)
Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery’s accent, tish moovie involves Jhones’ inshurance inveshtigathor enliststing Chonnery’s thieving exphertise in ordah to entrap him, hence the fhilm being entitled “Entrapment”. (UiHua, no more Scottish accent or you’re fired – Editor.) A majority of this movie takes place in Malaysia, showcasing our then-new LRT network, the Petronas Twin Towers, and gratuitous shots of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ behind.
Unfortunately, the initial excitement of having Malaysia viewed as a highly developed country was dampened by spliced-in scenes of Malaccan slums alongside the Twin Towers, even provoking an angry response from Dr.M.
We tried looking for a screenshot of the slums depicted in the movie, but every search variation we used on Google images returned this result:
Or it might have been there but we didn’t notice.
We’re an office of single men. Don’t judge us. Update: Outdated joke. We don’t have an office anymore.
3. Don’t trust our introductions (Zoolander, 2001)
This Ben Stiller movie involves the brainwashing of the protagonist Derek Zoolander by the evil fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia due to his efforts in eradicating sweatshop labor from the country.
- Prime Minister of Malaysia
Due to the depiction of sweatshop labor in Malaysia as well as for the plot involving the assassination of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the movie was banned upon release. Naturally, everyone went out and bought a pirated VCD copy.
If you haven’t seen this movie, we’ve got you covered:
4. Old Proton Sagas are Bulletproof (Socom 4: US Navy SEALs, 2011)
Despite evidence in a previous CILISOS post, the old Proton Saga taxis are frequently used as cover from enemy fire in Socom 4.
You heard us right. Proton Saga taxis specifically. This game is extremely detailed in its depiction of Malaysian sights and sounds.
Game-wise, this game is pretty generic as far as first-person shooters go: A crack team of US Navy SEALs are deployed to Malaysia to take out the leader of a revolutionary movement called the Naga. BTW, this is not to be confused with Naga DDB, the top marketing and communication firm in Malaysia that totally didn’t pay us to plug their name into our articles.
Anyway, lots of shooting happens, a conspiracy is uncovered, lots more shooting happens, a betrayal, even more shooting…. You get the idea.
But again, what really impressed us were the developer’s eye for detail. Take for instance, the signboards:
And the cityscapes almost make you feel like you know where exactly in KL this takes place:
We do have one minor gripe, though, that the Malay spoken in-game sounds much closer to Indonesian.
5. A Rose by any other name is not Chinese (Rose, Rose, I Love You, 1951)
The location in which the events of this song takes place is made clear 17 seconds in with the lyrics “Flower of Malaya, I cannot stay”.
An English cover of a Chinese song titled “Méigui méigui wǒ ài nǐ“, Rose Rose I Love You relays the parting words of a sailor or soldier to his “Flower of Malaya”.
You’re probably wondering “Why is this song even here? It’s a sweet song wat.” Sigh. As much as we would like to agree with you, here are two scenarios:
- Rose is a cabaret girl who moonlights as a girlfriend for hire. No harm, no foul.
- Rose is an sweet, innocent girl earning an honest living as a performer at the local club frequented by soldiers in pre-independent Malaya. She meets and falls in love with a sailor/soldier who eventually leaves the country. He goes on with his life – married to a loving wife with two kids, a cottage home, and a dog named Boo while she lives the rest of her life believing he’ll come back for her and their child who would grow up a victim of prejudice like many other Ameriasian children.
Also, you’re probably assuming that the titular “Rose” is a Chinese maiden, but we like to challenge conventions. This is purely speculative, but we’re thinking it may be an Anglicization of “Ros” which is a common diminutive form of names such as “Rosmah,” “Rosmawati,” or “Rosdayanti”
Extra Sos: One of our readers, SEATUX, pointed us towards a cabaret performer named Rose Chan to whom the song is said to have been attributed to. Songwriter Wilfrid Thomas lived in Australia and was smitten enough to write the song after watching her perform in Singapore. Here’s a picture of her (raunchier ones available on Google images, just sayin’)
This find also led to our discovery of a quad (You read that right – it’s in English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil)-lingual cover of the song by Dato’ Zainal Alam:
6. Colonialism still exists in Malaysia (Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, 2002)
The Twin Towers were prominently featured as a story arc in 2002’s Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. Spanning three missions, our favorite botak assassin is brought to Malaysia to take down a hacker residing in one of the penthouses. As in the symbol of Malaysia’s march into first-world status Twin Towers. As in at-the-time tallest buildings in the world Twin Towers.
However, we can’t help but laugh tears of WTF-fery as we progress through IO Interactive’s depiction of the Twin Towers.
Where do we even start? Oh hey, how about what you’ll be greeted with once you enter?
Also, as you progress through the levels, you’d encounter your target’s “private security” (unintentional pun is unintentional)
Based on recent events, we don’t think JAWI would let that slide.
Now, the wily Danes at IO Interactive have been known to add hidden messages and content throughout the Hitman series, and we think the following almost borders on a conspiracy theory. First, do an image search of Malaysian police uniforms.
Now compare that to the ones worn in the game:
Both uniforms don’t look anything alike, do they? But the uniforms worn in the game DO resemble these:
As far as this game is concerned, we’re still a British colony. Ouch.
Also, in-game Twin Towers management probably hasn’t received the memo about not hiring foreign workers as security guards, since they all sound….well, foreign. Watch at your own risk though, the dialogue is cringeworthy.
7. Not many words rhyme with “Kuala Lumpur” (Rene, 1968)
“The coast of Kuala Lumpur” is mentioned somewhere in there, but we want you to listen to this because the song is pretty awesome.
This song really spells it out for you: Rene is a Malaysian prostitute who offers her services to sailors and is, apparently, really good at scrubbing the deck, if you know what we mean.
Okay fine, We’d usually come up with better innuendo, but this song’s got it all covered.
Seriously, how do you beat
“… a docker’s delight and a ship’s in every night”
“A line-up in the warehouse no trouble at all
If you can spare the money, you’ll have a ball
She’ll have your oars out.”
But all that said, what the heck is the “coast of Kuala Lumpur”?
8. Singaporeans are protective of their accent (Just Cause 2, 2010)
Just Cause 2 takes place in a fictional location called Panau, which is “somewhere in the region of the Malay Peninsula.”
“Panau” is also the Malay name for a chronic fungal skin infection, which is a coincidence because you’ll definitely be developing a rash from the dialogue of a character named Bolo Santosi:
Bolo Santosi’s voice actor, London-based theatre actress Liz Sutherland, has gone on to state that
…western audiences are not familiar with South-East Asian accents and the producers wanted something different and new to western ear, also adding in that she had not meant for the accent to be Singaporean but an exaggerated version of it, which was meant to be exotic, unfamiliar and unreal. She had also considered her role to speak in a “unique” accent a pleasure. – Just Cause wiki
So where does Malaysia come into this? Well, the storyline involves the operative of a secret CIA organization specializing in overthrowing non US-friendly regimes. He’s sent to an island nation in Southeast Asia that was formerly controlled by the Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Spaniards. The previous President prior to the events of the game was responsible for modernizing the nation with a highway system, an international airport, and a lot of skyscrapers. His successor undid all that, with the gradual stripping of his citizen’s rights, misuse of public funds, and massive propaganda campaigns.
Actually, this isn’t anything like Malaysia at all. We apologize for the error.
We came across a surprising amount of content in our research for this article, but unfortunately many did not make the cut. Here are some of them.
1. Far Cry 3
It’s not clear where this takes place, with suggested locations being the Mariana islands, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. We do know that it starts in Thailand, but wherever the characters ended up, the natives spoke in really weird accents and native languages ranged from Malay/Indonesian to Maori and Samoan.
Let us know if you can pinpoint this accent:
2. Koala Lumpur: Journey to the Edge
We really wanted to put this in, but other than the name it was completely unrelated to Malaysia. Also, our editor has enforced a ban on bear puns as they don’t meet CILISOS writing koala-ty standards.
3. All racing games
Malaysia has been a location on many racing games, some even including Proton cars in the selection lineup.
However, they aren’t interesting or facepalmy enough to include here. Sorry racing simulator fans.
4. Lady Gaga – Gypsy
Sorry Little Monsters, but Mama Monster didn’t make the list since Malaysia was just mentioned as a namedrop. In fact, Indonesia gets more headline mention than we do –
Someday in Jakarta
I’m American, I’m gypsy
I’m Bangkok, Australian, Malaysia
Sweden, Finland, Norway
Be my home just for the day
6. Totally Spies Season 1, Episode 24
This episode has the girls figuring out why countries around the world have turned their landmarks into amusement park rides. For Malaysia, we turned our Twin Towers into an 88-floor Drop Tower. Strangely enough, Malaysia was spelt as “Malaisia” which is totally weird because the French word for Malaysia is Malaisie. Soooooo…. typo?
6. Article plug: We have a whole separate article where Malaysia was totally destroyed
…in TV and movies of course. Click here to read, and don’t #PDRM us.
Lastly, did you know that the Simpsons referenced Malaysia in one of their episodes? No, seriously. It’s right here: