Renowned Malaysian writer-director Yasmin Ahmad passed away last Saturday after suffering a stroke and brain haemorrhage. She was 51.
Her burial was held at 1pm, Sunday, in accordance with Muslim tradition that calls for bodies to be buried before sundown on the day of death. She had been in ICU since last Thursday after collapsing during a meeting at the headquarters of local broadcaster TV3 in Kuala Lumpur.
The industry and festival circuit worldwide expressed shock at her sudden and untimely death. Her Facebook account, with an amazing 4,986 friends, was flooded with best wishes messages and later tributes. Memorial services are being planned for in Singapore.
A prominent voice in contemporary Malaysian cinema, Ahmad will be forever remembered for her controversial subject matters in a predominantly Muslim country. With a Malay father, half Japanese mother and a Chinese husband, religious tolerance and inter-racial relationship were some of her favourite subject matters.
A good example was 2004’s Sepet which made a mark for her internationally but drew criticisms at home and was banned until eight cuts were made. The picture about an inter-racial love story between a Malay girl and a Chinese boy, won best Asian film at Tokyo and grand jury prize at Creteil International Festival of Women’s Films in France.
The film later became part of a special retrospective at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2006, a big honour for a Malaysian director who had only made four films then – the others being Rabun, Gubra and Mukhsin.
Ahmad was working on two international productions at the time of her death, including Wasurenagusa, a co-production with Japan’s Wa Entertainment which won the first prize, the Pusan award, at the 2008 Pusan Promotion Plan. It tells the story of a Malay girl on a visit to her ailing grandmother in Japan.
Another new project was Go Thaddeus which was at casting stage and due to begin production after 2010 Chinese New Year for 14 days. Hong Kong-based Ascension Pictures is the main investor for this Singapore-set story about a 17-year-old triathlete who died two years ago.
Ahmad’s last film was Talentime which was world premiered at Hong Kong this year and will next play at Tokyo.
Before turning her hands to feature films, Yasmin enjoyed a long and successful career as a multiple award-winning TVC director. She was working in the creative division at the Kuala Lumpur office of Leo Burnett advertising agency before her death. Tan Hong Ming In Love, a TVC she directed for Malaysia’s oil and gas giant Petronas, won Cannes Lions Gold in 2008, a first for Malaysia.