March 22, 2009

Malaysian DVD stores - gateways to Asian cinema

Before I forget, here’s a little about Malaysian DVDs – releasing movies from all over South East Asia. Plus a few locations of DVD stores that I descended on during a brief stay in Kuala Lumpur, if you should ever be passing through.

Malaysia lies on the peninsula between Thailand and Singapore, as well as owning a northern chunk of the island of Borneo. It was a different experience to Thailand, Malaysia is a very different mix of peoples and religions. While Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, Malaysia is largely Islamic, with Indian and Chinese temples sitting alongside mosques and Christian churches.

There are relatively few Malaysian movies, while Hollywood product and American franchised TV dominate the multiplexes and toy stores. But the larger DVD shops also has extensive selections from China (i.e. Hong Kong), as well as India, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. This makes Malaysia a great place to find a huge variety of movies from most of Asia.

Shelves of TV Boxsets are dominated by Japanese TV series and anime, and Malaysia releases English-subtitled DVDs that even Hong Kong hasn’t got. It’s a rare chance to get subtitled DVDs of practically every major Japanese TV series, like the live-action Hell Girl. Multiple releases can be due to Hong Kong versions being stocked as well as Malaysian, and also because some of them might be bootlegged.

The widest selection of Asian DVDs that I found, was at Classic World Entertainment, on the 3rd floor of the Times Square mall (nearest monorail stop: Imbi). The sign over the store simply says ‘Classic’. Here there were Hong Kong, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Indian and Malaysian horror films, plus a large section of anime.

Elsewhere in the Times Square mall were several stores devoted to Japanese anime figures and model kits – two can be found next to the indoor rollercoaster! I was pleased to find plenty of Ultraman and Masked Rider stuff in most of the toy stores too.

For anime fans, there's an even larger selection of DVDs in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, which has two stores of Hiro Comic World on neighbouring streets. They also have a branch on the 3rd floor of the amusingly-named S&M shopping arcade.

The Video Ezy chain offer a more limited choice, with more Hollywood product, but were easier to find, like in the Times Square mall, and in the KLLC mall at the base of the Petronas Towers (pictured). I also visited the large DVD section upstairs in the Sogo department store, which had a generous Japanese TV selection.

Like I said, not all of Malaysia’s DVD releases appear to be official, no matter how official-looking the packaging is. The cover details aren't always accurate about languages and aspect ratios. The quality of the English subtitling is fairly stilted, like the Hong Kong releases, but sometimes much worse - misspelled, mistimed and loosely paraphrased. I've persevered with awful subtitles in the past, with their challenges of lateral thinking, because there's been no alternative available anywhere else.

Like Thailand, be careful as the latest films are also released on the VCD (VideoCD) format – these play in DVD players, but are much more compressed (worse picture quality) and the subtitles are burnt-in (not optional). If the film is on two-discs (VCDs only hold one hour of video), check whether there’s a VCD symbol instead of a DVD one. The artwork for VCD releases can be different from the DVD.

So, huge choice, but varying quality of product and English translation. It’s still a good way to pick through many weird and wonderful films that may never appear in the west.

Until now, the only online Malaysian websites I’ve used is Zoom Movie, which doesn't list many details about the DVDs, like the languages. Also, MovieXclusive from Singapore offers similar titles. Both sites offer releases that won't be found on the major Asian DVD suppliers like YesAsia.


  1. Greetings,

    I'm interested in possibly buying a Korean drama that was re-released in Malaysia. It's 22 episodes, but it's 4 discs. Would that most likely be terrible English subtitles and video quality?

    Thank you for responding (in advance!)

  2. I found the quality of official DVDs to be good, though the quality of translations was variable.

    But for a cheap price with few alternatives, it's not too much to risk