CHINESE ADVERTISEMENT OF THE MALAY FILM ‘PONTIANAK’, 1957
National Archives of Singapore
Pontianak (1957) was a Malay film produced by Cathay-Keris Film Productions and directed by B.N. Rao. It premiered on 27 April 1957 and ran for almost three months at Cathay cinemas. The film was dubbed in Mandarin and also Cantonese for the local Chinese audience and the Hong Kong market. Despite being known as the golden age of Malay cinema, local Malay films in the 1950s and 1960s were a product of the cultural diversity in the region; Malay films particularly from the 1950s were typically helmed by Indian directors, financed by Chinese producers and written and acted by the Malay artistes. Its cultural heterogeneity was one of the reasons why these films were so popular and well-loved by people in Singapore.
The success of Pontianak led to two sequels: Dendam Pontianak (Revenge of the Pontianak, 1957) and Sumpah Pontianak (Curse of the Pontianak, 1958). It is also said to have launched the Pontianak genre in Singapore and Malaysia. Shaw went on to produce its own trilogy – Anak Pontianak (Son of Pontianak, 1958), Pontianak Kembali (The Pontianak Returns, 1963) and Pusaka Pontianak (The Pontianak Legacy, 1965). In Malaysia, several movies based on the Pontianak folklore were made including Roger Sutton’s Pontianak in 1975, Shuhaimi Baba’s Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam I (Fragrant Tuberose Pontianak, 2004) and its sequel in 2005 as well as Yusof Kelara’s Pontianak Menjerit (Screaming Pontianak, 2005).
Cathay-Keris partners Ho Ah Loke and Loke Wan Tho parted ways in 1960 when Ho decided to leave Singapore to set up Merdeka Studios in Kuala Lumpur. Before he left, Ho and Loke Wan Tho drew lots to divide the films that they had made together. Ho left Cathay and took his share of the films to Kuala Lumpur. According to his friend, film director Dato L. Krishnan, Ho possibly ordered removers to take 20 original film reels away in a lorry in a fit of frustration, these included Pontianak and its sequel Dendam Pontianak. It is believed that the cinematic treasures were thrown either into a river or a mining pool. There are no known copies of the destroyed film reels.
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