Saturday, December 22, 2007

Malaysian classics (9): Leftenan Adnan

Leftenan Adnan is a 2000 Malaysian film directed by Aziz M. Osman and produced by the Royal Malaysian Army and Grand Brilliance Sdn Bhd.
Story and Plot Point
The movie is about one Adnan bin Saidi, a young Malay from Sungai Ramal in Kajang, Selangor who had joined the Malay Regiment just before the Second World War broke out in Asia. By the time the war broke out, he had been promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and was in command of Company C, 1st Battalion, Malay Regiment after the death of the British company commander, Captain H R Rix. His exploits and bravery in combat while leading his men against the Japanese Imperial Army are legendary. The 2 known engagements he was involved in are:
The Battle of Pasir Panjang, and
The Battle of Bukit Chandu or Opium Hill.

Both battles occurred during the final phase of the Japanese Imperial Army's assault on the city of Singapore during the Battle of Singapore. He later either died of his wounds or was executed after the battle. Three versions of his death are recorded. However, the official version will record that he was executed by Japanese troops in anger for his stubbornness in holding his position and inflicting large casualties on Japanese troops. In the film, General Tomoyuki Yamashita was supposed to have said that if there were ten more Adnans in the British Colonial Forces in Malaya at that time, he would have needed a total of ten divisions to conquer Malaya.
Alexandra Hospital Massacre
Although not referred to in the film, there is a current theory that the subsequent Alexandra Hospital massacre was directly related to the great frustration felt by the Japanese soldiers due to the heavy losses suffered in overcoming the stout resistance put up by Lt Adnan's Company C on Opium Hill. With the loss of Company C, the remnants of the 1st Battalion withdrew leaving the way clear to the British military hospital at Alexandra and the subsequent massacre of the patients, doctors and nurses within.
Apathy of the Australian artillery
Many of the authoritative texts (except those written by Australians!) are united in their assessment that Opium Hill fell due to the refusal of the Australian artillery to fire their guns at the Japanese soldiers who were in their sights. The Australian's official stand was they had a previous order from Major-General Garden Bennett of the Australian Imperial Force NOT to support any non-Australian soldiers in the field of battle. As Australia was then a White-only society, racism was rife among the Australian troops, many of whom felt that the Malay soldiers were not worthy of their support and entirely expendable. The Australians subsequently withdrew to the centre of Singapore city to take part in an orgy of looting, rapine, murder and mass desertion. It was this complete breakdown in law and order in the rear areas which was one of the reasons for the eventual surrender despite the British numerical superiority in numbers and arms. Even Bennett was observed crying and screaming like a hysterical girl as he commandeered a boat to take him off the island and to safety immediately after the surrender was announced.
Versions of Lt Adnan's death
Version 1 - Official version: The official version as recorded by Japanese Imperial Army indicated that he was executed and then hung upside down from a cherry tree. British accounts have confirmed that his corpse was found hung upside down after the surrender and this has been repeated in a number of authoritative texts on the Malayan campaign. The actual mode of execution was never officially recorded.
Version 2 - Film version: His death was not shown, but it was indicated in the closing credits that he and the surviving wounded in his company were tied to trees and bayonetted to death. This is probably the more correct version and in keeping with similar Japanese practice elsewhere.
Version 3 - A version which was shown on a local tabloid magazine, purportedly revealed by Lt Adnan's former aide, just before his death. This version could not be verified.
The film received criticism for using Malay actors to portray Japanese and English soldiers throughout the film. Further, the original English dialogue as spoken by the actors was voiced over by Malays speaking in halting and strongly accented English suggesting that there was an awkward attempt to alter the dialogue to give a different slant to the situations depicted and to portray the British in a unfavourable light.

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