Friday, January 30, 2009

Snapshots of Chinese New Year 2009

When it comes to taking photos, I like taking the candid moments, when people are just talking, eating, doing things normally, everything without having to pose for the camera. Posing is fine, but I often ask people NOT to look at the camera when I'm snapping photos. I want... REALISM.

I didn't have my camera with me, I think I left it in Tokyo. So I used my sister's Nokia N78 instead.

The first day of Chinese New Year, as usual, was a visit to my uncle (dad's elder brother's) house. He and his family used to live in Malacca before moving over to Shah Alam 2 years ago, which is great, because going to his place takes only around half an hour as compared to nearly 2 hours in the past.

The entire family from my father's side were gathered, on that day, at my uncle's place. My dad's elder brother and his wife, my dad's eldest sister and her husband, my dad's youngest brother, my cousins, my cousin-in-laws, and the like. Seeing that one of my cousins is pregnant, I know that there will be more people at the family gathering next year.

Just some snapshots from my uncle's house.

First day of Chinese New Year, family gathering at uncle's house 1

The food, as always, was wonderful. Here's mom (middle, in red), chit-chatting with my aunts (dad's eldest sister and sis-in-law) along with my two cousins, Ah Woo and Ah Miang. From the look of her face, I can know that mom's listening to some grisly details of our family secret.

First day of Chinese New Year, family gathering at uncle's house 2

And here's dad, chatting with my uncle (dad's brother-in-law) and my cousin Hwee Suan + her husband Timothy.

First day of Chinese New Year, family gathering at uncle's house 3

A wider shot of the house. My sister has a similarly "huh?" expression on her face like mom. I'm sure she was listening to more dark secrets of the Yeo family from my uncles that she never knew about until now.

First day of Chinese New Year, family gathering at uncle's house 4

On the second day of Chinese New Year, just before we headed off to mom's hometown, Ipoh, we made a stop at my aunt's (dad's eldest sister) house (I shot a video of us visiting the same house during the Chinese New Year three years ago).

For lunch.

Delicious lunch at aunt's house (2nd day of Chinese New Year) 1

My aunt has AWESOME cooking skills, like most people in the family (I will not name the notable exception, I can only hint that my short film, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, isn't entirely fictional).

Delicious lunch at aunt's house (2nd day of Chinese New Year) 2

Delicious lunch at aunt's house (2nd day of Chinese New Year) 3

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Swifty Reviews 'Red Cliff 2 赤壁 - 決戰天下'

Red Cliff 2 poster

Before starting my review of RED CLIFF 2, let me tell you some of my thoughts on RED CLIFF 1, which I watched on DVD back in October.

I found RED CLIFF 1 somewhat entertaining, after suffering string after string of mediocre Hollywood films by John Woo, with the bad taste of PAYCHECK still fresh in my mouth, my expectations were low. So without any expectations, I enjoyed RED CLIFF 1. The manly (and somewhat homoerotic) bonding between Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a John Woo trademark, remains quite amusing, Zhang Fengyi's turn as the charismatic baddie Cao Cao is the best performance in the film, the action scenes are big-scale and rather fun. In the end, RED CLIFF 1 was entertaining enough for me to not give RED CLIFF 2 a pass.

It's hard for me to decide whether RED CLIFF 2 is an improvement over its predecessor, or whether it fulfilled the promises shown by RED CLIFF 1. There are some really epic-scaled battle scenes that I liked, and an unexpected John Woo-style Mexican Standoff at the climatic fight scene that made me think of the numerous parodies he had spawned with his older films, which made me giggle. Zhang Fengyi reinforced my belief that his performance is the best in the RED CLIFF films, and the female characters played by Lin Zhiling and Zhao Wei are actually given a bit more to do, which is revolutionary... for a John Woo film.

I enjoyed Kaneshiro and Tony Leung's performances, being who they are, of course they're solid. But I'm probably one of the rare few who think that they are a little miscast in the film. Maybe they are too recognizable, thus I was unable to think of their characters as Zhuge Liang or Zhou Yu... to me they are just Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung... with costumes.

I've imagined what would have happened if Chow Yun Fat hadn't dropped out of the film during pre-production. If Chow Yun Fat hadn't thought that doing DRAGON BALL is a better career choice, he would've been playing Zhou Yu, and Tony Leung would've been playing Zhuge Liang, and that might have been a better fit. Somehow, for me, Tony Leung's martial arts skills in RED CLIFF feels less convincing than Chow Yun Fat's in CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON or CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (I guess Chow probably believed that his martial arts skills are more suited for DRAGON BALL). I winced a little when I saw Zhou Yu practicing with his sword, and frowned a little when he was cutting opponents down in the ending. Hu Jun's Zhao Zilong was believable as a badass though.

Because of the problems I have with the Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu characters, I wanted to see more of the other characters, like Chang Chen's Sun Quan, or Hu Jun's Zhao Zilong, and the rest of Liu Bei's gang (whose appearances in this film are quite brief). More character development, more 'moments' that can add to the story. But I'm probably expecting something from a different movie by a different director. Hmm.

The film, I feel, is a little inconsistent in tone, there are some comedic scenes, both intentional and unintentional, that make the viewing experience more enjoyable, but at some parts, I started wondering whether things had gone a bit too silly, and by trying so hard, Woo had sacrificed some of the narrative potential and pathos for the film. But still, most of Woo's films in the 80s and early 90s were like that. (BETTER TOMORROW 2, HARD-BOILED and ONCE A THIEF being the most obvious) In many ways, we are getting the John Woo of old, which is a good thing, depending on whether you feel his style is slightly outdated, or just entertainingly retro. For me, it's a bit of both.

I don't think it's a masterpiece, I'm not sure whether to recommend anyone to watch it either. It all depends on whether you liked RED CLIFF 1 or not. Even so, I still think that the RED CLIFF films are John Woo's best works since... FACE/OFF. (not a fan of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2) I look forward to seeing Woo's next film... as long as he's staying in China.

RED CLIFF 2 trailer

What do you guys think of this film? And Red Cliff 1?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'kingyo' shoot ended, I returned to Malaysia. Chinese New Year came.


The shoot for KINGYO (my new film, some screenshots here, you can even read about its write-up on Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow, Edmund Yeo reworks Yasunari Kawabata in his latest short film "kingyo") ended on last Thursday night, amidst a heavy rain in Akihabara. As I was drenched in the rain, I was reminded of my CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY shoot nearly a year ago, when the end of a shoot was signaled by a heavy rain as well.

After 4 hectic days of shoot, I felt relieved that everything progressed so smoothly. While I've always seemed optimistic to most people, previous experiences in student productions had taught me to always expect the worst but hope for the best during shoots. When a shoot ends, I always feel relieved, and giddy with joy that I managed to survive. And then there's always a feeling of gratitude towards my cast and crew, for enduring that journey with me.

Cast and crew of 'kingyo'
The cast and crew of kingyo had seen some crazy stuff during the shoot

Maiko the Producer handled this perfectly. We huddled together, the cast and crew, with Maiko thanking our main actor Takao and main actress Rukino, and I was given two bouquet of flowers to present to them. Then Takao and Rukino spoke about how they felt regarding the shoot, and I also gave a speech (with assistant director, Lia the Artist, translating) about how I genuinely enjoyed the shoot and how I would love to work with them again. Josha the Cinematographer was then asked to lead this ritual, where he made a solemn announcement about how the kingyo shoot has officially ended, and then, all of us clapped our hands once, in unison. I've never seen anything like this before, but this ritual definitely brought a feeling of unity between us all. I would definitely 'import' this to my next productions in Malaysia.

I rushed to the airport the next morning, bringing the raw footage with me in a 1TB hard disk (while Maiko the Producer keeps another one with her in Tokyo). I would've wanted to edit the film immediately, unfortunately the digitizing was done via Final Cut Pro, and the hard disk was formatted only for Mac. I ended up not being able to edit the film because I use a laptop, and because I normally edit using the Adobe Premiere Pro (yes, all my short films, and Ming Jin's telemovie CINTA TIGA SEGI, the entire THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA, were done with Premiere Pro). Quite a hassle.

I returned to Malaysia on the 23rd (Friday night). A couple of days have passed, I've seen numerous films since then. RED CLIFF 2, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, IP MAN, BEAST STALKER etc. Perhaps I'll review them soon.

Chinese New Year arrived three days ago, and I am now in Ipoh, my mother's hometown. I even met up with Ming Jin just now, because Ipoh is his hometown too. We spoke about his feature film we are about to shoot (I'm producing), I also spoke about my surreal misadventures during the kingyo shoot, a project I've first expected to be small and simple, but ended up becoming the biggest project I've ever done, with a massive crew of such unbelievable professionalism that I thought I was doing a commercial film instead of an 'indie' film. Now that I'll be in Malaysia for quite a while, I'm eager to do another short film, something simple and small, can be finished in a day or two. Funny how I'm already thinking of another project before I even started editing this one!

Well, that's what I've been going through in the past few days.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sneak peek of my new Japanese film, KINGYO

Today's going to be the last day of my shoot for kingyo. It's 3:48 am right now, and I'm off to bed soon. But while I was digitizing the footage I've shot onto a newly bought external hard disk just now, I did some screen captures of them, just to share with you all an early look of my new film. The following pics are of the three primary characters in my film, I haven't done any colour correction at all though.

Kingyo preview 2

Kingyo preview 3

Kingyo preview 4

Kingyo preview 5

Kingyo preview 6

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Modesty is dead

No time to provide a lengthy update for you guys on the kingyo (my new Japanese film) shoot. But things are smooth, except for the bloody weather. Couldn't do a magic hour scene (another one of those scenes where you see a person sitting by the lake/ river/ pond/ sea during the sunset... you almost see that in all my films)

But maybe you'll get a vague idea of my own speculation of my film from a Facebook chat conversation that occurred just now with Dawn Yang. It started when I misread her FB status...

Dawn Yang
(Facebook status: Dawn Yang... is CNN Live now for a most amazing historical inauguration. "OBAMA!)

11:40am Edmund
I misread your Facebook status
and thought you wrote
Dawn Yang is ON CNN LIVE now

11:41am Dawn
Yes for being the most retardo person alive presently ;o)

11:41am Edmund
no! i am retarder!
latter is a better word

11:43am Dawn
incorporate it into one of your scripts

11:43am Edmund
i will!
man, my new film is going to be even more masterpiecer than my previous ones!!!!!

11:45am Dawn
the most masterpieciestriest of all films

Well, still have to head off for the shoot in another hour and a half. It's going to rain tonight, but I'll just incorporate it in the script.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Got a crew, had a rehearsal. Thoughts on filmmaking as a collaborative effort.


After finding all our primary cast members, I wondered how to put together the production crew. Maiko The Producer said that she will recruit help from people of the Tokyo University of the Arts (the place where Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Beat Takeshi are teaching), she then rented a DVD to show me, an omnibus with four segments, each an adaptation of a Kawabata Yasunari short story. I was impressed by the technical skills and production values displayed throughout the film. I agreed, it would be quite wonderful to have such experienced people helping us out.

One day later, Maiko told me that she had recruited their help. Two directors of photography, a gaffer and a sound mixer. Aside from the sound mixer, they were not students, but alumni from the university, some are actually teaching there.

After accompanying us with the location scouting (that's when I ended up taking those fabulous photos at Inokashira Park), they spent the past few days coming to my university lab, testing each and every one of the equipment. They went through the cameras, testing the different shutter speed, the filters, iso speed. the exposure, the frame rates etc. after I said that I intend to have some motion blur in some night scenes. Having done all my previous films in MiniDV, a HD camera was totally new to me, I excited when they then reminded me that the slow-mo looks good on HD compared to MiniDV.

"This production seems to have become much bigger than you imagined." A course mate from Thailand, Kong, observed.

It was. To think that initially I would only be doing some quick guerrilla shoots, and thinking that maybe I myself might have to operate the camera myself if forced by circumstances (I'm horrified by the idea). Yet everything just seemed to fall into place without me having to worry so much.

The idea of filmmaking had always been one of immense challenge and physically taxing. I told Maiko two nights ago that maybe because I've started small, where in my attempts to make films, I was always a one-man crew, and then moving to student films where I knew I was being second-guessed repeatedly by my own teammates, and sometimes having people whose top priority isn't really just to make a great film (not to diss them, just saying that it's fortunate for them that compared to me, they have many things to care about beyond filmmaking), I was forced to pay attention to every single aspect of the filmmaking, from micromanaging the schedule, the budget and actors myself, to negotiating for locations, to thinking and conceiving the production design (after people who said they could help me had other more pressing matters to attend to) and even making the props myself.

I was always prepare for the worst, because shit often happens during a shoot, an important crew member calling in sick, the breaking down of an equipment, or a last minute withdrawal from a cast member, or a sudden rain during a sunny afternoon. Sometimes I survive because of my own improvisational nature ("Aaargh! Why is it raining? FINE! Let's just have the father disappear into the pasar malam during the rain, and let the boy watch! Maybe it'll look more melancholic!"), sometimes I make compromises ("WHAT? The boom mic broke down suddenly! Fine! I'll just replace the entire film with VOICEOVERS!!!"). Although the compromises often yielded accidental results (I was referring to the ending of Chicken Rice Mystery, and also the use of voiceovers in my student film, Vertical Distance).

But I guess ultimately, I was so used to having to do damage control and worrying most things by myself during my early attempts at filmmaking that to see a gradual growth in my production crew in each new production is quite fascinating. Like last year when making CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY and LOVE SUICIDES made me realize what is it like to work with people who share the same passion and goal, I suddenly felt that I didn't have to worry and deal with so many things anymore.

"And because of that, you can just concentrate on the story and the directing." Maiko the Producer said after I voiced out these thoughts to her two nights ago.

How refreshing it is, to see that my belief that filmmaking is a collaborative effort is slowly being reinforced. It's always about people working together, pooling together their expertise and talents, their own worldview and emotions, to create something special. Perhaps many has this romanticized notion that a great filmmaker has to be a hardcore dictator in control of everything, screaming and yelling the whole time at a hierarchical system just so that everyone could conform and create his vision, perform his ideas, recite his words. Examples were often cited to me, how Fritz Lang would set extras on fire because they were mere 'props' to him, or how Fincher (when making ZODIAC) would go through hundreds of takes to get things right, or how David O Russell (when making I HEART HUCKABEES) and Kubrick (when making THE SHINING) would be genuinely nasty to cast members for the sake of maintaining a tensed atmosphere on the set just so that performances could be more authentic and genuine.

Hey, if that's what it takes to perform MY vision, then sure, I don't mind doing that. But my vision and ideas aren't static, sometimes I see people improving upon it, and I would just let it happen. I don't have to feel insecure about them not being entirely faithful to what I had in mind when what I got in instead seemed much better anyway. I like spontaneity.

That was the whole basis of my speech before rehearsal sessions yesterday, where the entire cast and crew were present. "For the next few days we will work together, hopefully we won't end up wanting to kill each other by the time the shoot is about to end. There will much we can learn from each other as we work together. My script is just guidelines, the character exploration is a collaborative effort between me the director and you, the actors, and I won't be surprised if towards the end you know the characters better than I do... etc etc." (I forgot the rest of the stuff I said)

Of course, my speech of profound eloquence was translated by my assistant director, Lia The Artist. Aside from one guy from China, my entire crew's Japanese, I had recently joked that I might suffer through a Lost In Translation in reverse where the director's the sole foreigner instead of the actor. However, most of my cast members are fluent in English, so my lack of Japanese skills isn't a major problem either.

In the past few weeks of pre-production, I cannot help but marvel at how meticulous the Japanese are when it comes to preparations. I even had a schedule for the rehearsals, to know which scene and which actors to rehearse first while another would go and try their outfit with Maiko the producer. And the entire technical crew was there as I rehearsed the actors so that they themselves would take notes and know how to set up their shots, camera positions and the like for the scenes. And for me, the rehearsal became more than just for the actors, but also for the entire crew, as I went through the line-readings and positioning with the actors through their acting, I would also point out where I want the cameras to be, which one will be in slow mo, which one will be in close-ups, which one needs artificial wind for aesthetic purposes.

Conversations that occurred during yesterday's rehearsal session:

Takao the Actor: You sure I have to put a plastic bag of goldfishes on the table? It'll actually roll off.

Me: Uh oh.


Rukino the Actress: Why would she work as an Akihabara Maid for so many years?

Me: She needed the cash.

Actress: When I worked there, I got only 900 yen per hour.

Me: ... Uh oh.


Assistant Director Lia: So, you wanted her to hold the plastic bag of goldfishes, and the colour of the fishes to stand out like this because it represents her emotions?

Me: Er... yes, YES!! That's exactly what I meant!


Amane the Actress: If Kyoko was a teacher, it isn't possible for her to marry Matsumoto at such a young age since it'll take years to become one, based on personal experience as a teacher. So instead of being married for 20 years, 15 years might be more plausible.

Me: Fifteen years, it is! And after fifteen years, their marriage had become one where they both merely went through the motions, and nothing more!

Amane: I see. Then Kyoko's probably a child of civil servants, raised in a happy family, so when she faced marital problems with Matsumoto, she wasn't prepared to react to it.

Me: AHA!

Definitely a fruitful rehearsal. Only one more day left before the shoot. (which begins early tomorrow) I'll be visiting Akihabara again in the evening with the cinematographers to examine the locations.

(Photo by colodio)

Friday, January 16, 2009

How I found the main cast for my Japanese film, kingyo

kingyo is the title of my upcoming Japanese project. I haven't been posting that much lately because I've gotten so busy preparing for the film. Constantly revising the script, drawing storyboards and deciding on the locations. Shoot begins next Monday.

Just to recap, kingyo is the split-screen project I mentioned about. For the script, I had gone off to even conduct a comically serious research with Akihabara maids.

I've actually been busy with kingyo even before I headed off to the Dubai International Film Fest, but then, things just started accelerating after I came back. Audition sessions were held for the three main roles: I needed a young woman in her late 20s, a middle-aged man past 45, a middle-aged woman around the same age as the middle-aged man. Audition went on for nearly a week, having not held an audition since January and February last year for CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, I forgot how amusingly deflating they can be at times. Most who came were interested in the role of the young woman Chiri the Akihabara Maid, and I couldn't find myself satisfied with any. One was too young, one didn't look right as an Akihabara maid, one had trouble acting sad, one was too hot (I wanted a girl-next-door type, not a model!) Who could be my Chiri? Chiri is the main character in a film, someone who can carry the film is necessary!

I needed the Setsuko Hara to my Ozu, the Miho Nakayama to my Shunji Iwai, the Gong Li to my Zhang Yimou, the Liv Ullmann to my Ingmar Bergman, the Anna Karina to my Godard etc etc. (As I continued gesticulating these crazy analogies to illustrate my point after an audition session, Maiko and the assistant directors, Lia The Artist and Yamamoto, knew that I was lost in my own self-aggrandizing delusions again, and decided not to say anything.)

Then the men came in for the role of the middle-aged man, Matsumoto. One was too ruggedly good-looking for a depressed university professor, one had tremendous acting skills that blew me away (initially shooting his line-readings with a camcorder, I ended up looking directly at him instead, which is a testament of how good he was), yet he didn't look right for the role, then another had just the right looks for a dignified but depressed university professor, but he didn't seem to have the right... subtle mannerisms. I made a mental note that I would use them in different films for different roles, but not for this. Not for Matsumoto.

We were luckier with the role of Matsumoto's wife, Kyoko, as I was able to make my choice after only two (both great) candidates came for the role.

Auditions were held until December 26th, and then, Maiko the Producer and I were already in a state of panic (well, myself mostly, despite the fact that I disguised it with my usual casual coolness). On the 29th, I posted this tweet on Twitter, which was a plea, but ended up feeling like a rhetorical question. I even fired direct messages to other J-bloggers like Neil Duckett and Danny Choo hoping that they have contacts of sorts who could help me. No luck. Oh, and the latter ignored me.

After that I went off for my Kansai trip to temporarily purge my soul of these worries. From the trip I managed to conjure this video and this video, but my trip was short because I was invited to a New Year Party organized by the folks of the much respected biannual Yamagata Documentary Film Festival on the 4th of January. I brought Maiko the Producer along, our hearts weighing heavily over our inability to cast the two protagonists for my film.

"What can we do?" The voice in my mind echoed loudly before it was drowned of by the sounds of the moving train as Maiko and I were heading towards Marunouchi station. The man prideful enough to call himself the Great Swifty was starting to feel an extremely slight sliver of doubt.

Then Maiko's cellphone rang, and she answered, spoke in barely audible tones for a few moments, put down her phone and told me that it was the manager of an actress we handed the script to before I went to Dubai. She was my first choice for the role, but because I needed backup plans, I threw auditions as well.

The actress wanted to do the short film. We got ourselves our Chiri! And through a strange stroke of luck, coincidence and display of fate, and also a case of fulfilling my own prophecy, this actress is actually in this video I embedded at the end of my seriously comical research on Akihabara Maids post, long before we sent our script to her. And I never noticed this strange coincidence until last week.

We headed to the party, slightly more relieved, though still a little troubled that we couldn't find anyone to play Matsumoto. Someone with many stories on his face, and somewhat melancholic and lonely, someone like the uber-manly Hiroyuki Sanada or an everyman like Teruyuki Kagawa, or someone with repressed sadness like Kaoru Kobayashi, or someone with melancholic manliness like Ken Watanabe, or someone who looks like my mancrush Hiroshi Abe. By then, Maiko and other people at the party knew that I was just randomly rattling out names of famous Japanese actors, and decided not to say anything to me.

A man came in. Yano-san, who invited me to the party, gestured. "What about him?"

I looked and immediately I cheered up. "YESSSSSSSS!"

I gestured at the man to Maiko the Producer. "What about him?"

Maiko's "YESSSSSSSSS!" was much more controlled and polite than mine. So we approached him and spoke to him, then I asked him whether he could help me, he said yes without any hesitation. I was joyous.

The already delicious rice cakes I was tasting and experiencing for the very first time at the party suddenly felt like morsel from heaven.

And that was how I finally managed to secure all the primary cast members for kingyo.

A week later, Maiko got ourselves a major production crew, but that's a story for the next post.

(Oh, unrelated maid photo by Damien Douxchamp)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Retiring my old camcorder (2005-2009)

My camcorder (2005-2009)

During my New Year trip at the Kansai region, I became very sure that I have to retire my old camcorder. It's a Sony Handycam DCR HC32E which I've been using since my early days in Perth (sometime early 2005). I would say that this camcorder's existence had been crucial in my becoming a filmmaker.

Prior to taking the 1-year course in film production, everything else was self-taught. I've liked shooting videos and then bringing them home to edit them into some sort of music video to share with friends (there wasn't any Youtube then, so I had to carry my laptop along and present them my latest masterworks). That was how I first managed to learn the arts of video editing (at that time, I started out with Sony Vegas until shifting to Adobe Premiere Pro, which I'm still using now as I'm not much of a Mac user, the editing of KURUS / DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY was the only time I had to use Final Cut Pro).

In Perth, aside from an attempt to make a short film, the camcorder had been to many events with me, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, dinners, outings, family visits. (Perth playlist here)

And then, after Perth, it traveled to many countries with me too. I brought it along during my visits to China and India, footage I shot from the latter becoming numerous scenes from my short film, FLEETING IMAGES. Hell, it was even photographed with me during my 2007 interview on Sin Chew Jit Poh:

Sin Chew Interview 2

I chose not to carry my camcorder that much these days because I gradually preferred looking at things with my own eyes instead of constantly staring through the camcorder. Even so, it did accompany me to places like Chile, Rome, Hong Kong and Dubai even though I never took the camcorder out at all for filming. But I still use it to film candidates during auditions. (in fact, I was just using it for the audition of my latest Japanese short film)

Since moving to Tokyo last April, aside from the aforementioned audition, the camcorder had been serving me whenever I felt like shooting something interesting, even though it's only used occasionally. (Japan playlist here)

I'm not surprised that it had gotten through a lot of wear and tear over the years. The camcorder's really been falling apart, the LCD does not work at times, the touch screen can be unresponsive, the tape deck sometimes does not detect the tape, and there are earlier damages too, like how, as you can see from the photo above, the casing around the camera lens had already fallen off, leaving the lens unprotected. It had its limitations, like its lack of microphone socket, and the limited video quality (one would expect from such a consumer camcorder released during that time).

Because the camcorder had always been with me, there had been numerous (understandable) misconceptions that I conjured my short films using this camcorder. Which isn't true, except for parts of the experimental video essay FLEETING IMAGES, my films were shot with a more professional Panasonic AG-DVX100, with the invaluable help of a crew.

Shooting the 1st Uncle scene

Arika doesn't want to rummage the trash
(Production stills from the short films, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY and LOVE SUICIDES, were NOT shot with my Handycam)

Nonetheless, this post is about my retiring of my old camcorder after subjecting it to so much grueling shoots. I thought that the EPIC videos I shot from my Kansai region trip were worthy enough to be my camcorder's swansong. As video diaries go, they ain't too shabby.

I embedded the high quality version of the video, if it takes too long to load, go for the normal quality instead

I embedded the high quality version of the video, if it takes too long to load, go for the normal quality instead

And thus I shall give my camcorder a much-deserved rest and retirement. Not that I'll be tossing it into the trashcan right now, of course, but when I return to Malaysia end of this month, I'm likely going to just put it in the closet where my huge collections of Transformers, Ninja Turtles, WWF wrestlers, Dragon Ball Z, Marvel and DC superheroes action figures are. Long ago when my old Playstation 1 broke down, I remember my sister fashioning a mock tombstone she cut out from an A4 paper, writing its inscription, and then putting it next to the console... but I won't do that.

Even so, I'll have to get myself a new video camera. Due to my personal increase of interest in (still) photography, I have been thinking of getting myself a Nikon D90 so that I'll have both a DSLR and a video camera. But I'm not too sure.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beautiful Sunset at Inokashira Pond

Today is a public holiday in Japan. It's called the Seijin No Hi, which is translated in English as the Coming Of Age Day. On this day, anyone turning 20 will be invited to attend a ceremony celebrating their adulthood. And then most of them will take this long-awaited opportunity to get drunk (it's also the minimum legal age to smoke and vote). I wasn't aware of this (I knew it was a holiday, but I didn't know why) until I received this tweet from Neil Duckett.

So when I went out, there were indeed some young women wearing kimono, and the guys were wearing suits, but because most males in Tokyo wear suits, I couldn't tell which ones were the ones celebrating Seijin No Hi.

Unfortunately, there will not be any photos of cute young women in kimono because I was resuming my location hunt today with my Maiko the Producer and Jo the Cinematographer after our failure to find a good park yesterday. I was excitedly leading everyone to Ueno Park after seeing how beautiful it was during the end of autumn. Unfortunately, winter had actually turned this place into a pale shadow of itself. So I decided to leave the location hunting to the other folks, since... well, they're Japanese and they probably know the place much better than I do. And so Maiko the Producer recommended the Inokashira Park.

Inokashira Park

An interesting place filled with musicians and performers, and even a flea market. Although Maiko told me that you can only see the latter on weekends and holidays. I saw a little kid performing a Beatles' song with his dad.

Young musician performing Beatles song with his dad at Inokashira Park

For me, the defining characteristic of the park is its pond, the Inokashira Pond. One section of the pond is particularly popular for the ducks.

Ducks at Inokashira Pond

People watching the ducks at Inokashira Pond

A young woman by the Inokashira Pond

Inokashira Pond

I was immediately in love with the park, but was curious to see how it would look like during the sunset. Fortunately, the sun sets around 4:30pm, so we don't really have to wait that long.

Sunset at Inokashira Pond

There was a trio of old men sitting at the bench, chatting happily and watching the sunset, leaving only when the sun was gone.

3 old men watching the sunset at Inokashira Pond

I didn't have to think for long. We will definitely shoot my film here next week.

Sunset at Inokashira Pond 2

Sunset at Inokashira Pond 3

Saturday, January 10, 2009

[VIDEO] Catching the Kobe Sunrise

Beautiful Yukata girlI slept at 8 something last night after location hunting for my film (more on that later), and woke up at 12 in the midnight. Haven't slept since then, was editing the second (and concluding) video of my new year trip at the Kansai Region. After I've uploaded part 1 (you MUST watch it!) a few days ago, I had some problems figuring out how to edit this video.

I originally wanted to continue the whimsical, MTV-ish tone from the previous video, but as I looked through the footage again, I realized I had to go for something stylistically different as the second (and last) day of my trip was more somber and spiritual, as compared to fun-filled visits in Kyoto and Nara.

Therefore I decided to minimize the use of background music, sticking mostly with the ambient so that you guys can have this 'you are there' feeling when watching my video. There's a piece of music that will pop out towards the end of the video, composed by Nico Spahni, also downloaded from Jamendo. (One of his other compositions was also used for the soundtrack of my short film, LOVE SUICIDES)

This video is decidedly more mundane, focusing only one what I did during the first day of 2009, and my attempts to see the second sunrise of the year at the beautiful harbour of Kobe. During my wait, I also visited the Minagawa Shrine located near the Kobe station. Once again, photo of random beautiful woman in Yukata is by Saladfreak.

And again, I'm embedding both the Youtube video and the Facebook one. See whichever loads faster for you.

Enjoy the video!

I embedded the high quality version of the video, if it takes too long to load, go for the normal quality instead

Friday, January 09, 2009


My newest short film, LOVE SUICIDES, will be one of the 10 shorts screening at the latest edition of Malaysian Shorts held next Monday. So if you want to catch my film on big screen, here's your chance! Even I myself haven't seen it on the big screen before!

Unfortunately, since I'm still in Tokyo until end of this month, I won't be around for the Q and A session. But Ming Jin (who is the producer of the film) will be representing me!

Some stills from the film:

[Love Suicides] The girl (Arika Lee) plays with the red balloon

[Love Suicides] The woman (Kimmy Kiew) is pensive

[Love Suicides] The girl (Arika Lee) looks at the sea

Malaysian Shorts

Monday 12 January 2009, 8.00pm
HELP University College, Pusat Bandar Damansara, KL

Presented by Amir Muhammad
The directors will be in attendance for Q&A
Free Admission
Enquiries: 012-2255136

1. Bila Gambus Tak Berlagu (When the Oud Bears No Song) (Maszlida Hamzah; 2008, 13')
Director's statement: "An experiential journey into a 'lost world', one that is closely tied to the spiritual, musical, traditional and metaphysical anxiety of a man who strives to bring it back to where it belongs: the kingdom of the heart. The combination of rhythm, shot, colour and emotion is a human, painterly quality inherent in all of us, that is meant to break the illusion/reality of the poetic life we lead". Funded by FINAS.
Maszalida Hamzah teaches at the Faculty of Artistic and Creative Technology, UiTM. She wrote about the semiotics of Garin Nugroho's photo-poetry for her MA thesis.

2. Yandsen Can Do (Kok Kai Foong; 20' 18")
A stranger comes to Yandsen asking for rental fees. What should Yandsen do about it?
Kok Kai Foong studied computer science in Taiwan. His short films have screened at Rotterdam, the Busan Asian Shorts and Clermont-Ferrand. His short The Circle (2004) won the Silver Award at the 2nd Astro Chinese Short Film Competition.

3. Twilight Tears (Albert Hue; 2008, 10' 21"; Super 16mm)
How long will love last before the miles ahead run out? The city drowns out echoes from a past; Susan seeks for answers in distance and time, but is resigned to silence. Can motion begin in static?
Albert Hue has just returned from a stint in Singapore working on film production.

4. Love Suicides (Edmund Yeo; 15' 30")
A woman's relationship with her young daughter veers into a dangerous path of self-destruction and abuse when she starts receiving a series of mysterious letters from her long-departed husband.
Edmund Yeo did a graduate course in film production at Murdoch University, Australia. He joined Woo Ming Jin's Greenlight Pictures in 2007 and worked on productions such as Kurus (Days of the Turquoise Sky) and the short film Blue Roof. Currently he is doing his Masters in Tokyo, where he is struggling heroically to learn Japanese.

5. The Last Supper (Normen J Arule; 2008, 18')
Jenna Pathelani, a cop, is still traumatized after a near death psycho abduction 5 years ago. Now, she is losing her mind and senses when her superior Capt Miller throws her into an interrogation room with a bloodthirsty open invitation to his Last Supper.
Normen Arule is a graduate of the International Academy of Film and TV in the Philippines. He has made 5 shorts, and co-wrote and co-directed 3 others. Currently he is collaborating with writers from Hollywood on online scriptwriting.

6. Respire (Ho Widing; 2005, 15')
Respire is set in a fictional world transformed by a deadly, airborne virus in which people are required by law to wear masks at all times. A young girl who knows her time is short decides to enjoy one last day with the boy she likes. Winner of 2 awards at Cannes 2005: Kodak Discovery Award for Best Short Film and TV5 Young Critics' Award; winner of Best Short Film Award at SITGES Fantasy Film Festival, Catalonia, Spain 2005; Special Jury Award, Taipei International Film Festival 2006.

7. Summer Afternoon (Ho Widing; 2008, 15')
Three friends go on a road trip, but when a prank goes wrong, things take a twisted turn. Shot in real time, in four long takes. Screened at Cannes Directors' Fortnight; in competition at Taipei Film Festival 2008.
Ho Widing, an expatriate Malaysian, studied at the New York University Film School and now works in Taiwan as a TV commercial director. He is working on his first feature, Taipei Sunday, a joint Taiwan- Philippines production about Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan.

8. Adults Only (Yeo Joon Han; 2006, 10')
As several old men and women perform their daily, practical tasks and three children silently suffer their weekly piano lessons, a metaphor is spun, exposing the vicious cycle of pragmatic living that constantly plagues people. Best Short Film, Stockholm Festival 2006; Special Mention, Venice Film Festival 2006, and screened at over 20 international festivals.

9. Girl in a Soap Bubble (Yeo Joon Han; 2006, 30min)
A near-silent comedy set in a laundry shop. A romantic comedy on one level, it is also a Chinese box of a film, playing on its audience's expectations and cheekily cautioning us against judging a person by the clothes he wears. It premiered at Clermont-Ferrand, and was so well received that it was re-screened there the following year.
Yeo Joon Han's debut feature Sellout premiered in competition at the Venice Film Festival's Critics' Week, was rapturously received at every screening, and won the Young Cinema Award for Alternative Vision. It also won the NETPAC Award at the Taiwan Golden Horse Film Awards 2008.

10. Everyday Everyday (Tan Chui Mui; 2008, 17' 37")
Sook Chen has quit her job. She has decided to go to Peru. Ma can't understand why. In fact, he can never understand what Sook Chen wants. Mui has recently made 7 new short films, of which this is one. They will screen at Rotterdam later this month, where Mui will serve as a jury member for the short film competition.

Total running time: 149 minutes

A scene from LOVE SUICIDES

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

[VIDEO] My New Year Trip at the Kansai Region Part 1

Beautiful girl in yukataPhew. Been spending the past two days editing the video of my trip at the Kansai region during the new year period. Due to rustiness (the last time I actually edited something was for my short film, LOVE SUICIDES, and that was back in last October), I was slower than usual, and needed a bit more time to get into a groove again.

Anyway, I've decided to separate the videos into two parts because it's quite long, and I'm also doing this for, ah, narrative and dramatic purposes.

Part 1 of my video covers the first day of my trip, from going to Kyoto on New Year's Eve, to my countdown at Nara, and then my capturing of the festive atmosphere during Japanese New Year. The music I used, like the previous video diaries, can be downloaded from Jamendo.

The video's rather straightforward, there's not much for me to experiment with. The most I can hope for is that it can help you see what I saw during my unforgettable trip.

I've actually uploaded the video on both Facebook and Youtube. Youtube has annotations, while Facebook allowed me to tag friends who were either in the video, or were referred to in the video (mostly my old Japanese friends I met in Perth, who were in this cooking video, this heartfelt birthday party video and this impressionistic birthday party video. I forgot the fact that they had to return to their hometowns on New Year, so they couldn't meet me in the end, sigh).

Beautiful girl in Kimono 2The first two minutes are mostly about my train journey to Kyoto, and how I accidentally ended up at Osaka after oversleeping.

After that, the video covers my lovely afternoon at Kyoto, when my friends Alex and Nisha brought me to the famed Kiyomizu-deru Temple. It was my intention to visit one of those famed temples in Kyoto even though I've been there before six years ago, and also because I was hoping to spot some geisha or maiko at the nearby area. Unfortunately, no such luck. I guess even they need to celebrate new year.

Beginning from the 5:30 mark, you'll see my other friend, Lim, and I making our way to Nara for the new year countdown and our Hatsumode (first temple or shrine trip of the year) at Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple), which houses the biggest Buddha statue in Japan. We also went to the beautiful Nigatsu-do (February Hall, or Hall of the Second Month), a hall in Todai-ji that's located on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa, east of the Great Buddha Hall. And finally ending our Nara trip at the beloved Kasuga Shrine, where thousands and thousands of people gathered to pray and make their wishes.

Also, due to the fact that I can't multitask (as in, carry both a camcorder and a camera at a same time), I opted to only take videos during the trip, so there aren't any photos. Hence the random photos of beautiful Japanese women in yukata uploaded by Saladfreak on Flickr.

Anyway, enjoy the video.

I embedded the high quality version of the video, if it takes too long to load, go for the normal quality instead

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Passions for times ahead - Interview with the Malay Mail

After returning from my quick Kansai region trip to welcome the dawn of 2009 (no photos, but videos coming up), I was pleasantly surprised to learn from a Facebook friend that I was on this Malay Mail article, PASSION FOR TIMES AHEAD. To be on the papers during New Year, what better way is there for me to start 2009? Thank you for the honour!

In this article, Gabey Goh asked Noel Boyd of A Tattooed Blog, Michael Hartley of Dr Mike's Math Games for Kids, Ng Eng Kuan of Driving Malaysia, and I about 2008 web discoveries and hopes for 2009.

My original rambling answer is quite lengthy, so Gabey made the right choice by cutting it down to the final version, but for those who are curious, here's the unnecessarily long, stream-of-consciousness-esque original answer:

Tsui Hark and II realised how my blog is really an extension of myself, so during its first few years of its existence, it lacked direction. Just like I was. It was the blog of an idealistic university student wondering whether he could fulfill a lifelong dream in filmmaking, its topics were both diverse and divisive, a torture for my own readers. It was about anything and everything, those who wanted to read about films would suddenly have to suffer through some random posts about pretty J-pop singers, and those who wanted to look at photos of J-pop singers were forced to endure my barely coherent thoughts on films and literature.

During that period of time, my blog felt like an art project for me to channel my uncertainties, and to satiate my thirst for writing. There was some amount of detachment, and I found myself often trying to disconnect myself from its contents.

But in the past two years, as I got more into filmmaking, my blog became more focused on films, be it my reviews on films, my own filmmaking misadventures or my film festival trips. I was allowed to share my glory and disappointment with my readers, thus making my blog much more personal than it ever was. There was more amount of interaction with the few loyal readers I have, and I am more comfortable with what I write.

Aside from that, the other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr gradually became a bigger part of my blog, their growth feeding off from each other. I am quite fascinated by their symbiotic relationship. They feel like separate entities when I first started my account with them, but the development of technology seemed to encouraging us to merge them all together into one major central for everyone.

For 2009, things will be pretty much the same. More stories and films to share, more great films to introduce, more friends to make, more ideas to exchange, and more photos to show!

New sites to point out is a tough one, but Don’t Forget To Validate Your Parking by Mike Le is a recent favourite. It's a web comic that may be autobiographical, centers on a screenwriter/producer’s adventures in Hollywood. Often funny, more especially if you like to follow the film industry (contains profanities though).

Twitch Film remains a great site for people to follow genre films and Asian cinema (lots of news and reviews of Malaysian cinema here, actually). And Golden Rock, provides useful links and news related to Asian cinema.

Happy 2009!

PASSION FOR TIMES AHEAD is the second part of a 2-part Malay Mail feature published on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. (The first part, OF BLOGS AND REFLECTIONS, featured the local literary bloggers like Sharon Bakar, horror writer Tunku Halim and Eli James)

You can also check out Gabey's August 2008 interview with me, CHICKEN RICE FOR THE WIN.

Or read my previous blog post for more reflections on the past year and my hopes for this year, Happy New Year 2009! Some thoughts on 2008

Full newspaper scan:

Passion for times ahead - Jan 1 2009 interview with Malay Mail

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year 2009! Some thoughts on 2008.

Happy new year, my dear readers! By the time you are reading this, I've already taken a train to Kyoto, and probably doing my New Year Countdown at Nara. This trip to the Kansai region came about just two nights ago. A sudden urge to go somewhere, see some sights, a brief break for myself since most of my Japanese friends had gone back to their hometowns.

There will be photos, and there might even be a video of my trip, even though I've grown to dislike carrying a camcorder around (these days I prefer seeing things with my own eyes and not through a tiny LCD)

As this trip is a spur-of-the-moment thing, i seriously have no idea where it'll take me. I only bought one ticket to Kyoto, that's it, the rest I'll decide after I'm in Tokyo. The trip is short, I have to come back by the 3rd of Jan anyway. Where can I go after Kyoto? I'm thinking Kobe and Osaka. I hope to go to Nagoya and then Nagano even though the latter is not along the way, all because I want to see the snow.

By the time I am writing this, it is only 6:19 pm (Japan time) on the 30th of December. Just a day away from saying goodbye to this amazing year of 2008. My train to Kyoto is tomorrow, 8:30am, New Year's Eve. This is the first time I've ever written a blog post that wasn't meant to be posted immediately.

Back to 2008. The year of the Rat, the year that marked the beginning of the second third cycle of the Chinese horoscope that I'm going through (I was born in the year of the Rat). My mother told me that prophecies from early this year said I would go through some breakthrough with my career, but would face disappointment in romance. I had scoffed in scorn, but now I can't help but feel slightly amused at its accuracy.

Of course, if I were to write about the hurricane of negative emotions I endure with my endless girl problems, this blog post would be even more emo than an angsty teenage girl's, so I'll leave it at that and focus more on the joys I experienced, which far outweighed the negative.

I will remember 2008 as the year where I went back to directing after a year-long stint of producing Ming Jin's works. Following 2007, a year in transition when I suffered some sort of burnout after returning from Perth, and seemingly lost all my creativity and direction after the creation of my student short, GIRL DISCONNECTED. After 2 and a half years in Perth, Malaysia was suddenly alien to me and I needed sometime to adjust. I declared loftily then that the majestic ocean of creativity in my mind had suddenly dried up (being a guy who calls himself 'Great Swifty', of course I am prone to self-aggrandizing)

I always feel some sort of desperation when it comes to creativity, feeling that time would never stop for me, and if I weren't going to do anything, life would just blitz by without notice. So when I was about to put CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY together early this year, I was more than a little excited that I could direct again, and I never became rusty as I've feared. The producing stint had been immensely helpful.

Making the film was a good thing for me not solely because of its subsequent awards and recognition, but because it was like therapy. Just one tiny step forward and the self-proclaimed majestic ocean of creativity was suddenly swirling within my oversized head again! (and more self-aggrandizement from Great Swifty, how classy!) I had so much joy in the filmmaking process, especially when I finally got to work with people who share my passion and whom I could trust. I just couldn't quit it, and it became some sort of addiction. That's why I got a little prolific, following CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY with two other short films, FLEETING IMAGES and LOVE SUICIDES.

I was once asked whether I enjoyed being a filmmaker solely because of the jet-setting lifestyle. To fly to film festivals all the time, basking in fame and glory. I immediately told the guy that it was bullshit, if I made films only for the sake of flying to film festivals, it'll be miserable. How can I not enjoy the process of filmmaking? How to pour my emotions into them if I were so detached? Filmmaking is a high-stress job, and at most times, it can be physically excruciating, especially for one as disorganized as I am who relies more on improvisation than diligent preparations, but I enjoy the thrills, and feel excited about its end product, hoping against hope that I could improve from before. So that's my own joy in filmmaking.

Tokyo is also a great place for creativity. Being in a new environment, meeting new people, learning a new language, trying to adapt to a new culture, how can I not feel inspired? And the trips to those film festivals... Hong Kong, Rome, and finally Dubai. To be surrounded by the real masters, to be united by the common love for films, how can one not feel motivated? I will remember 2008 as the year when, for the first time, I've received some sort of recognition for the quality of my humble works as a filmmaker myself. It's nice to be reassured that the dream I've been chasing after throughout my life was worthwhile. And it was great that my parents also got to see a hint of possibilities that my chosen path is leading me to.

Oh my, this must stop! By constantly looking back at 2008, I feel as if I've been tooting my horn more than a little too much! I always prefer to look forward, due to my love-hate relationship with the past. I occasionally enjoy the walk down memory lane, but I usually view the me from my past as 'inferior'. Afraid of falling into a stagnant state of existence, I constantly try to 'move on', to continue improving. One tend to say that we are defined by our memories and by the things we did in the past. Maybe. But I'll rather not cling to it. (that's why this is a recurring theme in my works)

I always feel conflicted when I meet people I haven't met since high school, I get to conjure fading memories of my life then, and superimpose their faces in it. And I'm being unfair, because immediately I assume that they are identical to how I remember them, without taking into account that people change, especially after so many years. That's the baggage of the past.

How I annoyed I've felt when I knew that they thought the same of me. To assume that the me of now is the same as the me from secondary school, and how can I be taken seriously when I was just an ugly fat nerd then? How can they even understand my passion for filmmaking when I never even bothered talking about it in secondary school (I was already very prideful and I didn't want people to laugh at my dreams) Why would they feel the urge to watch my films even if I've given them the DVDs when the filmmaker in their memory banks is the pimply-faced hideous fat boy who often made a fool of himself in school? But then, does it matter what they think of me now? I am fearful of a stagnant state of existence in my own life, but it isn't up to me to prevent the stagnancy of my existence in their minds.

But oh how I've rambled. How many readers have I lost already due to the incoherence of my thoughts? I don't know why I did that. Maybe I wrote this post to remind the future me not to be contemptuous towards the me from 2008. While the me of 2008 had made some mistakes, overall it's still been a relatively good year. I can only hope for a better one. Same goes with you all.

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