I've spent the whole weekend shooting CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY. And it's finally over! I was surprised that the shoot went on so smoothly, and despite the crazy weather in the past two days, we managed to overcome the odds!
The whole idea for the CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY screenplay started sometime in last October, when I was borrowing some space from Da Huang Pictures to hold an audition for KURUS. While waiting for candidates to come, I was throwing out short film ideas to filmmakers Liew Seng Tat and Tan Chui Mui in a desperate bid to break my year-long creative drought.
The exchange was like this:
An office room, I was standing, gesturing animatedly, while the two were sitting and typing on their laptops, replying to emails and checking out their Facebook pages.
(Chui Mui = CM, Seng Tat = ST)
ME: I want to do something called the INTERGALACTIC CURRY EATING COMPETITION in which three heroes (a Malay guy, a Chinese guy and an Indian guy) were supposedly pit against each other in a curry-eating competition, before a Japanese female cyborg was thrown into the fray, and the three supposed archrivals have to work together to battle the cyborg instead. And they did that by seeking a Curry Guru for training.
CM: That's too ridiculous.
ME: It's meant to be a silly comedy... although it seems expensive. And I cannot figure out the ending, nor how to fill up the plot holes. :( But I HAVE another idea!
CM: Okay, tell me that one.
ME: This one is just an image. It's the ending scene of a meditative arthouse short flick. A girl in a secondary school uniform, you know, the blue pinafore, standing before the sea, and then she jumps in and swims off into the horizon. I'll think of a story later.
CM: It sounds quite cliched.
ME: But I thought that's arthouse. Malaysian New Wave-ish :(
CM: Hmm, I remember reading someone's script that sort of ended the same way, though in that one, there's this teenage girl standing by the sea seeking redemption, and then a Buddhist monk pops out from the water, and she approaches him.
ME: Is she in her school uniform?
ST: Come on, you can do something better than this!
ME: Fine, I shall do something semi-biographical! Since Ming Jin did say that it's always better to do something closer to my own heart!
CM: All righty!
ME: It's about a boy who has a mom who can't cook. Boy is jaded, but dad tells boy that mom doesn't always suck that much in cooking. Long ago, before marriage, mom used to make this awesome chicken rice dish. Son doesn't believe, so decides to launch an investigation on this chicken rice. It will have noir elements!
CM: This one definitely sounds more interesting! You can call this the MYSTERY OF THE CHICKEN RICE.
And it became CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY.
What started out as a simple and whimsical little tale became the biggest production I've ever directed, surpassing GIRL DISCONNECTED in terms of ambition and scale. My previous short films were done for uni, while CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY had professionals involved, and the experience is so different!
In the past, filmmaking can be stressful and frustrated sometimes, having to butt heads with uni teammates who have different ways of working and ideals. After all, different people have different goals when it come to productions, and since different people also have different attitudes and personalities, conflicts are inevitable, tempers flared, harsh words exchanged. Worst when some take things personally, and allow the negativity to linger. So it was rare to find people with a similar wavelength when doing uni projects. Brian The Cinematographer (or maybe ex-cinematographer... since he's retired from productions *sigh*), who worked with me in GIRL DISCONNECTED, was one of those rare examples.
Yet for CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, the cast and crew, despite spending a mere 2-3 days together, really clicked. I was initially worried (I fear I would choke and not live up to the lofty and egoistically sky-high expectations I have of myself, exposing myself as nothing but a talentless hack), and fearful that the production would be crushed by the weight of my unrealistic ambition.
But the opposite happened. I never had expected that my biggest production would have the easiest and smoothest shoot. In which I felt that I was in good hands, surrounded by cast and crew members who knew what they were doing and were just as excited as I was about the project. I didn't have to worry about everything anymore. How can I not feel reassured?
Often I have preached to some that the interesting thing about filmmaking is the 'creative collaborative effort'. Of being surrounded by people of different expertises and see how they click together finally. And that was what CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY was about. A collaborative work.
I have just done the video transfer into my laptop and will start editing soon. But for now, I'll just like to take this opportunity to give a loud shoutout to my cast and crew:
To the cast:
MING WEI (as The Boy): For disproving my belief that directing children is hard (but then, he's actually 13 this year, so he's technically a teenager) The late night NBA LIVE game we had after the shoot was fun. (... when I beat him 158-59)
KIMMY (as Mom): I can't believe that I spent weeks trying to find the person to play Mom when I could've contacted you straightaway! Silly me! I need to thank, of all movies, HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART, for giving me the stroke of inspiration that led me to seeking your help in the end.
CHYE CHEE KEONG (as Dad): I wrote the script imagining that Dad would look like him (I referred to him then as 'The good-looking dude in James Lee's BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE AGAIN''). Then posted a notice, and he ended up being one of the first to contact me. The perpetually serious-looking and quiet dude is awesome for his deadpan humour.
LAI MENG (as Grandma): It was a pleasure to have her in my short film, and slightly surreal to work with an actress whom I've seen on TV ever since I was a child.
JAMES LEE (as The Mysterious Handsome Manly Man): He was awesome for cameoing in my film despite being stuck in a marathon shoot right now. The scene wouldn't have worked as well without his suggestions and tips.
TECK LAI (as First Uncle): He said that as an actor, he was a toy for me, the director, to play with. Was even willing to let us totally shave him bald if we had the tools. We didn't, but everyone was already impressed.
ARON KOH (as Second Uncle): For coming all the way to my place to do the cameo. Besides being a Limkokwing University bigwig and film producer, he SHOULD be an actor (he played the discipline teacher in KURUS)
SUANIE (as Second Auntie): Also for her glorious cameo in such a performance-heavy scene. Suanie should now be known as both a blogger and a cameo queen.
To the crew:
LESLY the Cinematographer: For being awesome.
MEI FEN the Assistant Director: For willing to take the job and also cameo in the film.
Sound Girl BEE FONG: For undertaking the exhausting task of operating the boom mic.
NIKKI TOK the Stills Photographer and invaluable Ms. Everything: For coming over to take photos, and then helping us so much with the shoot.
EUNICE PHANG the Make-up Artist: For her wonderful job on the cast members.
Cousin HING YIP: For helping with the production and also with the transportation.
MING JIN the mentor: For being the mentor, and also for the equipments and the dress. Hope you're having fun in Spain.
Of course, the shoot wouldn't have happened without my parents and sister too. A filmmaker can't ask for a more supportive family.
(Photos are screen captures from the raw footage)