To the London film Festival, to see "The Last Communist" by the Malaysian film director Amir Muhammad. This is a film inspired by the memoirs of the Malayan insurgent Chin Peng, leader of the Malayan Communist insurgency against British rule, and after that an on-going jungle struggle that finally ended in 1989. Prior to taking up arms against the British he had worked with the few British forces that remained in Malaya after the British capitulation to Japan. For this he was awarded the OBE.
Having bought Chin Peng's remarkable memoirs when I was in Malaysia earlier this year, I had been looking forward to this film for some time. The first thing to understand is that this is not a conventional story of someone's life - Chin Peng does not appear in it at all, just as to be honest he did not directly appear in Malaysia in the decades when he was a household name. This is a man who was often in the shadows, either in hiding, in exile or on party business abroad.
Instead the technique of "The Last Communist" is to interview people in towns and villages in Malaysia and Thailand where Chin Peng lived and fought. These people include shop keepers, hard working small businessmen, retired guerillas in the Thai countryside, a very greedy ex-police informer, a particularly reactionary Muslim woman ranting about Communists restricting freedom whilst slobbering about what she would like to do to the Reds, and even an old colonial parasite relaxing in the Cameron Highlands with his books and his memories for company.
One thing that the film is not, is sentimental. Any pomposity is popped by interludes of silly songs - both Communist and Malay. They give the film, in English terms, a rather camp edge. The interviews in the Thai town of Princess Chulaporn Village No 10 show Communists of all ages getting on with their lives. One, an astonishing man in his 70s with only one hand, still looks fit enough to fight in the jungle today. As with any good peace accord, that of 1989 appears to have left even the losers with their dignity, and a feeling that their struggle was not entirely in vain.
The Last Communist is to me a reminder that whilst the Communist Party of Malaya gave a lot for the independence of Malaysia, it got nothing in return. The film is banned in Malaysia - which perhaps makes it all the more neccesary that you see it here.