HIDDEN HISTORIES | Blogging a dead horse

Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?


From the makers of The Hidden History of Johor Bahru, i.e. New Johor, comes the Hidden History of Johor Lama, i.e. OLD JOHOR. This is a witty and wide ranging documentary about the extraordinary Sultans of Johor from their mythical origins to their final confrontation with the British!

After my wife and I completed the documentary on the founding of Johor Bahru we thought our next project should be about the little village on the Johor River side called Old Johor. The amazing thing about this sleepy backwater was that it was once the centre of a powerful empire that rivalled the Portuguese, Dutch and the British in the region.

We spent the best part of the year researching and filming this documentary. It took us all around Johor, uncovering myths and reality. Because the buildings of the time were wooden, though no less splendid, there are few remains of the old cities and settlements. But the geography of the place can tell you an awful lot about how the societies of the time organised themselves. Anyone who wants to understand anything about colonial history, not to mention a lot of contemporary politics, would gain a lot from watching our film.



Above is a reasonable depiction of what Johor Lama looked like when it was a major trading centre.


We filmed using the latest light weight equipment and were amazed at how convenient it is to operate without a film crew! We suspect that no crew would have put up with the deprivations of filming in the humid tropical heat with the schedule, and certainly not the budget, that we operated under.

We filmed in the jungles,


We filmed on the beaches


We filmed on the rivers…


Our motto was, never surrender until we had the full story, or at least an alarmingly red face despite copious amounts of sun-lotion.


The sun was not all we braved. There are monsters in the rivers here!


Big ones and little ones. But for your edification, we braved dengue fever, swatting mosquitoes where no man had swatted them before.


And we filmed in some places that were just mind bogglingly stunning…






You can find out more about the Making of The History of Johor Lama over at Helengray.net

During this hectic year we did have the pleasure of meeting the Permaisuri of Johor, i.e. The Queen Consort. And have been giving showings of the documentary to various local groups, who I am glad to say laughed at all the right places. They were also amazed to discover so much about the some time glorious history of this country.


The Sultans of Johor were nothing, if not persistent and often very brave in their tenacity. This is history that few westerners truly understand, or even have an inkling of. It is also a history that even many of the local inhabitants of Johor are unaware. By taking our broad sweep approach, placing the events humorously in the context of modern attitudes, and exploring the actually places where these events took place, we have brought together a fast paced telling of five hundred years of history from Sang Nila Utama, the man who actually founded Singapore in 1299 to the arrival of the British five hundred years later and the rise of Sultan Abu Bakar in the mid-19th Century

So please go and watch The Hidden History of Johor Lama. The price is a mere $2 because we feel that history is important, but to continue with our intentions to explore history and bring it to as many people as possible in an easily digested format, we at least need to cover our expenses. For a mere $4 you can download the whole documentary and watch at your leisure on the TV, not to mention share it. Though please don't post it on YouTube, as some people have done with a feature film I made!!! The documentary is feature length, but it is divided up into short chapters for viewers who do not want to watch it in one sitting. Though, it has to be said, audiences sat on hard chairs in small venues in steamy Johor Bahru have found it a very easy and entertaining watch. We thought they would be a tough audience, but the reactions were very positive. I'll give a couple of comments left on my Facebook here…

Hanis Izura: Lots of rich hidden histories about Johor in this documentary. Learnt a lot. Hats off to the both of you!

Iskandar Jamalludin: I'm a history nerd and this is lovely.

Please let us know your comments! Put them on Vimeo please. And please share the link.

Those of you who have a smart TV can access Vimeo on it, so please search for Vimeo and of course, our film. VIMEO's search function on the TV is a little convoluted, but please persevere. Vimeo gives the artists far more than YouTube or Facebook does, plus a better quality image. It is the favoured home of professional film makers who use it as a place to show their work to other professionals. But there are also areas open to the public. Please support.

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Lawrence Gray is TV dramatist with credits in the UK and Singapore, having had two series about Singapore broadcast by Mediacorp. He lived in Hong Kong for 24 years, writing and filming TV and Feature Films in Hong Kong, sometimes shooting in Cantonese, because, well, that's what they speak there! He has won numerous awards, including literary awards for his novels about Hong Kong. He now lives in Johor Bahru.

Helen Gray was a Professor of Pharmacology at the Chinese University in Hong Kong and on retiring has taken to blogging about Malaysia and writing Travel books about Malaysia. Her Walking Tour of Johor Bahru has proved to be a big hit. She is also an accomplished photographer and has taken to making documentaries with her husband. If you wish to buy her Walking Tour of Johor Bahru, please go to helengray.net