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Thursday, November 29, 2007

KURUS Production Diary - Sleepless night of editing

29th of November. I have reached the fourth day of post-production for the film, KURUS. The past three days were spent on editing its rough cut, while today's spent on subtitling. I can only work on this until tomorrow afternoon, then I'll have to submit this film to the Rotterdam Film Festival.

I've underestimated the work I need to put on doing subtitles, expecting it to be done in mere hours so I can actually submit the film by evening. On the contrary, I'm actually going to have a long night ahead of me. Prepared myself a can of Red Bull to keep myself awake.

The film is mostly in Malay, the script was originally written in English, I'm putting up the English subtitles, a job made infinitely more daunting because we allowed actors to improvise a lot during the shoot, and instead of just doing copy and paste work from the script to the film, I'm actually doing quite a lot of translating myself.

So I'll be spending my night at the editing studios of Limkokwing university, which brings back memories of my university days last year, when I did the same while editing my short films, Vertical Distance and Girl Disconnected. I actually liked sleeping in editing studios, with the computer in front of me. It makes me feel... closer to my work. All of a sudden, there's just me, and the film I'm editing. Everything else becomes secondary.

Good thing I'm not doing this by myself, as I have a guy, Stevo, helping me out too with the editing of the film. There's also another editor, James, editing a documentary in the studio next door.

These few days had been interesting, since I myself have also managed to learn a bit of using Final Cut Pro for the Mac computers, an industry standard. I usually stick to Adobe Premiere Pro for the PC.

Editing, to me, is usually one of the more enjoyable aspects of filmmaking, since it's really about bringing the film to the finishing line, being the first person to see how the end product will actually look like. It's a luxury most other cast and crew members don't have. I can never understand a filmmaker who doesn't enjoy the process of editing.

Swifty Reviews 'Enchanted'

Enchanted poster


Back in Sunday, I had a choice between ENCHANTED and HITMAN, and I chose the former instead. A normal angstful hot-blooded male would've gone for the latter, since ENCHANTED seems more like a Disney chick flick for little girls. But hey, while I don't usually let film critics sway my film choices, I still feel that watching the 93% ENCHANTED would be a much better bet than the 11% HITMAN, which seemed to have a long history of problems during its production.

I grew up watching Disney cartoons. I've always loved them. With the exception of the Disneyland in Hong Kong, I've visited every single Disneyland in the world, and made a point to always take a photo with Donald Duck wherever I was. I guess my attachment to Disney cartoons may have something to do with my slight disdain towards the Shrek films. While the Shrek films are obvious parodies of Disney films, I was only entertained by the first Shrek movie, the sequels made me cringe and groan, I almost felt annoyed that a megablockbuster franchise is making their millions just by making fun of Disney cartoons.

One trick ponies.

Disney hadn't had a traditional 2D animated film since they closed their department in 2004. The last traditional animated films were POOH'S HEFFALUMP MOVIE and HOME ON THE RANGE, both I never saw. The disappointing box-office results of the last few 2D films caused the closing of the department. I was shocked then, wondering how the hell could then-CEO Michael Eisner destroy Walt Disney's legacy like that! And slightly disappointed that people would rather go for cheap 3D animated films filled with stupid pop cultural references than these painstakingly done 2D films.

So when Pixar's John Lasseter brought the department back after the Pixar/Disney merger/buyout last year, I was definitely relieved. 2D animation is timeless, I'll never believe that they can be obsolete.

ENCHANTED is the first Disney film in 3 years to feature traditional 2D animation. It mixes cartoon with live-action, but WHO FRAME ROGER RABBIT this is not, since the 2D animation is reserved only for the prologue, and the closing of the film. It's not really a parody of Disney films of the past, but more like loving homage.

Do you remember the Disney Princess musicals of yesteryears like SNOW WHITE, CINDERELLA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? They all have a similar formula. A headstrong heroine (usually with animal sidekicks) yearning for romance, sings about her loneliness all the time, then she meets her prince, there's a true love's kiss, and they live happily ever after. Well, if you've loved and appreciated those, you'll love ENCHANTED since it's really a live-action film, but playing by the rules of the aforementioned DISNEY PRINCESS musicals.

Yes, the lavish musical numbers are so awesome that my eyes teared up. No, I'm serious. It could be the nostalgia factor, or the technical brilliance of choreographing these scenes (and I'm saying this as a filmmaker, not just a fanboy).

Summary from IMDB:

In an animated fairy tale world, a young girl, Giselle (Amy Adams) meets and falls in love with the handsome prince of her dreams, Edward (James Marsden). News of this romance upsets the prince's mother, the evil queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who uses her black magic to send the girl hurtling out of the animated world into the one place in the universe where there is no true love: modern day Manhattan. The now-real girl has to survive in New York City and find her way home again to her true love. She meets a charmingly flawed divorced divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey), complications occur.


By now, everyone's already lauding Amy Adams' acting in this film, there are even whispers of Oscar nominations. Yes, this is a star-making role, and I agree with everyone that what ENCHANTED did to Amy Adams will be similar to what MARY POPPINS did to Julie Andrews. She had already gotten herself a BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS nomination for 2005's JUNEBUG, a film I liked (... more than Miranda July's YOU, ME AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, actually, though yes, it's weird to compare these two films) So I won't be surprised that she'll get a BEST ACTRESS nomination for this. Her performance as a live-action cartoon princess is a memorable one. Funny and lovable, her acting elevates the film instead of becoming too over-the-top or campy.

Actually, the performance by the cast members are mostly pretty good, I liked James Marsden as Prince Edward, this film, along with this year's HAIRSPRAY, made me realize that Marsden can be more than just... the boring Cyclops in X-men films, or that 'other guy' in Superman Returns, or the 'other guy' in The Notebook... okay, so he plays 'the other guy' in this film too, but at least he's more colourful.

Yes, the story's predictable, and yes, it's fluff, but who cares that a film's fluff when it's executed so well. Like i said, not every hack filmmakers can stage musical numbers as nice as the one I saw in ENCHANTED. (... of course, you need the massive budget too... sorry, I've always had this secret dream of wanting to make a musical of my own)

If you don't spoilers, go watch the full clip of 'THAT'S HOW YOU KNOW' below.


THAT'S HOW YOU KNOW


Anyway, for me, ENCHANTED is one of the most entertaining films of the year. It might even end up on my end-year TOP 10 list, whoa!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Married For A Quarter Of A Century

28th of November, today's the 25th Wedding Anniversary of my parents. As usual, they will celebrate this in a low-key manner with relatively little fanfare tonight. This year, like every year, will be a nice little family dinner. Well darn, let's hope we'll throw something bigger during the 50th Anniversary.

In movies and TV shows, we always have the workaholic, negligent husband forgetting about his anniversary, causing much grief for his loving wife. Yet the opposite seemed to happen once with my mom ten years ago, when they were supposed to have their 15th Anniversary celebration.

Dad had hinted, since that morning, to have dinner outside and go for a movie, but mom had turned it down, saying that she needed to entertain a friend and friend's mom who were visiting our house in the evening.

And she did.

Then she remembered about the anniversary the next morning, with dismay and embarrassment.

My mom forgetting her 15th Marriage Anniversary became a running joke for many years. Dad, of course, never failed to poke fun at her.

That was ten years ago.

For me, I've been staying out of my house for the past two nights, working on the editing of KURUS (film I've worked on for the past two weeks) at Limkokwing University. Facing a tight festival deadline, have to get things done by Friday.

But I'll be going home today.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad.

Note: The story of their courtship was on the papers in June 2006.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catch Swifty on NTV7 at 10:45pm tonight (25/11)!

KERAMAT, a telemovie directed by Kannan Thiagarajan that I was involved in back in April will be aired tonight on NTV7 at the ungodly hour of 10:45pm.

If you want to see me in my first screen acting role as the boss of a car repair center, please don't miss my cameo appearance during the first 15 minutes of the film and laugh at my god-awful Malay-speaking skills! (I'm dressed in a grey T-shirt)

Recent Pusan Film Festival award-winning filmmaker Liew Seng Tat and documentary filmmaker/ SURF Magazine writer Zan Azlee also have cameos in this film.

... I served as assistant director for the film too.

KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 2'

By the time I was writing this post, I've already completed the shoot for KURUS (24th of November, one day ahead of schedule) and gone home. I'm going to start work on the editing rather soon.

Before I move on, here are more photos from 'Carmen Soo Day 1' (20th of Nov) that was taken with a digital SLR:

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) tries to pick up books from the pond

Carmen Soo

Ali (right) and best bud Hassan
The protagonist, Ali (Arshad Zamir) and his best buddy, Hassan (played by Ahmad Muzhaffar Mustapha)

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) and Ali (Arshad Zamir)
Miss Carol and Ali

'Carmen Soo Day 2' was the most interesting day of the entire shoot because we were going to shoot classroom scenes with a large number of extras that consist of friends and family members of the primary cast members. Doing these scenes were like reliving high school life again! 5 years felt so long ago.

We shot at a classroom in SJK (C) Kampung Baru Semenyih (I mentioned about it in this post)

Ali's class

Shooting the classroom scenes in KURUS


Unfortunately, I never had a teacher like Miss Carol...

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) teaching


Make-up artist Agnes working on Carmen's hair.

Carmen Soo undergoing make-up

Ali is thoughtful.

Ali in Class


Sitting behind Ali is his arch-nemesis, Eli (played by Muhammad Fadhirul Anuar)

Ali's arch-nemesis, Eli (Fadhirul)


Ali giving Miss Carol a bicycle ride.

Ali giving Miss Carol a ride on his bicycle


And finally, a photo of Ming Jin the director (in grey), me (in orange, and a horrifying tan) and Aaron the cinematographer (in white) preparing for the next shot while Carmen watches on.

Preparing for a shot


That day was an enjoyable one, and definitely less grueling compared to the previous day since we didn't have to run that much, nor stay under the scorching sun. The scenes were challenging to shoot, especially when we had such a number of extras to orchestrate, yet everything turned out fine and everyone had a lot of fun. Days like this remind me why I love filmmaking.


UPDATED (15 Oct 2008):
Here are the short teasers for KURUS (DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY).





RELATED POSTS
KURUS trailer 1
KURUS trailer 2
Photos from the KURUS press conference on the 28th of Jan.
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 1'
KURUS Production Diary - More production photos


Thursday, November 22, 2007

KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 1'

(Sorry about the lack of updates in the past few days, am usually too tired to do anything with the blog when in the middle of a production shoot, tried to write this post two days ago but always ended up falling asleep halfway through it)

Carmen Soo didn't confirm her attachment to the KURUS film as Miss Carol until three days before the shoot. Miss Carol is an English teacher in protagonist Ali's class, and also the object of Ali's crush.

Due to her tight schedule, we can only have her for two days of the shoot. And when working out a shooting schedule for the film, we came to dub these 2 days the 'Carmen Soo days', meaning that we had to quickly push ourselves to finish her scenes. No easy feat, considering her scenes were rather complex to shoot.

Just a few photos of the first Carmen Soo day (20/11/07):

Prepping the pond scene with Carmen Soo

This is us, preparing for the first scene of the shoot

Prepping the pond scene for Carmen Soo 2


The preparation continues.

Prepping the pond scene for Carmen Soo 3


In this scene, Miss Carol has to pick books up after accidentally dropping them into the pond.

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) picking books from the pond 2

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) picking books from the pond

Miss Carol (Carmen Soo) reaches for books

Ali (played by Zamir) helps Carmen


Ali the protagonist (in red) helps pick up the books.

Later in the evening, she had a scene with Cheong Wai Loon, who plays Miss Carol's suave boyfriend with a disgraceful secret (the most coveted male role in the film!!! If I didn't have to stay behind the scenes, I would've auditioned this role myself).

Ms. Carol (Carmen Soo) with boyfriend Billy (Wai Loon)

Here's a photo of Carmen with Wai Loon and veteran actor Chung Kok Keong after they completed a scene together:

Carmen and 2 Alans
(Wai Loon and Chung Kok Keong will be seen soon the award-winning THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA, an earlier Greenlight Pictures production, coming out at Malaysian theaters near you soon.)


With Carmen around, the morale of the cast and crew was lifted immensely... to the point where wince-inducing lines like the following were heard:

  • "Yes, Carmen, for you I'll do anything! Jump and I'll hold you!" (spoken by a crew member when Carmen was crossing the bridge for the scene mentioned above)
  • "Hehehehe, you're standing under Carmen, heh heh heh!" (spoken by crew member A to crew member B when latter was in a pond preparing the sunken props)
  • "Wow, she's so gorgeous!" (spoken by a 15-year-old cast member with a mischievous 'I'm so lucky' smile)
  • "Carmen, I shot this event you were at two years ago, and you didn't age at all! This is incredible, seeing you is like time-traveling back to 2005 again!" (spoken by another crew member between takes)


Even co-star Wai Loon was exceptionally serious with his performance. The following occurred when I was rehearsing him and Carmen while the crew sets up for another scene.

Me: Okay, let's go through your lines.
WL: How do you want them to be delivered? When I ask Carol 'where have you been?' what kind of tone should I adopt? Annoyance? Anger? Curiosity?
Me: Hm?
WL: I know, let me create a background for our characters. Carol and Billy have been dating for 3 years, so he likes her very much, and so he would ask the line with a concerned tone in his voice. And when she asked why was he late, he would apologize, feeling genuinely guilty about making her wait.
Me: ... whoa. You're pro.

Carmen smiled. Wai Loon floated into the sky.

With Carmen around, no one wanted to screw up.

We also had a still photographer attending the shoot for the very first time, the guy took hundreds of pictures of Carmen... and then disappeared. Haven't seen him attending other days of the shoot since then.

Amazing, the power of a star.

Go to Carmen Soo Day 2

UPDATED (15 Oct 2008):
Here are the short teasers for KURUS (DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY).





Sunday, November 18, 2007

17th of November. Mom's Birthday. A Memorable Day!

Mom's Birthday. 17th of November


17th of November is my mother's birthday. I haven't celebrated birthday with her for three years since my days in Perth. As the KURUS shoot had begun on the 16th, and I'm now living at Ming Jin's place (it makes traveling to Semenyih easier), I'd expected this year to be no different, and that the streak would extend to four years.

I received a SMS from my sister asking me to drop by for a surprise party on the night of my mom's birthday cos' she had bought mom a cake.

So I did, taking the long 45-min train ride home from Bangi, dropping a line saying that I want to have dinner to celebrate mom's birthday. The train ride was made bearable thanks to the company of Mislina (yes, the actress Mislina Mustapha, she has a major role in KURUS. plays Mukhsin's aunt in MUKHSIN, and plays Ayu's mom in FLOWER IN THE POCKET. Awesome actress!)

My little sister completely engineered and masterminded this surprise party for mom, she went off to buy the birthday cake with dad a day earlier, and then ensured that everyone who were to visit my mom would not bring any birthday cakes.

I don't think I've done anything similar all these years. For me, I remembered giving presents, flowers, dinner, but not doing something as simple as buying a birthday cake in secret and then take it out for my mom, singing loudly 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY'.

Maybe all these years during my absence, my sister had been doing all these. Or maybe this was the first time she had done it. I didn't ask. There was no need to.

First time, fourth time, it doesn't really matter. It was a wonderful night.

Because we had 'guests'.

Mom and the guests (grandma, uncle, aunt + cousins) of her 'surprise birthday party'


My aunt (mother's elder sister) and family had came for a visit, along with grandma. From left to right, the people in the photos are:

1) Dad
2) Cousin Hing Yip (you should check out this video and this video where he and I went on a journey to uncover my mother's past during my December 2006 trip in Ipoh... can't believe it's nearly a year already)
3) Mom
4) My aunt
5) Little sister
6) My uncle
7) Cousin Fung Ming (can check out a video of her if you want to, she's Cousin Hing Yip's elder sis)
8) Me without my trademark gel (just took a shower)
9) Grandma (as in, mom's mom)

The fact that I often celebrate my own birthdays in a low-profile manner (with only the closest friends or family) is inherited from my parents. So to have other people celebrating birthday with mom is absolutely a rare occasion. My mom looks much younger than she really is, and her birthday this year is definitely worth celebrating because she's... well, reached the age where one's birthday is definitely worth celebrating.

I was home for only a while before I made my way back to Ming Jin's place, since I have to wake up for the shoot at 6am (that's five hours away from now). Even so, the warmth one felt when celebrating birthday with loved ones and unexpected guests is soothing beyond description.

My grandmother suffers from short-term memory loss, we all know it's really symptom's of Alzheimer's. Slowly she fades away, and for many years I've seen this happen so.

I don't know whether she can remember this one night, the chances are slim, or whether years from now, everyone in my house, my uncle and aunties, my cousins, even my parents themselves, will still remember the night of 17th November 2007. A short brief night filled with laughter and tears of joy.

My sister singing 'Happy Birthday' to her mother before everyone could follow, the shared slice of cake between mom and dad, the tiramisu cake, and the additional laughter of my aunt's family, my dear cousins, and grandma offering mom another slice of the cake despite mom still struggling to finish the first slice with dad.

Maybe I'll forget it too.

Maybe I'll just immortalize that moment with this blog entry, so that even if it fades from any of our minds, these photos, and what I wrote, will remain.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Annoyed By Ex-High Schoolmates Who Work In The Same Industry (Part 2)

This is the continuation of what I chronicled in my last post where an ex-schoolmate who works in a website owned by a mega media corporation had earned my ire.

I am now 3 hours away from the shooting of KURUS (English title: DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY), we have employed the services of a wonderful actress whose name I shall not divulge (for now) but she was nice enough to agree to appear in the film just a day after finishing a rather exhausting musical. Being the vindictive bastard I was, I called my ex-schoolmate shortly after the confirmation of her participation yesterday (yes, she confirmed her participation 3 days before the shoot begins!) because I initially requested for people of his team to cover the KURUS shoot if possible (to do a 'making of' project), and he asked me to call him only if she is truly attached to the project.

Conversation below (I don't think there's any need to point out who is who) It's originally in Mandarin, and happened in rapid pace:

"Hello?"

"Yeah, it's me. So, are the guys in your team finally interested in doing a 'making of' documentary of KURUS?"

"*gasp* Did you guys really get her to act in this?"

"Yeap."

"Whoa! How much did you offer her? How many days of shoot for her? I thought she'll be busy!"

"Now you and your condescending self WILL know that even the finest of actresses in the country are willing to appear in local independent films if the material is good enough. It's not even a star vehicle for her, but an ensemble flick. And you dared give me your 'I don't give a shit' face when I explained to you back then, huh?"

"Ah..."

"Well, mister, be thankful that I've known you since high school, otherwise I would've mutilated you and turned you into minced meat!"

"Exactly. Haha... You've known me since high school, so you should know how I tend to say crazy things like that..."

"... HMPH!"

"Well, where are you guys shooting?"

"Semenyih."

"Oh... that's way too far."

"Well, yeah, it is."

"It's hard for me to send anyone to your place, we don't really know the way there."

"Darn."

"But you guys can provide me your own 'making of' footages if you have the time during the shoot, and I will do my best to make something out of it and post it on our site."

"Hmmm... okay."


Ending the call, I placed my mobile phone back into my pocket and pondered. Slightly amused that the anger that prompted me to post the previous entry had dissipated so abruptly.

Later in the night, I contacted some reporter friends and some enthusiastic film students wanting to volunteer for the shoot, trying to make arrangements for someone to do a 'behind-the-scenes' for us. The latter group agreed and will do this during certain days of the KURUS shoot.

I hope some nice things will materialize out of this.

It is currently 4:04am, I'm suppose to wake up in 1 hour 56 minutes for the shoot.

Moral of this post? Perhaps it's never always necessary to bear grudges.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Annoyed By Ex-High Schoolmates Who Work In The Same Industry

(The 'industry' referred in the title is the media industry, which includes film, tv, new media etc.)

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to run into two people from my former high school during separate occasions, one works now in a New Media company, the other works in a video-sharing site owned by a huge corporation that owns a couple of television channels. I'm not going to name names.

Through a stroke of coincidence, I was suddenly contacted by both for similar reasons, they were asking for both my short films and Greenlight Pictures' (which are Ming Jin's). The former to provide mobile phones as a platform to exhibit these short films, the latter to offer the website he's working on as a platform to exhibit these short films.

So I had an appointment with the one who works in the new media company at Starbucks.

... and was subjected to wait for nearly 45 minutes before she arrived, something that would have annoyed me less if she weren't the one who chose the appointment time. I sat and waited, nearly emptying my ice-blended mocha, taking the opportunity to start writing notes for a short film I intend to work on.

She arrived, apologetic and flushed face. I brushed it aside, and we proceeded with the discussion. Explaining about the role of her company and the software they designed, she took out a laptop computer and placed it before me, intending to demonstrate the capabilities of their software and why they wanted my (and Greenlight's) contribution.

But she couldn't get the software to work, rapidly pressing, only to receive one error message after another.

That went on for 15 minutes.

She called her office and asked a colleague for her, step-by-step instructions to keep things going.

That went on for another 15 minutes.

I sat back and waited. The boredom and suppressed annoyance caused my mind to drift slowly away, I daydreamed I was in another place where I wasn't wasting my time with this. I daydreamed that I didn't need to daydream to lessen my boredom.

She finally got things to work. I wondered whether she knew I was annoyed and that she was merely concealing it all with a facade of nonchalance, just as I hid mine with indifference? Things aren't entirely her fault, yet it was still a rather messed up situation.

Sample of conversation from the appointment:

"So, if you provide us your short films, we'll be able to put it on our software, allowing people to download it into their mobile phones!"

"That's nice, it's just that, our short films just aren't really good to watch on the tiny screen. Like my Girl Disconnected, they are arthouse works."

"Arthouse works? What's that?"

"Ya know, art films? Non-mainstream films? That kind of thing?"

"No."

"Oh."



Tip to people who intend to have business discussions with me:

Please, PLEASE be punctual. I'm a time-conscious freak!

Another one who works in a website that is occasionally being advertised in this blog is a much longer story. You know in films or stories where characters from a small up-and-coming company get insulted from an arrogant someone who works in a large corporation? Well, ironically, this happened between this guy and I. Look at the following conversation:

Him: Hey, give me your short films, and Greenlight Pictures'. So we can put it on our website.
Me: Er, well, what exactly do we benefit from it? What separates it from putting my short film on Youtube and my blog?
Him: We are just giving you indie guys the chance to get more exposure.


*snorts*

That's not SO bad. But the guy is seemingly gifted in finding ways to irk or alienate me.

Me: Well, actually, we are in the midst of getting [Name of famous actress concealed] for the role in KURUS.

Him: *scoffs* Can you people even afford her? She's expensive! And perpetually busy! And she's doing this musical!


My initial reaction was to smack some manners into his face. But I'm civilized, so I merely started explaining to him the machinations of independent films, not just locally, but around the world.

"Independent films," I said. "Offer a different kind of exposure for actors and actresses. That's why most of the time, they take pay cuts for it. They don't do it for the money, but for the interest in the project, or the passion in acting. They help actors build credibility."

"That is why the finest and biggest Hollywood actors often balance independent dramas with popcorn big-budget films, they need to make a living, but sometimes they need a different kind of reward from their craft. Why would someone like Tom Cruise appear in films like Magnolia or Eyes Wide Shut? Do you think he demanded his usual $20 million for each role? Malaysian independent films travel overseas, appearing in many foreign film festivals, they don't make money in local box-office, but sometimes they win awards, and most of all, they give the filmmakers and cast members foreign exposure, opening the possibility for job offers from other countries." I continued.

The look of indifference that remained on the guy's face seemed to scream "yeah, whatever, 'Swifty', I don't give a shit."

Twas so hate-inducing that if I were less civilized, I would've stabbed the guy's eye with my fork (we were having lunch then).

Funny how a guy whose job (like me) involves public relations could be so effective in alienating and pissing others off.

Anyway, just a few moments ago, I've received a phone call from Ming Jin telling me that the aforementioned mystery actress has confirmed her involvement in KURUS. I'll make an announcement about the cast members soon.

To the condescending one who questioned our abilities to attain her services. All I can say is... up yours, man.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

KURUS Production Diary - English Title Confirmed. DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY

Photos taken at Semenyih from the second location scouting last week, it's the same pond from this entry, but this time, I use an actual camera instead of my mobile phone for photographing:

Semenyih pond 1

Semenyih pond 2

Semenyih pond 3

Semenyih pond 4

I like Semenyih, it's fascinating how a place that's only an hour away from where I live could seem as if it is trapped in a different dimension, where time moves in a much slower pace. Where there is a possibility that most of the houses I saw do not have the Internet.

No, I don't think I'll want to live in a place like this, I'm too used to, and more drawn towards, the bustling metropolitan life. It's why I returned from Perth, refusing the chance to get a PR. Too idyllic and laidback. Good place to study and sow seeds of my dreams, but the idea of living there scares me. I prefer the rush of adrenaline that pushes me forward.

Fishing at the Semenyih pond


The English title of KURUS, after some careful consideration (KURUS would be translated as 'THIN' or 'SKINNY' in English, and it's stupid) will be DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY. Numerous rehearsals have been conducted, the pieces are all falling into place, an impressive crew and an awesome cast that I can't wait to share with everyone. Filming will begin on the 16th and last until the 24th of November.

I'll be honest. This film will kick ass.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Rainbow Song 虹の女神'

Poster of Rainbow Song


There's only one reason why I immediately wanted to see this film when I saw its poster in Taiwan.

It's produced (and written under a pseudonym, Aminosan) by Shunji Iwai.

He is, after all, one of my all-time favourite filmmakers and biggest influences with his beautiful lyrical works like LOVE LETTER (still one of the all-time favourites), ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU (most beautiful digital cinematography ever) and HANA AND ALICE (most awe-inspiring ballet scene ever), I was curious to see whether this film would bear some of his touch.

RAINBOW SONG is directed by Naoto Kumazawa, a relatively new director. And its main cast consists of people you see regularly in Shunji Iwai films, the lead actor is Hayato Ichihara (the lead in ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU, but more extroverted and funny in this film) and there's also a supporting role for my new favourite actress, Yui Aoi (also in ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU, and as Alice who gave me the aforementioned awe-inspiring ballet scene in HANA AND ALICE). The lead actress is Juri Ueno, whom I recently saw in the very entertaining SWING GIRLS and the Takuya Kimura dorama ENGINE. She's a revelation in this film, or maybe she had a really good role.

It's a bittersweet film of unrealized love, loss and grief. It's interesting to me because filmmaking plays a rather big role in the film as both protagonists Tomoya Kishida (Hayato Ichihara) and Aoi Sato (Juri Ueno) work as staffers in a small production company, and they both bonded initially via a student film the latter was working on in university. Seeing Aoi reminds me of myself, during my university days. And seeing Tomoya's misadventures in the production company reminded me of myself in the present.

Aoi actually dies at the beginning of the film, in a plane crash on the way back to Japan from America. It's not really spoiler since it's revealed in the trailers, but the entire film is then unfold through a flashback, where we get to learn that Aoi and Tomoya's relationship, which initially seemed like colleagues and friends at first, is much deeper than expected. From their initial meeting, to their involvement in Aoi's student film, then to their gradually growing romance where both ended up denying (while driving audiences crazy), and finally leading up to the tragedy shown at the beginning of the film and its aftermath. Yu Aoi plays Aoi's visually-impaired younger sister.

It's essentially a Jun-Ai (pure, innocent love, it's a new genre) film, and if done by lesser filmmakers, this would have been manipulative, weepy and contrived, the kind of movie that might wring out some tears from you, but you'll end up feeling more violated than touched. That's how I felt when watching films like IMA AI NI YUKIMASU (the film, not the dorama, I'm a sucker for the dorama), CRYING FOR LOVE IN THE CENTER OF THE WORLD and NADA SOSO. But in this film, Shunji Iwai's influence are there, in terms of mood and aesthetics. Its somewhat humorous (but not forced and contrived), it's emotional but often understated and not melodramatic, and the filmmakers' unconventional use of handheld shots and lighting, along with the beautiful piano soundtrack, made me see some traces of ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU and HANA AND ALICE.

Thus instead of feeling as if I were being assaulted visually with some stupid tear-inducing and often illogical plot points, I enjoyed this film, not just in an emotional sense, but also in a technical sense. There are moments in the film where I would go "hmmm... how did he get that shot?" "oooh, this is a nice shot, great lighting!" etc etc. You won't see me thinking as a filmmaker when watching most Japanese studio tearjerkers (I merely stare numbly and make colourless wisecracks).

You can check out the official Japanese site of the film, or its official Taiwanese blog (the Taiwanese title for the film is 電影情人夢 which is loosely translated as 'The Dream of Film Lovers', while Mainland China goes for a more direct translation of RAINBOW SONG, 彩虹之歌). The actual Japanese title is really translated as 'RAINBOW GODDESS'.

The film has its flaws, which is shared by some of Iwai's films. It does feel a little too long (paring it down a little would've helped the pacing, even though I was very engaged with the film), it might be a wee bit too indulgent, and showing Aoi's nearly 10-minute short film in its entirety is a pay-off, but the short film isn't really THAT good, so whatever emotions it was meant to generate (bittersweetness?) just didn't seem to work well. But it still beats watching TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE, or BIZAN (another sobfest I watched in the plane to Taiwan starring Nanako Matsushima , watched that right after TOKYO FRIENDS).

Jpop singer Suzuki Ami is also in the film, but her role so tiny (she had only 2-3 scenes at most) that I didn't even notice until I checked the credits.


Interview with Juri Ueno


Interview with Hayato Ichihara



Interview with director Naoto Kumazawa


Er, Chinese theme song for the film


Film trailer

Saturday, November 10, 2007

VIDEO: CONTROVERSY! Wiping butt with Malay textbook and censored little puppy in 'Flower In The Pocket'

While watching Seng Tat's Flower In The Pocket at its press screening on Wednesday, what stood out to me were two censored scenes in the film.

The first one was when one of the boys, Li Ohm, was taking a crap outdoors, and asked his older brother Li Ah to 'get some papers' from his school bag so that he could wipe his butt. Li Ah couldn't find any, so Li Ohm said:

Just get me the Bahasa (BLEEP) textbook!


The audio was silenced, and the subtitled was blurred out, but everyone knew he was wiping his butt with a Malay textbook.

Obviously it's WRONG to show a kid wiping his butt with the Malay textbook onscreen, but I wonder whether the censors would say anything if he were wiping his butt with, say, a Chinese or English textbook. Hm.

Another scene that caught my attention was when a little puppy the kids were playing with suddenly got PIXELATED! I was wondering what the hell happened. Many audiences probably wondered the same too. Someone voiced that out during the Q & A session after the film, and Seng Tat explained that it all happened because there were background sounds of the Azan (Muslim prayers).

No dogs or puppies can be seen during the sounds of Azan! The Censorship Board asked Seng Tat to remove the background sound, but due to the fact that there was dialogue during the scene between the two protagonists, hard to do it. So he 'censored' the puppy instead!!

If there's a moral to this post, it would have to be, don't shoot a film with a puppy when there's Azan in the background!

Friday, November 09, 2007

In The Middle Of The Road, A Taxi Driver Died.

I just had dinner with Dad and Uncle Dan, dad's classmate who had just returned briefly from San Franciso. After dinner, we had to send Uncle Dan home.

On our way to Cheras, while waiting for the traffic light, I saw a motorcyclist walking towards a taxi in the middle of the road.

The traffic light had turned green, the other cars were moving slowly, but the taxi didn't move from its place.

"Hey, bro, wake up!" The motorcyclist yelled in Malay.

The taxi driver, a middle-aged Indian man, didn't react. His eyes were closed, his mouth agape and his head slumped forward.

The motorcyclist shook the driver's shoulder, still yelling, but to no avail.

Is he unconscious or dead? Uncle Dan and dad looked with concern.

But the cars never stopped moving, and gradually, the motorcyclist, the taxi driver and the taxi were left behind, disappearing from my sight and into the night.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Flower In The Pocket 口袋里的花'

Flower In the Pocket poster


I have posted about Seng Tat's victory for FLOWER IN THE POCKET at the PUSAN FILM FESTIVAL last month, and I finally got to catch the film at its press screening yesterday. It's hard to review a film properly when you know the filmmaker personally, lauding it too much will make it seem as if you're being nice to a friend, dissing it will mean that you are self-consciously trying to avoid the former.

FLOWER IN THE POCKET is the story of two little boys, Li Ah (Lim Ming Wei) and Li Ohm (Wong Zi Jiang) who are often left alone by their workaholic father, Sui (JAMES LEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). So they live in their own world, wandering around after school. They seldom see their father, often falling asleep before he returns, and then going to school early in the morning when their father is still asleep. There is no actual interaction between father and sons until the second third of the film.

James Lee and the kidsThis is really a story of parental neglect, but without being judgemental or overly sentimental. There is no Hollywood cliche that this father is abusive and drunk, Sui is just someone who has retreated into an emotional shell after the loss of his wife (not sure whether she died or left him), preferring to spend an entire day making mannequins than meeting new girls. While his randy co-worker (a very funny Azman Hassan, who was in both productions i worked in this year!) constantly talks about his newly wed sex life, Sui remains stoic and silent.

Sui has a scare when he has this strange malady of having water bleeding out from his heart (or nipple, according to another review) which led to a tremendously funny clinic scene. I wish the film had more of the doctor character, hell, I wish there's a spin-off for the doctor character.

Malaysian independent films are often regarded as slow and boring, inaccessible and self-indulgent, but I can assure you that FLOWER IN THE POCKET is possibly the funniest film I've ever seen from the Malaysian New Wave! Apart from the aforementioned clinic scene and Sui's co-worker, there are also several other comedic moments, like the two brothers bullying a kindergarten kid, or a Malay tomboy Atan/Ayu's attempts to befriend them, or the nostalgic classroom scenes (funny to see this film a day after writing this post about my own memories of primary school life)

The little boys are happy with their lives, they love their father despite his constant absence, even trying to concoct dinner for him (a mixture of rice, water, ketchup...) before they go to sleep. But what they lack in life is the most apparent when they were brought home by their new friend Atan/ Ayu, and meets her doting mother (a wonderful Mislina, who was in the previous production I worked on, 'CINTA TIGA SEGI', and the upcoming 'KURUS'). Despite also living with a single parent, Ayu's home life is a major contrast to the two boys'. Interestingly, I found out from Twitch's FLOWER IN THE POCKET review that Ayu's grandmother is played by Yasmin Ahmad's mom, Mak Inom!

James Lee and the kidsThings make a serious turn halfway through the film, where the little boys' carefree daily lives seem more poignant when you realize how withdrawn their father really was from them. There is reconciliation towards the end, but played with understated subtlety, no 'big' Hollywood moments where father realizes his folly, just an unforeseen circumstance that forces Sui to reevaluate his relationship with his son. Much have been said about the little kids' performances in the film, but man, James Lee definitely rocked here!

(I'm now inspired to become an actor myself! Currently accepting acting offers!)

Will be talking about two censored scenes in my next entry. If you are too impatient for that, you can actually view my latest uploaded video below the comments section right now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Had the desks and chairs of primary schools always been so small?

Tried to secure a primary school in Semenyih for the KURUS shoot yesterday.

Kampung Baru Semenyih Primary School


I don't think I've ever stepped into a primary school ever since my little sister started secondary school, and that's six years ago.

As Joanne the Line Producer went to negotiate with the principal, Ming Jin and I wandered off to survey the location, snapping photos.

The SKJ (C) Kampung Baru Semenyih made me feel nostalgic. Eleven years had passed since I left primary school, nearly half of my lifetime. Unlike my own primary school, which, thanks to the donations of rich parents, was constantly in the midst of renovating and constructing new buildings, this place seemed to exist in a different time period, its purity untainted.

The canteen looked like the canteen of my old primary school, but older and more decrepit.

School canteen


I can't remember how I've spent my recess time anymore, just fragmented scenes. I think I preferred bringing sandwiches prepared by my maid, because the food sold in canteen were miserably bad (or unhealthy?). Noodles with tasteless soup, chicken rice with teeny weeny strips of chicken, jelly squeezed out of plastic tubes, packets of Twisties.

It took too long to finish a bowl of noocles or a plate of rice compared to sandwiches, and the bell usually rang too soon. I could finish my sandwiches in mere minutes (and would be most delighted if they were sandwiches with eggs and cheese) just so I had more time to head to the fields to take a walk, or hang out with friends. A little free time before the dreaded bell asking us to return to our classes.

The boy leaving the basketball court

I noticed how tiny the desks and chairs were in the classrooms. Had they always been so small? Were class furnitures in secondary school any bigger than the ones in primary school?

Or perhaps all these while, during my years in primary and secondary school, I've always seated behind these tiny desks, on the flimsy little chairs.

How weird that school life had drifted so far away, as if they happened in another life. How different was I five years ago compared to the me of now?

I used to like primary school reunions when I was in secondary school, because they let me reconnect to a more carefree past devoid of complicated responsibilities and problems. I even organized a few of these in my own house, just so the laughters that filled the air would sound just like the ones in the afternoon of '96.

A boy leaving his class


Yet now, secondary school reunions, or bumping into people whom I've not kept in touch with from secondary school, elicit in me a feeling of curiosity mixed with discomfort. Curious to know what five years had done to them.

But discomfort because, in their minds, the me who stood before them am no different from the me 5 years ago. Just a person from their past, reemerging in their lives again for a brief moment, triggering memories, reminding yesteryears, like a historical artifact in a museum.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Tokyo Friends: The Movie'

Tokyo Friends: The Movie poster


TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE is best enjoyed by two groups of people:

1) Ai Otsuka fans.

2) Fans of the TOKYO FRIENDS straight-to-DVD dorama series.

I'm pretty fond of Ai, so I chose to watch this on the plane to Taiwan despite never watching the dorama.

It was a mistake.

Perhaps I don't belong to the target audience, or maybe regular folks like I were never taken into account when the film was being made.

Here's a summary of the TOKYO FRIENDS dorama:

Rei Iwatsuki (Ai Otsuka) moved from her hometown Kōchi to Tokyo to pursue her dreams. On arrival, she found a job as a waitress in a restaurant and met guitarist Ryuuji Shintani. Ryuuji (Eita) liked her voice and invited her to join his band as the vocalist, The Survival Company (also known as Sabakan). The two started a relationship but then broke off when Rei wanted to write her own songs.

Rei met other girls also working in the restaurant, Hirono (Matsumoto Rio), Ryoko (Maki Yoko) and Maki (Kobayashi Mao), all in pursuit of their own dreams, and became good friends with all of them.


It's like Sex and the City, but without the sex and the humour. Each of the four girls have their own subplots, and perhaps it's interesting to see all these unfold in the dorama. Too bad these story arcs are near their ends (except Rei and Hirono's) when the movie began, so I'm really watching a flimsy little love story that lacked any buildup and development (because all these were done in the dorama, not the film). Events of the dorama were presented via flashbacks in the film, not so difficult for me to catch up, but still alienating nonetheless.

Maybe this shouldn't be viewed at as an actual film, the usual criteria used to judge a film shouldn't be used here. After all, Justin himself had once pointed out that I was too harsh when I started commenting upon the choppy editing in Ai Otsuka's KINGYO HANABI short film (a nice-looking short film redeemed by the beautiful song which SHOULD HAVE APPEARED IN THIS FILM AS WELL!)

I can't like the film. The humour felt forced. The melodrama too choke-inducing. The characters too soulless. It's like hanging out with a bunch of people, and these people know one another well, constantly making in-jokes, laughing about previous events, exchanging heart-to-heart talks, and then seemingly excluding your from their conversations. Gatherings like that sucked, and I felt like strangling those selfish bastards who DARED made me feel so utterly alienated. (Obviously recounting real-life experiences) The film gave me a similar experience.

The story of the film is mostly about Rei's struggle between choosing fame and romance. Fame as a vocalist in an upcoming band. Romance with a roguish guitarist.

I think I've seen the same film not too long ago. Oh, right, that film was NANA 2. Although, to be fair, Ryuuji is slightly more interesting than bland Ren (regardless of whom played the character in the NANA films), maybe that's because he shows more expression on his face. Even so, the climatic declaration of love the airport made me shudder, though I was momentarily melted by Ai Otsuka's soulful tearful look, but only momentarily.

Ai showed in her debut feature that she is competent as an actress, but despite being pretty, I think she lacked the presence of Nakashima Mika in NANA.

Director Kozo Nagayama is also responsible for BACKDANCERS! starring the love of my teenage life, Hiro. (A film I lauded so crazily early this year that it seemed as if it were a life-altering moment)

I tried to wonder why I was so enthralled by BACKDANCERS and not TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE. Am I being bias? If hiro was thrown into TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE, would I go apeshit over it?

After a minute of pondering, I guess not, since I diss ANDROMEDIA (that SPEED film vehicle directed by Takashi Miike which had renowned Christopher Doyle as a villain!) as much as anyone.

My advice? If you've watched and loved the TOKYO FRIENDS dorama (check out Channel-Ai's review), you'll probably love this film. If you were just a casual watcher, you might suffering, feel alienated, or numb.

I was rather glad that there was a fast-forward feature when watching the movie in the plane.

Sorry, Ai Otsuka.

However, I found myself drowning into Rio Matsumoto's huge luminous eyes whenever I saw her in a scene.

Drowning...

Drowning...


Tokyo Friends: The Movie teaser


In The Train, The Man In A Wheelchair



After an entire day spent on another production meeting, I and a friend of mine took the KTM commuter train home.

As we entered the train, we saw a man in a wheelchair. The man pushed himself aside allowing others to pass and take the seats. My friend and I walked past him and sat.

The doors slid close and the train continued its way.

"That man is smart." My friend whispered, his eyes on the wheelchair-bound man 2-3 meters away from us. "He brought his seat with him, so he doesn't need to compete with others for seats."

He chuckled.

I chuckled too.

Then I stopped abruptly.

"What the f-" I remarked with a hiss. "That's WRONG, man!"

"I know, I'm really crass." My friend said, still chuckling.

"That's tasteless and twisted." I said in disbelief, and perhaps his audacity to say something that tasteless and twisted at a moment like that in such a situation made me surrender myself to more brief giggles.

Then rationality and political-correctness set in, and we both allowed our laughters to subside, and as we continued towards our destination to KL Sentral, we just spoke about other matters: Films we have recently seen, films he plans to do, my own film ideas, just stuff two filmmakers with a passion for films would talk about.

We reached our destination a while later, the doors slid open and a sea of humanity came flowing out. We tried to follow.

As we were near the sliding doors, the man in the wheelchair looked at us, and with an apologetic tone, asked:

"Do you mind pushing me out of the train?"

My friend did so hurriedly and unhesitatingly, signaling to the others to let him and the wheelchair-bound man past, the passengers parted, allowing them space to leave the train.

"Please, to the second floor." The man said, pointing to an elevator I've never noticed since I've always taken the stairs. My friend pressed the elevator button, around us, a blur, a cacophony of voices, the station PA speaker above us saying something gibberish. Just the usual for the KL Sentral station.

"This could be a short film." My friend, whispering again, his voice drown out by all the noises around us except for me who was standing nearby.

My mind started working. Yes, this could've been a short film. If done by a moralistic amateur filmmaker, it would be a short film about two guys entering the train, and sees a man in a wheelchair, and one makes an off-colour joke about the man, the other laughs despite feeling bad about it.

When the two were about to leave the train, the man in a wheelchair will ask for assistance, and they will try to help, and there will be remorse, and regret, an unsubtle look of shame on both their faces as they try help the man. There would be cloying piano music to manipulate the feelings of audiences. And then there would be awkwardness, followed by end credits.

Or maybe it would be a slice-of-life film, camera placed in distance, giving only long to medium shots of the characters, no music, no obvious moral message delivered, just something that unfolded onscreen until it fades to black, allowing audiences to
interpret its own meaning.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Haruki Murakami - After Dark

Book cover of Haruki Murakami's After Dark


This blog hasn't been very kind to Haruki Murakami. First off, there was Justin's negative review of THE ELEPHANT VANISHES, and then, there were my own gripes with THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, which ultimately led to our 'seminal' HARUKI MURAKAMI IS WRONG! entry written last October.

There used to be so much hate for Murakami here that this blog could've easily been mistaken for an anti-Murakami site.

More than a year had passed since then, I picked up and read AFTER DARK, my first Murakami book since Norwegian Woods (finished that sometime around the middle of last year, liked it) at Borders, The Curve after a production meeting. Being merely a 200-page-long novella, I finished it in one sitting, around 2 hours.

AFTER DARK was recommended to me by my former teacher in Murdoch Uni, Melanie Rodriga, when I paid her a visit last month in Perth. I was telling her about my writer's block, and she suggested to me that I should try adapting literary works instead. Our conversation veered off to Murakami, and she told me that I would actually like AFTER DARK (she knew I didn't like his other stuff) as it was a book that definitely 'suited my sensibilities', adding that it's the kind of book I'd like to adapt since it's rather cinematic.

She was right.

I liked AFTER DARK. It's a nice little read. Being the type of guy whose favourite time of the day is after midnight, and often staying up all night, the nocturnal activities of the characters and its atmosphere depicted in the book struck a chord. Book is an ensemble piece, but centers around Mari, a 19-year-old young woman who doesn't want to go home, spending the whole night in family restaurants reading an unnamed book. But a chain of events is triggered when a talkative Jazz musician, Takahashi, walks over and starts a conversation with her. He is a friend of Mari's elder sister, the beautiful Eri. Eri is back at home, in the middle of a sleep that had lasted for months, not a coma, just slumber.

Moments after Takahashi had left for an all-night practice, there's a woman manager of a love hotel called Alphaville (yes, named after my favourite Jean-Luc Godard film that highly influenced my short film, Girl Disconnected) who interrupts Mari from her reading. A Chinese immigrant prostitute had just been beaten up badly by a businessman and Mari, who speaks rather fluent Mandarin, is needed to help translate her words.

Book is like a film, since he uses a camera-narration technique (similar to Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel, BLACK HOUSE) to tell the story, it can be considered either as innovative or pretentious, but for me, it worked for After Dark by heightening the surrealistic mood of the tale (elliptical and ambiguous, book's really a mood piece than something plot or character-driven) and helping much to retain my attention, since I was really expecting myself to just flip through a few chapters and put it aside if it bored me.

It's a little like an indie film done by Richard Linklater or Jim Jarmusch. Rather liked the weird scifi crap sleeping Eri went through alone in her bedroom, and also the light relationship developed between Takahashi and Mari. Extra points for naming the hotel Alphaville, though I didn't really care that much about that side of the story (once again, I prefer the mood of the book than the actual story) Anyone seeking resolution for all subplots will be disappointed, since, well, this is Murakami. Subplots don't necessarily intersect with one another, they just brush past, nothing major to tie everything up together.

Have ideas of adapting the whole thing myself by doing a short film on each subplot, maybe I'll ask Murakami about it. Nah, I'm just kidding.

Nonetheless, it did help spark a bit of inspiration for myself, thanks, Mel!

That's all I have to say about the book.

For additional opinions, you can check out Ted Mahsun's review (published on The Star), or Ted Gioia's review at Blogcritics (Murakami's much loved among guys named Ted). There's also a compilation of reviews for After Dark too.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

KURUS Production Diary - What Is This Film About?

Had the first major production meeting for my upcoming project, KURUS at Starbucks in The Curve yesterday.

Much had occurred with the production while I was away in Taiwan for a week. Lim Kok Wing University had offered their assistance by providing us some crew members, most invaluable of all, a line producer, Joanne Soong, to help out with the location hunting and the like (definitely makes my job much easier now!). We have also secured the services of Aaron Chung (click his name to read Hassan Muthalib's glowing article about him at Criticine.com) for cinematographer. And Kannan (director of March's telemovie I served as assistant director for) had jumped onboard too, maybe as the sound guy, I think.

(Ming Jin, Joanna, Aaron, Kannan and I were the ones present at the meeting)

Casted the lead role, acquired most of the locations, Mentor Ming Jing had completed the script as well.

KURUS is supposedly a telemovie made for NTV7, its original premise was like Karate Kid meets Million Dollar Baby meets Rocky meets whatever teenage coming-of-age tale you've seen. An often bullied skinny boy decided to learn boxing from a cleaner lady just so he could dish out some punishment upon his tormentors. Cleaner lady was a disgraced former female boxing champion!

It's a great throwback to Hollywood B-movie masterpieces of the 80s!

Karate Kid


Alas we are also aiming for foreign film festivals, thus a formulaic film that follows every single rule from the rulebook of Hollywood underdog films may not be the best sort of film to make. Thus Ming Jin, sweating blood and tears, had to give the film a major revamp, with assistance from yours truly and another guy called Steve.

The film, KURUS, was reworked from scratch, and had evolved into something entirely different.

Now more an ensemble coming-of-age dramedy with numerous subplots weaved together, the film is more like the works of P.T. Anderson (Magnolia and Boogie Nights), with the quirkiness of Napoleon Dynamite or Thumbsucker. (The mentioned films aren't Ming Jin's influences or inspiration, just what I was reminded of while reading his script last night.)

Here's a summary of the film, obviously I'll be avoiding spoilers:

15-year-old Ali loves boxing and idolizes his namesake Mohammad Ali. He lives with his ne'er do well father, Budi, who works as a security guard. Budi is a nice guy, but a horrible father, subjecting his son to crappy food for meals.

Their neighbour is Leana, a spinster who lives with her sister's family. A busybody who just constantly sticks her nose into Ali and Budi's business (to the duo's consternation). She often does laundry for the neighbourhood, and offers food to Ali, most probably because she might like Budi and finally wants to get married!

Ali's best buddy is Hassan, another social outcast like him, but an inventor who makes cool gadgets with all kinds of random stuff ala McGyver.

School has just started, Ali is getting lots of crap from classmate, the Eli the Bully, while Hassan's ire is directed towards a new transfer student Nora. Hassan's disdain for Nora has to do with the girl's lack of 'Malaysian-ness' (she came back from overseas), she's a Malaysian girl tainted by the corrupting touches of Western culture!

They also have a new class teacher: The beautiful Miss Carol who teaches English, whom Ali immediately falls head over heels for due to her sheer hotness. But Miss Carol has a boyfriend!

The film happens in a span of two weeks, mostly about Ali's relationships with the colourful characters around him and their own stories. Somewhere along the way, some stories will converge, some won't, some have answers, some don't, just like life.


And that's it. The shoot will begin on the 15th to the 25th of November (tentatively, I'm still setting the schedule for this), and then we'll have to finish post-production as soon as possible.

I'll tell you all about the cast members once we've confirmed it.

RELATED POSTS
KURUS trailer 1
KURUS trailer 2
Photos from the KURUS press conference on the 28th of Jan.
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 1'
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 2'
KURUS Production Diary - More production photos

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Bullet and Brain 神枪手与智多星'

Bullet and Brain, starring Francis Ng, Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang


I just came back from seeing this Hong Kong movie, which opened in Malaysia today, two weeks before its scheduled release in its own country. I have NOT heard of this movie at all until I saw its contest on Star Newspaper this morning.

The main selling point of BULLET AND BRAIN, is having three Best Actor Award winners (either Hong Kong Film Awards or Golden Horse Film Awards) in the cast: Francis Ng, Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang.

Director is first-timer Keung Kwok-Man, but I got somewhat worried when I found out (belatedly, only during the opening credits) the true mastermind behind this film is 'The Master of Crappy Cinema' himself, WONG JING! (He wrote and produced the film)

Wong Jing


Here's the synopsis:

In the midst of the gunfights and bloodshed in a sinful city, there were two legendary figures — known only as 'Bullet' and 'Brain'. 'Bullet', as the name suggests, earned a reputation for being the sharpest shooter the city had ever seen. He could take out his enemy with a pistol in less than one tenth of a second.

'Brain', on the other hand, earned his reputation for ingenious plots and the countless electronic gadgets he was equipped with. Unknown to all, both Bullet and Brain have left their old lives behind & sworn never to kill or con people again. Soon they disappeared and no one has heard from them since. Nine years pass, and the tales of Bullet and Brain have become only legend. However an old debt and promise draws Bullet and Brain back to the city but this maybe their last mission...


Trust me, the film is even more cheesy and contrived than it sounds.

The charisma and acting skills of the three main actors can't really do much when the script is so utterly horrible, to the point where I couldn't believe my ears when I heard the dialogue at certain supposedly dramatic moments ("I am sorry I got you into danger, the bad guys were supposed to go only after me" "I have waited nine years for you to return, not knowing how to reward you, I have nothing with me, the only thing I can do is offer you my body" blah blah). In fact, I cringed. A lot.

At first, the film looked all right, with SOME decent production values, the (fictional?) semi-futuristic city the film is set in was somewhat nice to look at, during the first few seconds, and the first shootout scene involving the title characters is quiet entertaining, but after that, the whole film just descends into straight-to-DVD level hell.

Despite a different director, this is really a Wong Jing film, cheap gags, groan-inducing pop cultural references in Hollywood and Hong Kong, and blatant exploitational attempts to sell the attractive-looking female newcomers in the film (the names of the actresses actually appear on screen during introductory scenes of the characters they play). Sure, I'm a lusty hot-blooded male who appreciate the sight of women just as much as any lusty hot-blooded males out there, but seeing extended, badly choreographed dance sequences (a rip-off of Flashdance and Jessica Alba's Sin City schtick) at a night club that lasted for nearly five minutes does NOT titillate me. I just got a little annoyed, but mostly numb.

Towards the end, I felt so numb that I became indifferent towards what was happening onscreen. There were some twists that would've been surprising for anyone who doesn't watch movies much, but for me, I just snickered at the sheer predictable nature of the twists.

Wong Jing is an opportunist, that's nothing wrong with that. He prefers cashing in on current film trends than actual innovation, giving audiences 'what they want' instead of giving audiences 'what he thought they should want'. But he actually murdered a film with three of the most respected actors in Hong Kong!

Perhaps the film was done as a favour, perhaps this year's film industry in Hong Kong had been so horrible that the actors were desperate to make some quick cash, perhaps it's easier to make a film lazily and earn some quick box-office bucks than to pour your heart and soul into a film and then suffer a commercial flop. Some of the finest Hong Kong films I saw this year really didn't do well commercially. Even so, it still feels like seeing Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson in a film like GOOD LUCK CHUCK! (Ew?)

So, yes, please don't watch this movie, you might end up wanting to put a bullet in your brain (sorry). This film made the mediocre BROTHERS look like a masterpiece.


Francis Ng talks about BULLET AND BRAIN (in Mandarin), his self-deprecating interview is more entertaining than the actual film

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