From world-famous vocalists to Oscar-winning performances, we celebrate the best that South-East Asia has to offer in its film and music scenes.
Cambodia

Cambodia is home to South-East Asia’s first and to date, only Oscar winner, Haing S. Ngor, in the Best Supporting Actor category. Ngor, who passed away in 1996, lived under the Khmer Rouge rule for four years before leaving to the United States in 1980.

A casting director spotted Ngor while he was attending a wedding near Los Angeles. He landed the role as a real-life Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran, who partnered with New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg to report on the Cambodian genocide in The Killing Fields.

Ngor remains one of only two non-professional actors to clinch an Oscar for his 1985 performance.

Philippines

Lea Salonga is not just any Filipina singer – she’s a Disney Legend. The 43-year-old singer provided the singing voice for Jasmine in the Aladdin song, A Whole New World. Then in 1998, she sang Reflection for Mulan.

In 2010, the world saw Salonga become the first Filipina to be honoured with the Disney Legend title in California. Salonga also achieved a milestone on Broadway when she became the first Asian to play Fantine in Les Miserables.

When Neal Schon, guitarist of rock band Journey, needed a new lead singer to replace the iconic voice of former vocalist Steve Perry, he turned to YouTube. In 2007, Schon got in touch with Filipino singer Arnel Pineda via YouTube and flew him to San Francisco for an audition.

A year later, Arnel debuted as Journey’s new lead singer in Chile and earned rave reviews. Since then, Arnel remained as the band’s permanent lead singer and has continued to tour extensively.

Vietnam

The Scent Of Green Papaya is Vietnam’s only official entry to earn a nomination in the Oscars in 1993 for Best Foreign Language Film. Directed by the Vietnamese-born French filmmaker Tran Anh Hung, the film, which chronicles the life of a poor little girl who becomes a servant for a rich family, is known for its breathtaking visuals. Even revered film critic Roger Ebert once said, “watching it is like seeing a poem for the eyes”.

Indonesia

Throughout its decade-long run, the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival has featured performers like Santana, Stevie Wonder, the late James Brown, Natalie Cole and George Benson. Local performers who get to rub shoulders with these legends include Agnez Mo, Marcell and Addie MS.

Indonesian singer Shae sent Malaysians into a digital downloading frenzy with her hit single Sayang.

Indonesia is also home to some of the region’s best female singers like Hetty Koes Endang, Melly Goeslow and of course, Krisdayanti. New singer Shae looks like she could be joining that list soon. Recently, her single Sayang was certified by Warner Music for achieving one million digital downloads sales in Malaysia.

Malaysia

Following the Government’s move to offer 30% rebate on international and local productions shot in Malaysia beginning in 2013, Hollywood production studios, for instance The Weinstein Company, has chosen to film part of its historical epic, Marco Polo, in Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios.

Anna And The King

But even before the scheme was introduced, the geographically diverse country has attracted a number of Hollywood productions such as the Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat-led Anna And The King (shot in Penang, Ipoh, Perak and Langkawi, Kedah) and of course, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Entrapment (ahem, who can forget the Petronas Twin Towers controversy?).

Even Chris Hemsworth made his way to Kuala Lumpur last year to film the upcoming action thriller Blackhat.

Singapore

For fun-loving dance music fans, the place to be is ZoukOut in Singapore. Last year, over 40,000 people made their way to the event at Siloso Beach in Sentosa Island. In its 14-year run, ZoukOut boasted names like Paul van Dyk, Tiesto, David Guetta, Avicii and Armin Van Buuren as some of the headlining acts.

Ten years after winning Singapore Idol, pop singer Taufik Batisah continues to make waves with latest single #awakkatmana. Recently, the 33-year-old singer was the big winner at Anugerah Planet Muzik, bagging three awards including Most Popular Artist.

Brunei

The film industry in Brunei may still be in its formative stages – with only five cinemas and three local films released to date – but it has already started creating waves with the release of Yasmine this year.

The action drama, centred on the life of a teenage girl and her dreams of winning a silat competition, is the country’s first big-budget film and has made its rounds in major festivals such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Besides depicting a female protagonist, portrayed by Bruneian actress Liyana Yus, Yasmine is helmed by a female director (again, the country’s first), Siti Kamaluddin.

Laos

A pop princess who holds the esteemed title of the general manager of a hotel. Aluna Thavonsouk, 35, burst onto the local music scene in 2005. Her self-titled debut album spawned three hit singles in her homeland.

In 2008, she released her second album Aluna Part II. At the first Lao Music awards presented by the Laos ministry of information, culture and tourism, Aluna’s KhaumHouSeukBork was honoured with Best Song.

Aluna has also brought her brand of unique Lao music to perform in Malaysia, Japan and in the US. When she’s not hitting the charts, Aluna takes care of her family’s Thavonsouk Resort business in Vang Vieng, Laos.

Thailand

If there is one thing the cinema of Thailand is known and loved for, it’s its steady stream of spine-chilling horror flicks. The most notable one is arguably 2004’s Shutter, a film about a photographer who finds mysterious apparitions in his images, which spawned a Hollywood remake of the same name in 2008.

Many Thai films are inspired by the popular folklore of Mae Nak, a devoted ghost wife who haunts her husband, such as 1999’s Nang Nak and the nation’s highest grossing movie to date, Pee Mak, which parodies the folklore.

Myanmar

Myanmar held its first music festival in June. The Myanmar Music Festival featured performances by American violinist William Harvey, pianist Kimball Gallagher and mezzo soprano Kirsty Griffiths.

There were also workshops, masterclasses and outreach programmes aimed at promoting classical music.