How Tan Ce Ding Used Zombies To Reflect Racial Politics In ‘Hawa’



‘Hawa’ was the most-watched, most loved short film of February, making it our Viddsee Shortee of the month!

Set in a post-apocalyptic Malaysia, the story follows a zombie-infected young Malay girl and her friendship with a carefree Chinese neighbour. We spoke to director Tan Ce Ding to find out more about this film.

#1 – When A Zombie Is More Than Dead Brains

With three dominant races — Malay, Chinese and Indian — Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures. However these differences have occasionally led to social gaffes and issues. Ce Ding was inspired by the gap in understanding between cultures to create a story that highlights the shared humanity within us all.


The division of the infected and the healthy humans in ‘Hawa’ works as a subtle symbol for race and social class.

The film packs a clever take on persevering interracial friendship in a socially divisive society in the lead characters of Hawa and Meng.


It’s a masterclass in showing how humans seek to bond and fight for these bonds, despite outward threats.

#2 – The Importance Of Props To Build Atmosphere

Shot in Serendah, located 30 minutes north of Kuala Lumpur, the sleepy town was the perfect setting for Ce Ding and his team to let their story unfold. The bus seen in the climax of the film was rented and parked in the middle of a quiet road.


Hawa’s isolation in her room where she spends the majority of the film locked up in is rich in subtleties. For instance, the toy soldiers seen by her window doubles as a metaphor for the constant danger that the outside world poses.

In fact, the film which was awarded the Grand Prize winner of the 2016 BMW Shorties earned a commendation for the detailed usage of props from Liew Seng Tat, a Malaysian filmmaker who was a judge at the short film competition.

Watch ‘Hawa’ by Tan Ce Ding (Malaysia) on Viddsee:

#3 – The Magic Of Hawa

In Ce Ding’s career as a filmmaker, both in a freelance and creative agency aspect, he had mixed experiences working with child actors. But working with Hawa Khadeeja, who plays the title character Hawa, was an absolute breeze.


“She just completely blown us away with her acting, direction taking, expressions range, character understanding, body movements… which are all far beyond her age!” said Ce Ding.

He credits being patient and giving clear and direct instructions to bringing out the best performances in child actors.

#4 A Long Overdue Win

In 2016, ‘Hawa’ beat out 115 other submissions to be crowned as the Grand Prize winner of the BMW Shorties. But that actually marked his 5th film in the long running and prestigious Malaysian short film competition.


“Back in 2010 winning the BMW Shorties was all I strived for. But down the years I became more focused on creating a story and executing a good short film,” reflects Ce Ding.

‘Hawa’ also claimed the award of Best Director and Best Screenplay Award at the competition. With plans to expand ‘Hawa’ into a feature film, we wait eagerly to see Ce Ding’s future works!

Keep up to date with his works here.

All behind-the-scenes pictures provided by Tan Ce Ding.

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