SOAS University of London

South East Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Postcolonialism and Otherness in South East Asia On Screen

Module Code:
15 Credits

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module a student should be able to:

  • understand the nature of the problems and nuances of studying South East Asia from an outside perspective; 
  • be aware of the ways in which Said’s concepts of orientalism play out in the composition of Western films set in South East Asia;
  • and to understand the broader impact of colonial and imperial power relations on the construction of an outside cultural perspective on the region through the theoretical lens of postcolonialism. 

Students will also have acquired a knowledge of film theory and the techniques of film viewing from a critical perspective, together with background knowledge of the political and historical issues raised in Western films set in South East Asia. 

In terms of generic skills, students will have had the opportunity to improve their ability to distil information from secondary sources and to collate this information in the composition of an essay. They will also have learned how to extract and process information from cinematic sources, and to combine their observation of these sources with secondary, background readings and with theoretical texts considered in tutorials. As a result of the emphasis on group discussion of the cinematic texts explored in this course, students will learn how to contribute constructively to debates, how to accommodate the views of others in the learning group and how to present and articulate their own views orally.


A total of 10 weeks teaching with 4 hours classroom contact per week consisting of 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar and 2 hour film viewing.

Scope and syllabus

The module will examine key issues pertaining to colonialism, post-colonialism and encounters with cultural/ethnic "others" that are raised by a series of western films set in various parts of South East Asia (Irian Jaya, Java, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam). It will look at the significance of the external, visual perspective on the region, the encounter between western characters and those of local origin; and the dramatic dilemmas which face the Western traveller/visitor to the region.

Each of the films selected for viewing and discussion will in addition provide scope for the discussion of the key issues pertinent to understandings of South East Asia and the most significant events in its political history. As a result the content of this module supports and enhances the content of other modules on the MA South East Asian Studies programme together with that focussing on Pacific Asia and the Literatures and Languages of South East Asia. The reflection on cinema locates this module firmly within the remit of the MA programmes dealing with Film and Screen Studies while the discussion of 'otherness' makes it relevant to Gender Studies.

Method of assessment

An essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 1, of the term following teaching (70%); 2 reaction papers, each of 600 words to be submitted directly to the module teacher (30%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be supplied by the convenor at the beginning of the module.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules