Happy Hari Merdeka everyone! We’ve been through a lot as a nation for the last few years but in spite of the challenges, we’re still kicking. We’re still carrying on and we’re still picking food fights with Singapore. So as we celebrate 65 years of national independence, we want to remember the Malaysian entertainers and artists who make us proud to be who we are in the world of culture.
When it coes to the international stage, it can be easy to feel small about accomplishments. Well take heart friends because we’re counting down some our favourite Malaysians entertainers and artists who have shown that we can make a mark out there!
1. James Wan
When it comes to discussions of modern day blockbuster horror, you’d be hard-pressed not to bring up the name James Wan. This Sarawak-born director took the world by storm with two of the most popular supernatural horror series of the last decade, the “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” franchise. Through fantastic world-building, memorable characters and creepy, old-school scares, he breathed new life into the genre through his unique vision. He showed that there is a place for classic demons, witches and creepy nuns in this age!
And let’s not forget that Wan is the first, and currently only, director to deliver the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) its first billion-dollar film with “Aquaman”. He made a guy who talks to fish one of the most badass live-action superheroes. My man!
For our next spot on our list, we want to show some love to our local R&B Pop singer, Yuna. With a voice that can melt butter, she’s come a long way from her MySpace days. The singer has even appeared on American talks shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers”. And in spite of the pressure to from the outside to alter her image for one crowd or another, she’s still managed to maintain her identity as a strong, empowered Hijabi Muslim woman. If you’ve never heard of her before, we highly recommend checking out her music on Spotify today! FYI, “Rescue” is a great jam on the way to work.
3. Kavin Jay
If there’s one thing Malaysians love to do, it’s having a good laugh. Which is exactly what funnyman Kavin Jay has been doing for over a decade! Whether it’s cracking jokes about having to pay for two-seats on an airplane or settling chicken-rice controversies, you can always trust that the man has something witty to say. The comedian has been featured on networks like Comedy Central and was even given his very own special on Netflix called “Kavin Jay: Everybody Calm Down!”. Through the use of comedy, Jay has been able to tackle issues of race and his experience as a Malaysian minority with humour and insight. Right now, he’s one of the best comics in Malaysia!
4. Nigel Ng (and Uncle Roger)
From humble beginnings at comedy clubs to meeting Gordon Ramsay, comedian Nigel Ng has become an international comedy sensation. All achieved through the help of his alternate persona, the critical, vulgar and heavily accented Uncle Roger. In spite of the fact that the man has no professional culinary background, he’s best known for his hilarious reaction videos to cooking tutorials. His magnum opus of course is his famous takedown of British Chef Jamie Oliver’s rendition of the beloved egg fried rice dish. Some people love him, some people hate him but let’s be honest, he’s the closest we’ll ever get to having revenge on the English. For that, he gets a spirited FUYOH!
5. Henry Golding
Once again, we have another Sarawak-born pick with the dashing and charismatic Henry Golding. The actor made quite the impression as the male lead in the world’s first all-Asian Hollywood romantic comedy, “Crazy Rich Asians”. He stole our hearts with his role as the conflicted and romantic Nick Young who must choose between his mother and the love of his life. The man does more than just romance though, he’s also proven himself a capable action-star with his role as the titular, nameless assassin in “Snake Eyes”. Our personal favourite role he’s played has to got to be the deliciously scummy crime-boss Dry Eye in Guy Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen”. He’s definitely one to watch out for.
6. Michelle Yeoh
Speaking of actors with amazing range, we would be remissed if we left out the legendary Dato Michelle Yeoh. From Hong Kong crime thrillers like “Police Cop 3: Super Cop” to Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to starring in the first Asian-led Marvel film “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, Yeoh has solidified her name in the annals of martial arts cinema history. She’s also proven to be an auteur who is open to experimentation with her role as Evelyn in the mind-blowing “Everything, Everywhere All at Once”. Fingers crossed, she makes it all the way to the Oscars this year!
7. Shweta Sekhon
Malaysia has some of the most beautiful women in the entire world and we are proud to have Miss Shweta Sekhon represent our nation. At the age of 24 years old, she has already won two beauty pagaents in Malaysia. In 2016, she was crowned Miss World Malaysia and she won the title of Miss Universe Malaysia in 2019 as well. From there, she went on to represent us on the world stage in the international “Miss Universe” competition. More than just a pretty face, Sekhon is also a powerful advocate of body positivity when she launched her #YourBodyYourSay campaign.
8. Sudirman Arshad
The Americans can have Michael Jackson because our main man Sudirman Arshad will always be the King of Pop in Malaysia! He was a trained lawyer before deciding to break into the music industry. From then on, Sudirman dominated the local airwaves with songs like “Balik Kampung” and “Pelangi Petang”. His proudest moment though was when he was named Asia’s No. 1 Entertainer at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1989. With magnetic stage presence and a killer voice, he delivered with his song “One Thousand Million Smiles” (which he surely did). He is a national treasure and a testament to Malaysian talent.
9. Yasmin Ahmad
Few figures in Malaysia’s filmmaking industry have cast a shadow as far and wide as our dearly beloved Yasmin Ahmad. A peerless director who pushed the cinematic boundaries of Malaysia with films like “Sepet” and “Muallaf”. Never shying away from touching on controversial topics of race and religion with stunning clarity and unapolegetic commentary. Even her advertisements are pieces of art! She’s received a myriad of international awards such as the Best Film Award at the 18th Tokyo International Film Festival and the award for Best Director at the 54th Asia Pacific Film Festival. Years after her death, she remains a revered icon within the Malaysian film industry. She is the Queen of the Silver Screen!
10. P. Ramlee
Was there ever any doubt? To not include the man, the myth, the legend himself would be criminal! Oh yes, the one and only P. Ramlee. He was by all regards was a polymath of the arts. He was a brilliant comedic actor as seen in films like “Do Re Mi” and a powerful dramatic thespian as witnessed in the heart-wrenching “Anak-ku Sazali”. Seriously, we get choked up everytime it reaches the scene near the end. He has recorded over 500 different songs. Some of his best hits include “”Engkau Laksana Bulan” and “Azizah”. Out of the 62 films P.Ramlee acted in, he directed 33 of them! He burned far too bright and far too quickly, leaving us at the age of 44. He ushered in a golden age of Malaysian cinema, and is an inspiration to every local filmmaker and actor.