Although lesser known on a global scale, Malaysian cinema is constantly progressing, blending cultures, languages, and subject matters in a way very few films can.

Given our unique position in being such a diverse nation, we have the privilege of creating stories that showcase that diversity in a way that is often only understood by Malaysians but can be celebrated by anyone.

So, we’ve curated a watchlist for you to enjoy this independence month.

1. Sepet (2004)

Sepet is one of Malaysia‘s most well-known films, winning the “Best Film” category in several film festivals following its release. Directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad, the film follows a young boy and girl as they navigate the social and cultural pressures of being in an interracial relationship.

The groundbreaking film sparked many conversations about race, love and what it means to be Malaysian. Even in a multi-racial country like Malaysia, interracial relationships still remain a controversial subject matter. Almost 20 years since its release, Sepet’s message still stands.

The film was online for viewers to watch for free in 2020. The video is still up on Great Little Stories on Youtube.

Watch the film here.

2. The Garden Of Evening Mists (2019)

Adapted from the novel written by Tan Twan Eng, The Garden Of The Evening Mists is a fictional love story set to tug on your heartstrings. Set in Cameron Highlands, where most of the film was also shot, the story follows a woman haunted by her tragic past in the Japanese internment camp during World War II.

Surviving it, she travels to Cameron Highlands during the Malayan Emergency, where she forms a relationship with a Japanese gardener who takes her on as his apprentice. A story of love, history, forgiveness, and the grief that comes with war, coupled with beautiful cinematography and brilliant acting, this film is one you don’t want to miss.

Unfortunately, the film seems to be unavailable on any Malaysian streaming platforms right now, but you can purchase the DVD here.

Watch the trailer here.

3. Talentime (2009)

Another Yasmin Ahmad favourite, Talentime, was also the last film she completed before her passing. Said to have taken cues from Fame and High School Musical, the story follows a group of students on the run-up to the inter-school talent competition organised by the school’s music teacher.

Humour, music, joy, and despair take centre stage as the students go through the highs and lows of auditions, unlikely pairings and rehearsals as they prepare for the big day. The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Watch the film here.

4. Ola Bola (2016)

Inspired by the Malaysian national football team in the 1980 Summer Olympics, Ola Bola is yet another celebrated film for many reasons. The story is set in the 1980s, when a team of Malaysian football players from different cultural backgrounds struggled to overcome personal odds and unite for the team and country.

Having faced a streak of embarrassing losses, their only chance at international glory is if they find a way to rise to the occasion and set aside their differences. The film’s unique take on choosing to be multilingual was a brilliant way to showcase the Malaysian identity in this classic zero-to-hero story; you can even purchase a copy of the DVD here.

Watch the trailer here.

5. Puteri Gunung Ledang: A Legendary Love (2004)

Based on Malay folklore and legend, Puteri Gunung Ledang is the story of a 15th-century princess who finds herself at odds when religious obligation, class, and duty keep her from marrying the man she loves.

The movie follows the growing forbidden love between Gusti Puri and Hang Tuah, backdropped against the realities of war and mysticism. It is available to watch on Netflix.

Watch the film here.

6. Paskal (2018)

Based on true events, Paskal is the story of an elite unit in the Royal Malaysian Navy Special Forces on a mission to rescue a tanker taken over by Somalian pirates. The action-packed drama will keep you on the edge of your seats. A story of courage, family and what it means to serve the country, Paskal is a definite contender for movie nights.

Watch the film here.

7. The Journey (2015)

Drama and comedy carry the story of Bee Yew, a Malaysian Chinese woman who returns home after graduation and introduces her English fiancé, Benji, to her family. Conflict ensues when Benji’s lack of cultural awareness and understanding of Chinese traditions causes Bee’s conservative father to oppose the marriage.

It is a heartwarming story of what happens when we let go of our pride and make room for our differences, understanding that love, friendship and family are all that matters—an all-around great film to watch with the family.

Watch the trailer here.

8. Jagat (2015)

Set in the early 1990s, Jagat is a Malaysian crime drama that follows the story of a 12-year-old Tamilian boy struggling to cope in a formal education system. Born to immigrant parents, he wrestles with the pressure to stay in school while being drawn to the life of his criminal uncle.

The film explores the plight of the working class Malaysian Indian community at that time, who constantly battled against poverty, economic deprivation, biassed development, and wealth distribution that made them vulnerable to the effects of crime.

It is a heavier subject matter than most films on this list, but worth watching to recognise the struggle of minorities in Malaysia. Change begins with empathy and understanding.

Watch the trailer here.

9. Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa (2022)

Now streaming on Netflix, Air Force The Movie is an action-packed adventure-war thriller. After a militia group shoots down a special forces aircraft, nine survivors must stay alive while waiting for a rescue team to be deployed.

When the Royal Malaysian Air Force learns of the survivors, Zafran, a grounded SUKHOI pilot, fights for the opportunity to save them. From incredible flight sequences to the vast Malaysian landscapes depicted in the film, it paints a wonderful tribute to the Malaysian people and our military personnel, their sacrifices for the rakyat (people) and their love and commitment to the nation.

Watch the film here.

10. Polis Evo (2015)

Bad Boys, Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, and Polis Evo. Everyone loves a buddy cop film. Polis Evo is a story of a big city cop and a small town big cop on their mission to take down Malaysia’s biggest drug lord.

The unlikely pair humorously learn to work together, but a tragic turn of events helps them realise that the mission calls for them to trust one another as they wage war against a cold-blooded syndicate that is determined to keep their drug business alive.

The comedy-action crime franchise released its third instalment of the film early this year. Both Polis Evo and Polis Evo 2 are now streaming on Netflix.

Watch Polis Evo and Polis Evo 2 on Netflix.