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Public perception towards intercultural romantic relationship based on Yasmin Ahmad movie ” Sepet”

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1.1 Background of Study 3

1.2Problem Statement 5
1.3Research Objectives 6
1.4Scope and Rationale of Study 7
1.5Significance of Study 8
1.6Profile 9



3.1 Background (Qualitative Paradigm) 15

3.2Population and Subject to Study 16
3.3Research Instruments 17
3.4The Conceptualization of Research Variables 18 3.5 Data Collection
3.6Sampling Procedures (Purposive and Judgmental Sampling) 3.7Unit of Analysis
3.8Data Analysis (Thematic Analysis)


1.1 Background of Study

An intercultural relationship can be defined as a relationship that is formed between individuals from different cultures (Martin & Nakayama, 1999). Here, culture is defined broadly and comprises many key elements of a group. According to Ting-Toomy (1999), culture is a learned meaning system that consists of patterns of traditions, beliefs, values, norms, and symbols that are passed from one generation to the next and are shared to varying degrees by interacting members of a community.

Defining the term “race” or even interracial relationship has become a topic of controversy in the past years (Docan, 2003). Since race and culture are similar, their effects are difficult to separate when examining relationships among different people or groups (Fu, Tora & Kendall, 2001). In this study, the term interracial relationship refers specifically to relationships between people of different social and/or historical backgrounds that may have physical characteristics (Docan, 2003).

Much of our population views intercultural relationships as negative. Intercultural relationships of nearly every type have been recognized as unacceptable, abnormal and “mixed up” throughout long stretches of history around the world (Docan, 2003). Docan (2003) also stated that our past conceptions, ideals, and laws have created strong attitudes towards how the majority of people perceive intercultural relationships. A research shows that both men and women hold negative attitudes toward interracial relationships (Mills & Daly, 1995).

Although much of our population views intercultural relationships as negative, there are also many advantages that can be taken from it. Through building and sustaining relationships with others from different cultures and races, we can acquire knowledge about the world, break stereotypes, and acquire new skills (Martin & Nakayama, 1999). The diversity that is created by an intercultural relationship allows for increased creativity and improved problem solving (Cox & Blake, 1991).

In this research, the film ‘Sepet’ directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad is referred to as the film’s main idea is the intercultural relationship between the two main characters. It revolves around Jason, a Chinese boy and Orked, a Malay girl whom which friendship turned into a romantic relationship. To correctly capture a slice of real Malaysian life, the film used ethnic languages such as Malay, Cantonese, Hokkein, Mandarin and English as opposed to a sanitized version favoured by certain bureaucrats (Wee, 2007).

Yasmin Ahmad’s “Sepet” explicitly addressed issues of race, culture and religion by exploring inter-racial relationships between two of its main characters of different culture backgrounds (Wee, 2007). The situations that Yasmin puts her characters into and the questions that arise from those situations seem to create a sense of insecurity in the social, cultural and political construct of Malayness (Wee, 2007).

1.2 Problem Statement

Intercultural romantic relationships are often perceived in a very positive view or in a very negative view in Malaysia. Malaysia being a multicultural society, citizens have always been exhorted to handle issues of multiculturalism delicately and in a very positive light, so as not to pose a threat to racial harmony in Malaysia (Farah Azalea Mohamed Al Amin, 2006). Farah (2006) also stated that representative from three main races in Malaysia are represented in advertisement, television programs or films, very often, together to represent the harmony and unity amongst the various races in Malaysia. Therefore, the fact that Yasmin Ahmad used a Malay girl and a Chinese boy as her main characters was lauded and encouraged (ibid, 2006).

When the film came out, not all were pleased. The public, Malays mostly, was offended by the way Ahmad handles some of these issues, mainly the sensitive ones such as religion, race, language and multiculturalism (Farah, 2006). The intercultural relationship between the two main characters is sometimes viewed as taboo. On April 23, 2005, Fenomena Seni, a live forum programme on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), was broadcasted discussing two of Yasmin Ahmad’s film “Sepet” and “Gubra”. The forum was entitled ‘Sepet and Gubra – Corruptors of Malay Culture’ (Wee, 2007). Part of their disagreements were directed towards the taboo relationship between the female character (Orked) and a Chinese boy (Jason) in the film (ibid, 2007).

This disagreement shows that the public have an extremely negative point of view towards intercultural romantic relationship. Behind all the disagreements and negative perception lie the reasons that make up this sort of mindset. Whether it is because they had bad experiences with other races or culture or they have been taught to have a bad thinking towards intercultural romantic relationship. This research will study on the perception of Malaysian towards intercultural romantic relationship based on Yasmin Ahmad’s “Sepet”.

1.3 Research Objectives

The general objective of this research is to understand the perception of Malaysian towards intercultural romantic relationship such as those shown in Yasmin Ahmad’s film, “Sepet”. The specific objectives are such as:

RO 1: To identify the Malaysian perceive towards the intercultural romantic relationship

RO 2: To identify the portrayal of the movie towards the intercultural movie can ruin the relationship.

RO 3: To identify the Malaysian acceptance and adaption towards intercultural relationship in their family.

1.4 Research Question
To comprehend the research more carefully, questions are raised from the objectives for the researcher to answer which are:

RQ 1: How does the Malaysian perceive has towards intercultural romantic relationship.

RQ 2: How does the movie portrays the intercultural romantic relationship can ruin the relationship?

RQ 3: How does the Malaysian accept and adapt with the intercultural relationship in their family?

1.5 Scope and Rationale of Study

The result of one’s perception often derives from the background of that person. Davies (1995) said the eyes only see what the mind is prepared to comprehend. Perception according to Deleuze (1986) is a moment of arrest, an interval that sits suspended between a sensation and action. That interval is a matter of “indetermination” reflects the multiple possibilities for response as the subject oscillates (ibid). In this research, the perspective or point-of-view of Malaysian towards the intercultural romantic
relationship is studied.

1.6 Significance of Study

1.5.5 Policy

In Malaysia, we are known for our life fine tradition and culture, so we should not let any outside influences ruins our great nation. This research should benefits the various parties in order to maintain the quality of the local television industry and among Malaysian citizen itself as multicultural. First it can benefits the authorities such as ministries , for example the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture of Malaysia in the sense of putting matters in their hands in promoting the intercultural to the tourist and those who are watching Malaysian films products. Through this the ministry could imply appropriate guidelines and rules to any related party that reproduce this television show. This is to make sure that the certain party did not abuse the content of the show that lead to a huge impact on the Malaysian public’s development.

This research also may help ( FINAS) Perbandanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia in order to enhance more films that related to cultural in Malaysia to solve the problem that ahead for example can caused many problems due different cultures, lifestyles, and languages. Nevertheless inter- racial marriage also have the advantages interm of promoting national unity and soon there would not be any distinguishing between Chinese, Malay, Indian or Sikh as everybody will be a Malaysians.

This research can also be beneficial to the Film Censorship Board ( LPF) under the Ministry of Home Affairs in paying their role in promoting appropriate censorship and to filter all programs shown on television. This s to ensure that all programs that are shown for general viewing are safe from any violent and erotic contents that can influence teenagers in the country. Through this research, LPF can impose licensing to all media contents and collaboration with other ministries in order to promoting and create a bond between intercultural in Malaysia. With proper censorship ,
the media industry in our country is clean from any negative influence that can effects the multicultural in Malaysia and also the development of the country.

1.7 Profile

“Sepet” is a film directed by the late Yasmin Ahmad in 2005. The synopsis of the film is as follows:

“Nineteen-year-old Ah Loong, known as Jason, is in charge of a stall selling pirated VCDs. Contrary to what one might expect his social standing to be, Ah Loong is an incurable romantic with an unlikely hobby–he loves to read and write poetry. Quite content to carry on being the Romeo of the slums, Ah Loong’s life takes a sudden turn one day when a sixteen-year-old Malay schoolgirl arrives at his stall in search of Wong Kar-Wai’s films.”

“Sepet” which also means ‘slit-eyes’ is a love story involving an 18-year old Chinese boy named Ah Loong or Jason and 16-year Malay girl named Orked. The film is set at a town named Ipoh where the two young hearts from different culture and religious background crossed-path (shvoong.com, 2007). In the film, Orked who is a big fan of Chinese film-maker, Wong Kar-Wai befriended Jason a Chinese boy who sells pirated film VCD. A phone call from Jason slowly leads to regular dates at a fast food chain and finally leading to love. However, not everyone is comfortable with their interracial relationship. Orked faces constant slight racial teasing from her friends because of her ‘slit-eyed’ partner.

In the film, both Jason and Orked are shown living two different lives. Orked is blessed with a happy and loving family while in contrast, Jason grew up in a household where drunk and domestic abuse were dominant during the earlier years of his life. Despite all that, Jason still gets all the love and affection from his mother (shvoong.com, 2007).

“Sepet” produced by MHz Film and Grand Brilliance threw the question “why society (supposedly being more civilized nowadays) still have prejudice
against different races and cultures?” makes you ponders about it. In the film, it shows how Jason’s best friend, Keong tore down the wall that he has build against those from the opposite race after meeting Orked. It never occurred to Keong that he can be great friends with Orked and how they share some common interests. Despite the happy relationship, Jason’s past haunts him when his ex-girlfriend claimed that she is pregnant with Jason’s child. CHAPTER 2


2.1The Sensitive Issues in Malaysian Films
In the film ‘Sepet’, the way Yasmin Ahmad touches on sensitive issues such as religion, race, language, and multiculturalism offended some people, mostly Malays (Farah, 2006). The sensitivity of Malays and Muslims became an important priority, and to offend their faith or belief in any way would have its consequences, which usually mean a film being banned or widely criticized by religious scholars, the media and in Ahmad’s case, even the government (ibid, 2006). In a broadcasted live forum shown by Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) hostile comments came from two of the guests (a film producer and an assistant entertainment editor of a local Malay daily) towards certain scenes portrayed in the films as unrealistic, unnecessary and corruptible to Malay culture (Wee, 2007). Others have countered this criticism, saying Yasmin’s movies show that Islam promotes tolerance and compassion (Bissme, 2006). Yasmin Ahmad is bold and confronting when dealing with racial and religious issues. A scene to which objection was taken was a brief scene where Orked’s mother and maid have a candid conversation about both Orked and Jason’s future as students, and they bring up an issue that has rarely been spoken about in public in this manner before – the special rights of Malays (Farah, 2006). In this scene, they pointed out the fact the Orked was awarded with a government scholarship to study abroad with a result of only five A’s, while Jason who scored seven A’s failed to obtain a scholarship (ibid, 2006).

This unequal distribution of educational opportunities between the different races in Malaysia has been one topic that has been discussed very widely,
but with great caution, as the government has warned that it could pose a threat to racial harmony (Wee, 2007). Before, there were never significant Malay film director so openly addressed this issue and Ahmad was the first Malay filmmaker ever to represent the voices of non-Malays on this issue (ibid, 2007).

2.2The Multicultural Environment in Malaysia as seen in “Sepet” One of the most interesting aspects of “Sepet” is its inversion or blurring of stereotypes. Malaysians, in their daily lives, clearly traverse cultural and ethnic boundaries. We don’t live by the tight ethnic categories politicians use to box us in at certain stages of their own ambitious careers (Wong, 2005). As shown in “Sepet”, Orked and her mother as well as the queenly house-help, Mak Yam, love to watch Chinese dramas and soap operas. One of Orked’s heroes is an actor of Japanese-Chinese parentage. In fact it is her hunt for the VCD of “Chungking Express” that destines her to meet with Jason. Thai songs and music are shown to have a potent libidinous hold on her parents (ibid, 2005). The characters in this film also converse in bahasa rojak almost throughout the length of the feature. In the first scene where Orked and Jason meet at a night market, Orked converses with her Malay girl friend in both English and Malay in the same sentence. Then she modifies her accent when speaking to Jason, and speaks in Chinese slang, which is very common in Malaysia. However, it is not considered as the proper way of speaking the Malay language and was heavily criticized by film critics (Farah, 2006).

The Malay culture is very evident in Orked and her family’s lifestyle choices, sense of dress and speech (Wee, 2007). In Jason’s case, although his mother is of baba nyonya descent, and speaks Malay fluently, Jason converses in Cantonese to both his parents. Although he is dating a Malay girl, his Chinese roots are deeply embedded in the way he speaks and eats.

Jason epitomizes the typical Malaysian Chinese person, who can converse in Malay, English and Cantonese, and at times he mixes all of them up, as when he is talking to his best friend Keong. Keong, who is Hokkien, speaks the Hokkien dialect when conversing with Jason and Jason seems to understand him
although he is not presented in the film as able to speak the dialect.

Even when Jason brings Keong to meet Orked for the first time, they choose to meet in a Chinese coffee shop, a very common hang out for Chinese in Malaysia, for these shops are allowed to sell pork openly in this Islamic state. Orked’s momentary reaction to the pork she sees as she enters the shop, although humorously presented, also represents the real way Malays view pork, which is haram or forbidden in Islam.

2.3The Application of Theory: Social Exchange Theory
In Yasmin Ahmad’s film, “Sepet” a multicultural relationship can obviously be seen as it centres on a romantic relationship between a Chinese boy with a Malay girl. This relationship has its own benefits and costs like every relationship does except that it involves different cultures, race, religion and language. The social exchange theory analyzes interaction between two parties by examining the cost and benefits to each (Wang, 2004). The key point of this that it assumes the two parties are both giving and receiving items of value from each other. Under this theory, interactions are likely to continue if both parties feel they coming out of the exchange with more than they are giving up-that is, if there is a positive amount of profit for both parties involved (Baumeister, 1985)

2.4 Research Framework

3.1Background (Qualitative Paradigm)
Qualitative research is a research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perception, motivations, intentions, and behaviours based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting (encyclopedia.com, 2008). Van Maanen (1983) defines qualitative paradigm as ‘an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate, and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world’. The use of qualitative research
methodology is used when there is a need to understand a social or human problem through pictures and words in a natural setting (Cresswell, 1994). The three most common qualitative research methods are participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus group. Participant observation is appropriate for collecting data on naturally occurring behaviours in their usual contexts (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). In-depth interviews are optimal for collecting data on individuals’ personal histories, perspectives, and experiences, particularly when sensitive topics are being explored (ibid). Focus groups are effective in eliciting data on the cultural norms of a group and in generating broad overviews of issues of concern to the cultural groups or subgroups represented (ibid). In order to successfully complete and achieve the objectives of this research, the researcher will be using in-depth interviews to gather more information and ideas regarding this topic. The researcher will also be using open-ended question to allow respondents to react based on their own perspective of the situation and express their idea freely rather than be restricted by the structure of the given question (Ajandi, 2009).

3.2 Population and Subject to Study
The population for this study are students in Universiti Teknologi MARA Alor Gajah (UiTM) and couples who are in an intercultural relationship. The student from UiTM will be given open-ended question for them to answer while individuals who are in an intercultural relationship will be interviewed by the researcher. The subject to study for this research is the different perspective Malaysian has towards intercultural relationship and the reason of their perspectives. In Yasmin Ahmad’s “Sepet”, the characters Jason and Orked faced criticism from their friends when they told their friends they are together. Orked parents and maid seem to have positive reaction towards Orked and Jason’s relationship.

3.3 Research Instruments
According to Boyce and Neale (2006), in-depth interviews are useful when the researcher wants detailed information about a person’s thoughts and behaviours, or wants to explore new issues in depth. Interviews are often used to provide context to other data, offering a more complete picture of
what happened in the program and why. In-depth interviews are useful for learning about the perspectives of individuals, as opposed to, group norms of a community, for which focus groups are more appropriate and they are an effective qualitative method for getting people to talk about their personal feelings, opinions, and experiences (Mack et al, 2005). This type of research instrument is close to group discussion but one person is usually interviewed at one time. Interviews may be highly formalized and structured, using standardized questions for each respondent or they may be informal and unstructured conversations (Mack et al, 2005)

3.4Conceptualization of Research Variables
In this study, variable (information) will be used to understand the information on the perception of Malaysian towards intercultural relationship. Through this study, the researcher will use the information gained to understand on what causes Malaysians to have the perspective that they have now. According to McQuail (1983), information makes people finding out about relevant events and conditions in immediate surroundings, society and the world. Information is gained from the learning process and it can gain our knowledge.

3.4.2Background of Respondents
In this study, variable (background of respondents) will be used to understand the reason behind respondent’s perception or point of view towards intercultural romantic relationship. People come from different background have different perspective on almost everything. Their background will affect their perception on intercultural romantic relationship whether they have a positive or negative view on the subject.

3.5Data Collection
The researcher will be using in-depth interview to collect the data gained. The format is structured and will generally be conducted by a researcher. Each interview will be recorded using audio tape recorder and the researcher will write down the exact transcript as soon as the session ended in order
to avoid discrepancies.

Boyce, C. and Neale, P. (2006). Conducting In-Depth Interview: a guide for designing and conducting In-Depth Interviews for evaluation input. Pathfinder International Tool Series, monitoring and evaluation – 2. USA. Denzin NK, Lincoln YS (eds.). Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications, 2000. Mack, N., Woodsong, C., MacQueen, K. M., Guest, G. and Namey, E. (2005). Qualitative research methods: A data collector’s field guide. USAID, Family Health International, North Carolina, USA. Van Maanen, J. (1983) Qualitative Methodology. Sage publications, London. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2010, from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O62-qualitativeresearch.html (2007). Retrieved August 6, 2010, from Shvoong.com: Amin, F. A. (2006). Controversies Surrounding Malaysian Independent Female Director Yasmin Ahmad’s First Film ‘Sepet’. Bissme, S. (2006, April 26). Retrieved August 3, 2010, from Hoo, G. W. (2007). The Search for a National Cinema.

Koon, W. S. (2005). Aliran Monthly. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.aliran.com/oldsite/monthly/2005u/3c/html/’Discussing “Sepet” over tau chooi. Wang, E. (2004). Social Exchange Theory Applied to Romantic Relationships. Pearson.

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