About a year ago, Prodigital Lab chief executive officer Archie Nasution had the task of handing over the Bukit Kepong film reel to a restoration company in Thailand.
KRU Group CEO and executive president Norman Abdul Halim – whose company owns Prodigital Lab, a post-production studio – recalled the nerve-wracking moment.
“I remember telling Archie, to please talk to Jebat before we sign the agreement to hand over the reel. He had to explain to Jebat that ‘This is it. If anything happens, we don’t have a good copy of Bukit Kepong anymore’,” Norman said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
Jebat is Tan Sri Jins Shamsuddin’s third son.
“That’s the last good copy. We can’t depend on the other copies because they were not in good condition,” said Jebat, 28.
Bukit Kepong is Jins’ award-winning patriotic action film that was originally released in 1981. The iconic filmmaker – now 80 years old – wrote the screenplay, produced, directed and acted in the movie based on the historical Bukit Kepong incident. (To refresh your memory: In 1950, 25 people were killed in an effort to protect Bukit Kepong and its civilians from communist attack.)
The film which picked up seven awards at Malaysia Film Festival in 1982 – including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor for Jins – is getting a second life in local cinemas, thanks to the film reel restoration efforts and digital makeover led by KRU Group’s Prodigital Lab.
“This is a significant film because of its historical value. If we don’t do it now, it will be gone forever. There will be just a mention in the film archives but you’ll never be able to watch the movie,” said Norman.
“I feel there was a national obligation for us to not let anything damaging happen to the original film reel. If anything does happen, of course the blame is on us. Thank God, everything went well.”
Norman said the cost of restoring Bukit Kepong is RM100,000. “We could even restore it and present in stereoscopic 3D if we wanted. It’s just going to cost more,” he added.
The result of the year-long restoration process in Thailand and post-production work at Prodigital Lab in Kuala Lumpur is a Bukit Kepong re-release in high-definition glory with fully improved picture quality and audio. Norman believes Bukit Kepong is just the beginning of a long-term project to restore and re-release more classic local films for the modern audience.
He has also tasked United Studios, his company’s sales and distribution arm, to market and promote Bukit Kepong for the international audience.
“We hope that we get to collaborate with more producers, corporate sectors and filmmakers. There are more films that can be preserved and screened for significant occasions.”
He eagerly cited Mekanik (1983), Azura (1984) and Sembilu (1994) as some of the titles he would love to restore as well.
“We actually can’t wait to restore the sight and sound of some these films for today’s audience,” he said.
Three more classic Jins films will be getting the restoration treatment soon: Menanti Hari Esok (1977), Esok Masih Ada (1979) and Tiada Esok Bagimu (1979).
As for other titles such as Gerak Kilat (1966) – where Jins plays the suave spy Jefri Zain – and the Tan Sri P. Ramlee-directed Pancha Delima (1957), Jebat said it may not happen.
“Sadly, we don’t own the rights as they belong to Shaw Studios in Hong Kong. We could try to acquire them but it would be a long and complicated process,” Jebat explained.
Jebat is currently in the process of editing a documentary he made on his father. Ironically, Jins was against the idea of his son going into the filmmaking business.
“He has said that he didn’t want us to follow his footsteps. He wanted us to pursue something else. I think my father was more influential in teaching us how be a disciplined person. He believes in being presentable as a sign of respect to others,” Jebat said.
But Jebat was keen on continuing and preserving his father’s legacy. He was also the person in charge of taking care of Bukit Kepong’s last good reel copy before the restoration process.
At a press event, an old clip was shown to demonstrate the major difference in Bukit Kepong’s visual and audio quality before and after the restoration process. Jebat was obviously impressed by what he saw. “Sangat cantik (very beautiful). It looks like it was just shot yesterday,” he said.
Unfortunately, Jins who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, was unable to address the media at the event. Jebat spoke on behalf of his father.
“I told him that we are restoring Bukit Kepong. I don’t think he fully grasps the idea. But sometimes, I think he understands what is going on around him. He cried when we were singing the national anthem at the start of this event.”
Bukit Kepong opens in selected cinemas nationwide today.