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My Short Films

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" in Wakeijuku

A few things had happened. I completed my new short film, THE WHITE FLOWER, I saw a few films at TOKYO FILMeX too (will try to write about them), parents + sister had also arrived in Tokyo for a visit (and also to attend the Eibunren Awards Ceremony on the 2nd of December).

I also intend to throw myself into my 7th short film of the year. I just need to conjure myself a script. More about that later, I hope.

I live in Wakeijuku dorm, that's the dorm Haruki Murakami lived in. The place had prided itself as the place where Norwegian Woods was based on. My feelings towards the place is a stormy one. But then, it IS situated at a pretty good location, and food and electricity are included in my not-too-unreasonable monthly rental fees.

Two nights ago, at the lounge of my building, there was this performance.



Too bad I don't get that everyday.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finishing up THE WHITE FLOWER

25th to 26th of November. That was the deadline I gave myself to finish my latest film THE WHITE FLOWER. Since KINGYO, I haven't had a film that had such a long post-production, and to think that KINGYO was only 6 months ago. So I've reached the final stages of tweaking the film before doing my first batch of preview screeners for the film.

Luckily for me, as everything was winding down, I find myself being able to sleep properly again. (as in, at my normal sleeping time of 4-5am, unlike the past few weeks where I could only sleep AFTER breakfast, and when the sky's already bright)

I've mentioned before that my key collaborators during the post-production period are Niklas the Cinematographer, who returned to Finland after the shoot, and my old pal Woan Foong the composer, who is now based in US. The film's pretty much worked upon by people in three different continents!

From the WHITE FLOWER shoot
THE WHITE FLOWER shoot in end of July... no, I wasn't peeking


What's left with the film was 1) colour correction (which I swiftly did in a few hours last night) and 2) some missing photos for some scenes that needed some re-shoots.

Over on MSN, I quickly described to Niklas the type of shots I probably needed to insert into the film. And after that... well, Niklas summed up our process accurately:

this is fucking information age workflow, 7000km distance, brainstorm on msn, shoot straight away, download, adjust, upload to server, download on the other side of the world, insert into movie, all in a few hours. this would have taken a week 10 years ago


So now I've just downloaded the photos he had shot and looked at them. Those that work I will insert into the film tomorrow morning when I return to the editing studio. Things are looking good.

The end is near.

(I'm also lucky that Japanese internet connection is so insanely fast. If this is Streamyx, the whole process will probably take longer than a week too. And only if I'm lucky.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

TOKYO FILMeX 2009, Tsai Ming Liang and the opening film 'Visage'

I had a lot of fun in last year's TOKYO FILMeX film festival. (can read about all my blog posts here, til this very day, my review of Sono Sion's LOVE EXPOSURE is still one of the most-read posts in this blog), so I definitely had to come this year. And this time, I even have a pass!

So yup, the opening ceremony was held yesterday evening, at 5:30pm (it's currently 3:20am as I'm writing this). Here are this year's jury members.

The jury members of TOKYO FILMeX 2009
From left to right: film critic Jean Francois Rauger, Toronto Film Fest (Italy/ Asian Cinema) programmer Giovanna Fulvi, filmmaker Sai Yoichi, actress Chen Shiang-chyi and filmmaker Lou Ye (whom I met during my stay in Seoul during August)


The opening film was Tsai Ming Liang's new film VISAGE / FACE. You can read about a brief anecdote of my first meeting with TML 2 years ago if you want). Cheng shiang-chyi is, of course, a regular in Tsai Ming Liang's films. (During the shoot of my short film LOVE SUICIDES, I was heard constantly making instructions like "Cry like Cheng shiang-chyi in WHAT TIME IS IT THERE!".

My star, Arika, however, wasn't too fond of that.

Arika waiting for us to shoot a scene


But anyway, here's a video of both of them introducing VISAGE.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


VISAGE is the first TML film I've ever seen on a big screen (actually, I haven't really seen that many of his films, just WHAT TIME IS IT THERE, GOODBYE DRAGON INN and THE WAYWARD CLOUD), I have to say that the experience is quite different. Watching his films on a small computer screen, I was prone to lose some sort of attention to them, yet seeing it on a big screen, the visuals were more striking, the framing much easier for me to appreciate. It's still a very challenging watch, but there are many images from the film that just pop out. I might actually like this more than GOODBYE, DRAGON INN and THE WAYWARD CLOUD.


Trailer of VISAGE


Here are the two videos I shot of the Q and A session.


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


Since I understood Mandarin, I didn't bother to move to the 'whispering English translators' section, although I guess that would've been useful for the videos above. But anyway, I'll try some brief translations myself. In the first video, TML explained how he was approached by the Louvre back in 2005 (handpicked from a list of 200), during a Francois Truffaut film fest, to make a film for them (it's an art installation of sorts for the museum) TML heard that astronomical sum had to paid by the DA VINCI CODE film team to shoot there, so being able to shoot in the LOUVRE for free, and being able to use some of his cinematic idols? Hell yeah.

So yeah, after that he looked around the Louvre, finding places to shoot, even found out about the underground tunnel (an impressive place in the film, btw) from the fire department.

After that he explained that he wanted to make a film with Jean-Pierre Léaud. Then TML explained how when he first left Malaysia (yes, to the uninitiated, Tsai Ming Liang's Malaysian) and went to university in Taiwan, he saw 400 BLOWS. He was 20. Jean-Pierre Léaud was 14 in the film. But of course, he only discovered the film 20 years after its release. Tsai Ming Liang and Jean-Pierre Léaud first met when he asked him to cameo in WHAT TIME IS IT THERE?

(continued in the second video)

Over the years he realized that Jean-Pierre Léaud seemed to have aged too quickly. TML wanted to make another film with Jean-Pierre Léaud, but couldn't find any opportunities until VISAGE came along. He thought Jean-Pierre Léaud's face existed for film, and felt that he was given a chance by his (TML's) idol, Truffaut, to shoot an aged Jean-Pierre Léaud, which Truffaut never had the chance to do.

Truffaut's collaboration with Jean-Pierre Léaud reminded TML of his own collaboration with Lee Kang Sheng, whom he had worked with since he was 20. Since the faces of both men had been so important to him, he wanted to make sure he will immortalize them for the Louvre.

I stopped recording the session after this, because it's exhausting, and my hands were visibly shaking if you look at videos.

One audience member asked TML to explain some plot points of the film. TML said he hoped VISAGE will be picked up for theatrical distribution in Japan so that audiences can see it a few more times. Said that his film (like his other films) is opened for interpretation, and that he prefers it if they were like a book for someone to digest after reading.

Then he quoted a Taiwanese monk, who said: "If you don't understand now, you might understand it tomorrow, if you don't understand it tomorrow, you might understand it next year, if you don't understand it by next year, you'll understand it in ten years." So he urged audiences to take their time, no need to seek answers that soon.

After we left the hall, TML was mobbed by audiences.


(Click here if cannot see embedded video)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Me, kingyo, Eibunren Awards wins, mentioned in Uni Press newsletter

I have blamed my recent sleeping problems on work (the heavily intense post-production of my short film THE WHITE FLOWER), I've even constantly tweeted (+facebook status update) about it. But moments ago, a guzheng-playing Twitter friend Seren Koo replied to me by suggesting that writing down my ideas and what I want to do would liberate thoughts from my mind, and thus making it easier to sleep.

I realized that my lack of sleep seems to correlate with my lack of blog updates. Many times, writing a blog post at night for me can be quite (mentally) exhausting (despite said post being deceptively mindless!), and I can just drift off to sleep after that. Thus I will start writing something long, and insightful and mentally taxing just so I can exhaust myself enough to sleep.

Alas, the blog post you're reading now is probably not one of them.

On the 5th of November, an article of me on the Japanese newsletter called Uni Press came out. Uni Press has something to do with Japan's Eibunren Awards, which recently bestowed upon me two awards for my short film KINGYO, one being the Semi-Grand Prix, the other an individual award called the New Creator award.

Uni Press newsletter

Article of me and kingyo on Uni Press newsletter


If you know Japanese, you can click each picture to get a larger version and read the text.

But for the others, now, in order to exhaust myself even further. I'll try to give a brief translation of the article.

First page of the article introduces me briefly, as a filmmaker who is working at the Malaysian production company GREENLIGHT PICTURES, and am also doing my Masters in Film in Waseda University. And then there's a synopsis of KINGYO, which is about a university professor taking a 'maid tour' in Akihabara, Tokyo during one winter night, and how his conversations with the tour guide dressed in maid costume gradually reveal memories of their past, and a love triangle that continues to haunt them etc. Film's inspired by the works of Yasunari Kawabata, with the plot of his short story 'Canaries' combined with certain elements of 'Snow Country'. Film is noted for its use of split screens in almost the entire length of its running time.

Asked how I felt about winning the 'New Creator' award, I said I was flattered but of course this all happened thanks to the cast and crew in KINGYO. As a director I believe I'm something like a conductor in an orchestra, without the rest of the team members, there won't be any music going on anyway.


Article of me and kingyo on Uni Press newsletter 2


In page 2, more of my background: How my dad being a film critic influenced me as a child, and how, until this very day, if I were Malaysia, I would catch at least a film a week with dad.

Asked when I wanted to be a director and I said I wanted to be one since I was 5-6, there were vague memories of watching a scary film (actually it was 'TREMORS', starring Kevin Bacon), when mom, in order to prevent me from freaking out, started deconstructing for me what I saw on the screen, telling me how these were all machinations and illusions conjured by the movie director. Assuming that movie directors were badasses, becoming one became a lifelong dream.

After doing my degree (majored in marketing, minored in English literature) in Murdoch University, Perth, I stayed around for another year to do a Graduate Diploma course in filmmaking. Mom gave me my first camcorder just before I went to Australia so I could film anything I thought was nice. I decided to teach myself how to edit, and got friends to make 'home videos' for me (some of them are still lying around on the Internet, and in fact, links are provided in some sections of this blog, but I won't reveal where, hah).

Went back to Malaysia in 2006, joined Greenlight Pictures in 2007. Started out as producer before switching back to directing in 2008 with CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, which won two awards at BMW Shorties 2008 and also got selected for competition in the Dubai Film Festival 2008.

Shortly after shooting CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY I moved to Tokyo, and my subsequent films would be loose adaptations, or interpretations, of Yasunari Kawabata works.

My first one being LOVE SUICIDES, and then followed by KINGYO. (I made no mention of my video essay FLEETING IMAGES, which actually preceded LOVE SUICIDES, during the interview because that was a few weeks before I knew I won the Grand Prize for the film at the CON-CAN Movie Festival)

Article of me and kingyo on Uni Press newsletter 3


Nothing much in this page, just me explaining my love for Japanese literature from the early 20th century, and also how I grew up with Japanese films, drama, anime and manga, which may have influenced my decision to do my Masters in this country. I also pointed out that Japanese films had long made their mark on the international stage with the works of Ozu and Kurosawa, so I thought there would be a lot for me to learn here. I think I also made some mention about how, after learning from the West (Australia), I needed a balance from the East as well.

Then I spoke out some themes that KINGYO was about, love, loss, longing, regret, urban isolation etc.

Article of me and kingyo on Uni Press newsletter 4


In this page, I mentioned how being a foreigner allowed me to look at certain aspects of Japanese culture in an entirely different perspective. So instead of having prejudice against the cosplay maids of Akihabara, I initially likened them to modern-day geishas. I was fascinated by the nature of their work and the aesthetics of their costumes, more than just objectifying them or disregarding them as embodiment of the 'shameful' Otaku culture. (Of course, I didn't bother to mention how many native Japanese people had sniggered, scoffed, when I mentioned I was making a film about an Akihabara maid back then, thank you for being so classy, guys)

I then had to explain why I wanted to use split screens for the film.

But I guess Mark Saint-Cyr's review of KINGYO on J-Film Pow Wow explained my stylistic choice much better and eloquently than I can anyway. So here's an excerpt:

Easily the most remarkable feature of the film is its use of split-screen. I have long been of the opinion that such methods as multi-frame composition signify the next logical step in furthering the creative potential of the cinematic medium, with Canadian director Bruce McDonald’s "The Tracey Fragments" serving as a winning example of such experimentation in narrative film form. While that film often uses several images on the screen (arranged and edited in often complex patterns), Yeo keeps it to a maximum of only two at once for "Kingyo", but even then, the benefits of this stylistic choice are clearly seen. Its effectiveness simply comes from the way various shots play off of each other when juxtaposed on the same screen, communicating both their own meanings and different ones altogether when considered in relation to one another. Because of this element, composition and editing take on a new importance and yield more creative rewards for both the filmmaker and the viewer, and surely enough, Yeo’s careful control over the split-screen technique in his film creates a fascinating dynamic that, with the right cuts and selection of images, speaks volumes through purely visual means.


After that when asked about my future, I said that ideally, I would like to make films in both countries, Malaysia and Japan.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wrapping up my Pusan Film Festival 2009 experience (part 2)

Oh, it seems that I only have 3 photos and two videos that I haven't uploaded from last month's Pusan Film Fest, so I'll do it now.

12th of October, 2009. Last night in Busan (I realized that I've been making a mistake by repeatedly referring to the place as 'Pusan' instead of 'Busan' when the city's official name has long been changed to the latter). There was a Wide Angle party. The Wide Angle program of the Pusan Film Festival includes the documentary and short film competitions.

This is Kirsten Tan, Singaporean filmmaker currently based in New York. She had a short film in competition.

With Singapore filmmaker Kirsten Tan


Here's a short film 'Long Walks', which I assume is directed by the same Kirsten Tan I know.


(Click here if you can't see embedded video)


This is Singaporean filmmaker/ visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen.

With Singaporean filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen

We met at the Venice Film Fest a month earlier (he had a video installation there). Our paths kinda-sorta crossed again when both of our short films (my FLEETING IMAGES and his REFLECTIONS were screened at the same programme of the Singapore Short Film Festival in end of September, though I didn't see him then)

Tzu Nyen's feature film, HERE, which premiered at the Cannes Film Fest, was showing in PIFF.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


As I glanced outside, I saw the Busan bridge glistening beautiful in the night.

busan bridge


But actually, the real reason why I posted this blog post is to share with you all an awesome video of PIFF director Kim Dong Ho dancing.



(click here if you can't see embedded video)


As everyone was dancing, I caught sight of fireworks again and exited the bar.

I trudged through the sand, trying to get a better look. The loud music behind me, which I was never comfortable with, gradually faded away, replaced by the sounds of the gentle waves.


(click here if you can't see embedded video)

Wrapping up my Pusan Film Festival 2009 experience (part 1)

The post-production of THE WHITE FLOWER had seriously made me insomniac (or gave me messed up sleep patterns), so aside from being able to catch a nap from 1 to 3am, I've been widely awake since then.

So I decided to try to unload the remainder of photos from last month's trip at the Pusan Film Festival. I think I'll finish everything in two posts.

PIFF Center during evening

Outside the PIFF Center


After the screening of WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, the rest of my days in Pusan were spent on attending functions, parties, meeting people, looking around the Asian Film Market, trying to see a film but missing it in the end (I ended up only seeing MUNDANE HISTORY at the festival, just one film in a festival! A personal low).

On the 11th of October. I think I sat through two interviews with the Korean press. it was during these interviews that I found out WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER is the first film in history that received both the SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT FUND and the POST-PRODUCTION FUND from the Asian Cinema Fund (established by the Pusan Film Festival to support Asian filmmakers, both financial support and also technical support, as in the case of WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER). And I think ACF's support throughout the production of WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER had been invaluable, especially for the post-production, whem they helped us with the digital intermediate, sound-mixing, and then the transfer to 35mm etc. (I described some of the process here).

That night we had the Asian Cinema Fund award ceremony, where a certificate (I think) was presented to Ming Jin.

Asian Cinema Fund Award Ceremony

Ming Jin receiving awards from the Asian Cinema Fund

Asian Cinema Fund supported WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER


These are all the recipients of the ACF. The Thai film MUNDANE HISTORY, which was competing at the New Currents, and was the only film I saw at the festival, is also supported by ACF.

This is the MUNDANE HISTORY lead actor Phakpoom Surapongsanuruk (he and I share the same birthday! Though we were born 3 years apart. He's young... but utterly daring in his performance in the film) and the somewhat super deformed-looking (it's really a compliment) WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER lead actress Foo Fei Ling

WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER actress Fei Ling with MUNDANE HISTORY actor Phakpoom Surapongsanuruk


After that we headed straight to Thien See's birthday party. (She's the actress of Ho Yuhang's SANCTUARY and RAIN DOGS, James Lee's CALL IF YOU NEED ME, Tan Chui Mui's short EVERYDAY EVERYDAY). She was also the main actress of Charlotte Lim's MY DAUGHTER, which was competing at NEW CURRENTS too.

This is her with the male stripper.

Seng Tat was the stripper at Thien See's birthday party


(Yes, most Malaysian award-winning independent filmmakers are still struggling so much that occasionally they have to take side jobs as male strippers in birthday parties. It's sort of a Diablo Cody in reverse.)

A group photo from the party.

Group photo at Thien See's birthday party


After that some of us headed straight to the Filmmakers' Night (or was it party?)

I met and spoke briefly to the director-actor of the much talked about Korean film, BREATHLESS (DDONGPARI) briefly (alas, I still haven't seen the film), Yang Ik-jun, and also the main actress Kim Kkot-bi.



We went to the roof and Ming Jin introduced us the buildings of Pusan which he had a hand in designing back in the 1920s.



The Filmmakers Party

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

17th of November. Mom's Birthday.

It's 5am now. I'm supposed to wake up in 2 hours to go for an early (press?) screening of ZERO FOCUS at Shinjuku Wald 9.

But then, it's my mom's birthday, and for two consecutive years, I've always made an issue out of it on this blog (read my 2007 and 2008 blog post). This year will not be an exception, since I won't be able to dig out some lost videos of my mom floating around on the Internet like I did last year, I'll share some anecdotes with you all.

There's this restaurant called ORGANIC RECIPE. It's located in a condominium called Casa Utama, at Bandar Utama in Petaling Jaya (note to international readers: Petaling Jaya is where I live in Malaysia, a city next to Kuala Lumpur)

Organic Recipe restaurant


It's a nice-looking vegetarian restaurant.

Organic Recipe restaurant interior 1

Organic Recipe restaurant interior 2


Serves some really good food.

Organic Recipe restaurant food
That's Vegetarian spaghetti


Look on the right of the photo below. A newspaper clipping is framed upon its wall.

Organic Recipe restaurant interior 3


It's an article of its, ah, 'endorser'.

Mom endorses Organic Recipe restaurant


That's my mom.

Mom seriously endorses Organic Recipe restaurant


Originally I was going to stop my blog post here. But then I realized that aside from photos of the restaurant above, which I visited sometime around August, just before my trip to Seoul, there are still a couple of videos and photos I shot in Malaysia that I've forgotten to upload.

On August 31st 2009, Malaysia celebrates its 52nd year of what we can reluctantly believe as independence.

Mom attended a Buddhist ceremony.

At the 15-second mark of the video below, you'll see my mom (well, her back anyway) and my grandma.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


When your friends and family are also at the ceremony (aside from Grandma, my cousins, my aunt etc. were there), how can you not enjoy the solidarity? My mom sure does.

Having grown up in such events (Buddhist praying ceremonies, I mean), and having attended a few myself. I always thought that they were endurance-testing processes, where you have to try to push away physical discomfort and impatience.

Buddhist ceremony

During a Buddhist ceremony


People bowing during Buddhist ceremony

Buddhist hall


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)



When I was 13, I was brought to one ceremony where I had to shave my head and 'become' a monk for a week. I wasn't alone. I was with some of my cousins, and some dear friends too. There were seven of us, and being among the youngest in the temple then, we were later given the nicknames 'Seven Little Fortunes'.

It was quite a test for me, but like I said, once you realize that you're not alone in this, the experience can be quite memorable. Enduring an entire day of non-stop praying and chanting together, and then enjoying the simple little pleasures together. Ah.

My attention often wandered during a prayer ceremony, I would look around, studying faces, look at those I know, spot the recognizable ones, and admire the fact that their attention never seem to waver like I do.

I digress, but my point is, this camaraderie, this solidarity, they are definitely something my mom cherishes in a Buddhist ceremony.

Here's mom with her mom.

Mom praying with grandma
(mom and grandma)


Happy birthday, mom.



(... now, leave your birthday wishes here)

Deciding upon the music for THE WHITE FLOWER

Today's my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, mom. But I'll get to that later.

I am still knee deep in the post-production of my new film THE WHITE FLOWER, which I'm trying to complete by end of this month.

_MG_6875
A shot from WHITE FLOWER


The two key participants during this whole process, aside from the main cast members (Zhu Dan, Kong and Toru Inamura, who played the doctor) whom I got back to do voiceovers with, had been Niklas the cinematographer/photographer and also my old secondary school friend, Woan Foong (WF), who had offered to do the music composing for me.

Niklas had returned to Finland after the shoot, while WF's been based in US for the past few years. I can only contact them via the net (the former with Facebook chat, the latter with Gmail chat).

Usually what I do is that I edit a sequence, and I'll email the video files to them, show them what I'm missing, ask for suggestions. Been working like that for the past few weeks, I could almost relate to the whole 'Wes Anderson directing FANTASTIC MR FOX via email' controversy. (more details here)

After that, Niklas would compile additional photos for me to use in the film, while WF would put together some music pieces. The former sending me via Facebook message, the latter via email. I'm fortunate that I have a messed up sleeping pattern (I usually fall asleep, or have a 'night nap' from 11pm and wake up around 2am, and then stay awake through the night before i sleep again after breakfast at 7:30am, yes, it's THAT messed up), so time difference isn't a major issue.

Now, here's a sample of how I make decisions on the music for THE WHITE FLOWER. From GMAIL chat.

2:50 AM
WF: i am giving you layerings for cello. Is there anything else that you want?

me: any suggestions? i'll probably stick with cello stuff for now

2:55 AM
WF: well, i was thinking i can give you some noise sounds from the cello
you can fit it in wherever to add more colour?

me: yessss!

WF: k
i am trying to avoid giving something rhythmic

me: something more like KRRROOOOOOO

WOOOOOOOOOOOO

or KROOOOOOOEEEEEEEEIIIIEEAAA is fine too

WF: LOL

Saturday, November 14, 2009

KINGYO receives two awards at Eibunren Awards

[kingyo] A nocturnal conversation at the carpark


I actually knew about this back in September, when I was in Singapore for the Singapore Short Film Festival. Maiko the Producer called me then to tell about the good news, but since the awards ceremony is in December, I didn't think there was any need to announce this earlier.

But since I've already announced about FLEETING IMAGES winning the Grand Prix at the CON-CAN Movie Festival, I'll make a mention of this as well.

So yes, my Japanese short film KINGYO had picked up two awards from Japan's Eibunren Awards: The Semi-Grand Prix (or Silver Grand Prix) and Best New Creator (also occasionally referred to as the Best New Director award) awards.

Organized by the Japanese Ministry of Culture and the Japanese Association of Audiovisual Producers, I was told that this is the first time an independent narrative short film had ever received a major award from the association. And in order to commemorate this, I became their first ever recipient of the Best New Creator award.

Definitely very honoured by this.

The awards ceremony will be on the 2nd of December. Parents and sister are attending.



Trailer of KINGYO (click here if you cannot see embedded video)

Wayne Wang's film adaptation of Yiyun Li's A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS

A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers


Caught a free screening of A THOUSAND YEAR OF GOOD PRAYERS in uni yesterday evening (a day before it opens in Japanese theaters, check out Kaori Shoji's review on Japan Times). Went because I read Yiyun Li's anthology of short stories of the same name just a couple of weeks earlier (which I really enjoyed).

I liked parts of it, but the rest, I had mixed feelings. The original source material's pretty sparse, so I did enjoy some things that director Wayne Wang had expanded upon from the short story, like Mr Shi's comedic interaction with other people (aside from his conversations with the Iranian lady at the park, I don't think his misadventures with the Mormons, and the shopping for his daughter's present, were in the original text), but not so much with the others (most notably the somewhat hopeful ending). Even so, I was a little distracted by how characters would, you know, say one line in Mandarin, and then conveniently translate it into English (...for the non-Chinese speaking audiences). Or during a fight, one suddenly shouts something in English, then repeats line again in Mandarin. Kinda took me out of the film.

Henry O's a good actor, and yeah, he won the Best Actor award at the San Sebastian Film Fest 2007 (film was also honoured with the Golden Shell Award, as in, Best Film). Yet I started wondering whether the film would have benefited from a lead actor who, ya know, really had limited command of English.


trailer of A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS (click here if cannot see embedded video)


Wayne Wang actually made a companion piece for this film called PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA in the same year, also an adaptation of Yiyun Li's short story of the same title, which was actually an inspiration of sorts for my last short film, the unreleased AFTERNOON RIVER, EVENING SKY. I liked the PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA short story more, so am still quite intrigued to check out its film adaptation. Think the only person I know who had seen both was Sebastian (who disliked both films, didn't like one much, and was somewhat indifferent to the other. Read his review).

Most reviews regarded this as the lesser film, and I think it seemed to take more creative liberties from the original text. Still intrigued. Will try to hunt this film now.


Princess of Nebraska trailer (click here if can't see embedded video player)


For the time being I'm going to continue watching the remaining 3.5 hours of Bela Tarr's 7-hour-film SATANTANGO (which I've been seeing on and off the past two weeks, not a recommended way to enjoy this film, I'll say)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Waseda Weekly Magazine (12th of November, 2009)

There's a profile of Maiko the Producer and I on Waseda Weekly magazine that came out today (actually, yesterday, since it's 2am now).

Cover of Waseda Weekly (12th of Nov, 2009)


The article is mostly about our personal backgrounds and KINGYO. Some stuff about how I met Maiko the Producer by random last year, and due to our shared tastes in films and literature, how we ended up making KINGYO together. Then there's also the reception for KINGYO we had at the Venice Film Festival.

Article about me and Maiko the Producer


A better view of the photo from the article:

With Maiko the Producer (Waseda Weekly photoshoot)


A couple of people who had seen the photo remarked that Maiko should be standing in front instead of me since I made her look even tinier.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My short film FLEETING IMAGES wins Grand Prix at Japan's CON-CAN Movie Festival

I received a phone call yesterday morning from the CON-CAN Movie Festival. They told me that my experimental short, FLEETING IMAGES, had won the Grand Prix.

Fleeting Images


I was shocked.

The award ceremony will be next month, along with the film's Japanese premiere.

In a year when one surprise after another had happened with my filmmaking career (LOVE SUICIDES getting into Paris Cinema Film Festival, KINGYO getting into the Venice Film Festival), the sudden festival life FLEETING IMAGES had gotten is one of the most surprising.

FLEETING IMAGES had the misfortune of being made between my narrative shorts, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY and LOVE SUICIDES. So often I've overlooked its existence. Due to its unconventional nature (it is a video essay inspired by Chris Marker's SANS SOLEIL made using travel videos and additional footage I shot in Tokyo, with a somewhat stream-of-consciousness-like voiceover narration), it had the most divisive reactions among my audiences. Some liked it and called it dream-like and poetic. Most with traditional expectations for cinema and films hadn't been kind to FLEETING IMAGES, with accusations of it being a dishonest 'assemblage of recycled goods' or 'the Heaven's Gate of my short films'.

I respect everyone's feedback, and I guess because I was easily swayed by feedback then, I couldn't commit to my vision of the film, which was, I think, a youthful mistake, and so I left the film in the shelf after I went on with making my subsequent short films like LOVE SUICIDES and KINGYO. But then, film-viewing is indeed a subjective experience, so I was foolish to question the value of what I made.

FLEETING IMAGES' selection by this year's CON-CAN Movie Festival and Singapore Short Film Festival (the film had a simultaneous international premiere in both festivals on the same day) were pleasant surprises.

Here's the selection process of the CON-CAN Movie Festival as described by its website.

Running in parallel with the Audience Awards from July, 2009, the 6th CON-CAN Competition has finally come to a conclusion. The best 24 movies were first chosen by the preliminary juries in October and then from these 24, 1 Grand Prix Award, 1 Special Jury Award, and 4 Best Picture Awards for each category (Fiction, Documentary, Animation, & Experimental) were chosen by the 5 International Jury members, last week.


I'm really very honoured by this. And of course, I would also like to congratulate the other award-winners: Belgium's Monica Gallab, director of "Nice day for a picnic" [Special Jury Award], Japan's Takashi Nishara, director of "Jun and Ema" [Best Picture Awards (Fiction)] and China's Huaqing Jin, director of wa quan (Living with Shame) [Best Picture Awards (Documentary)]. And to the other filmmakers whose films were selected by the festival this year, congratulations too, since I am sure your shorts will be seen by audiences for years to come.

This is the trailer of FLEETING IMAGES.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


This is its SYNOPSIS:

A young woman narrates a series of emails from an old friend traveling in India and Japan. Some mundane, some rambling, some philosophical. He is seeking life's meaning in his travels, but perhaps all he wants to do is to view the sunset. Part documentary, part travelogue, maybe a love letter. An experimental essay-film.


Yes, Nicolekiss is in the film, though by accident.

Actually, I first knew about CON-CAN Movie Festival back in 2005 when I started dabbling in filmmaking, and had always wanted to submit a short film to them. Looking at the finalists then, I was floored by the quality of those films. They motivated me to improve myself, so CON-CAN Movie Festival has a special place in my heart, and receiving the award is like a dream.

You can watch the entire FLEETING IMAGES here once you sign up for the website.

Waseda Festival 2009

I realized that last year, around this time, I was in Malaysia (for a brief trip to Rome and the Rome Film Festival), so I missed out the Waseda Festival.

I didn't even know about the Waseda Festival, which was held last weekend until I saw people setting up on Friday (as I was on my way to my lab to record Zhu Dan's guzheng performance).

The festival was held on Saturday and Sunday, but I was only there on Saturday.

This is the tiny North Gate of Waseda University. I was actually, once again, on my way to the editing lab.

The North Gate of Waseda University


I was trying to take a photo of the lolita maids. The chick, unfortunately, thought I was taking a photo of her, hence her "you make me sick" expression.

I was trying to take photos of the lolita maids

Waseda Festival


There were some singing performances.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


I had some yakitori from this booth.

Yakitori booth


... It was interesting to taste half-cooked chicken.

I went back to the festival again later during the day. This time with Maiko, Kong, Liu Jing (she's the assistant producer for THE WHITE FLOWER) and Zhang Qi (we're in the same campus, she occasionally helps the Shanghai International Film Fest).


(click here if you cannot see the embedded video)


This time I had some (fully-cooked, thankfully) yakitori in another booth. Some sausages, with tartar sauce and mayonnaise, and yakisoba (fried soba). They were decent.

Waseda Festival after the sunset

After the sunset, I followed Kong and Maiko off, they were having an audition session for Kong's short film 'IN THE FLESH' (a loose adaptation of occasional ex-guestblogger and published writer Justin's short story 'I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like'. BTW: Go read writer Quentin S. Crisp's interview with Justin that was posted back in August)

I won't be posting videos of the auditions until Kong and Maiko have finalized their cast. Would be disrespectful to post up videos of those who didn't get selected anyway.

I was around to give some guidance on how to run the audition (and also to keep an eye out for possible candidates for my future projects, hah)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Cute kittens

Saw these outside my editing lab in the evening just now.

Group of cute kittens

Really cute kittens


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Zhu Dan touches her... Guzheng

It's strange how quickly a week had just flown by like that. It happens all the time when I'm in post-production for a film. Each day just goes by in a blur, and I myself lose the concept of day and night, for the past few nights I had spent sleepless nights in the editing lab for my new short film THE WHITE FLOWER. I usually go home around 6am, sometimes I get to eat breakfast, and then sleep at around 8am, then waking up at 12pm, and then going back to work again.

THE WHITE FLOWER is a challenging film because, aside from it being constructed almost entirely with still photos (which is a nightmare to edit by itself), I myself still have to various sound jobs. Recording voiceover narrations from the three main characters, recording sound effects, downloading sound effects, discussing with my two primary collaborators, Niklas (the cinematographer) and Woan Foong (the composer) about what I need for the film through the net (Niklas is in Finland, Woan Foong is in US), because I'm a crazy nocturnal, the time difference doesn't affect me much.

I always believe that you learning something new whenever you make a film, and for me, making short films is a constant learning experience for filmmaking, that's why I've been so prolific this year (shot 6 short films this year, though only four will be in my official record this year, since I've merged two into one, and another was just a practice for a cinematographer course I took) For THE WHITE FLOWER, I can say that I learn the most when it came to sound, having to teach myself how to do sound mixing and all after recording.

Two days ago I had to record some guzheng music for the film. So I enlisted the only guzheng player I know in Japan, my good friend Zhu Dan, who is also the unfortunate main actress of THE WHITE FLOWER.

This is me carrying her guzheng into my lab.

Me carrying Zhu Dan's guzheng


(To the uninitiated, Zhu Dan plays a guzheng player in the film)



Back in this old post of mine, I posted these videos of the film shoot.



(Click here if you cannot see the embedded video player)



(Click here if you cannot see the embedded video player)

But anyway, back in Friday, I asked Zhu Dan to play a couple of pieces with her guzheng, and she did.

I have recorded our recording session on video, because I'm narcissistic and I felt that one of these days, I have to record myself in action and directing, so here you go. My buddy Kong, who was one of the three main actors of THE WHITE FLOWER, was there to help out as well.


(click here if you cannot see embedded video)


At the 1:13 minute mark, she asked whether I've switched off the camera (she was paranoid about being filmed that day, being without make-up and all), I said "yup, switched off". She wasn't dumb enough to fall for that though, hence the laughter. Of course, I assured her that it was really about filming myself.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Zhu Dan touches herself... er, wait....

Zhu Dan touches herself (but ends up touching some guy's butt)


Sorry, I just couldn't resist the blog post title.

Last night was Halloween. I remained rooted in the editing lab, editing my new film THE WHITE FLOWER. Which, in case you don't know, starred my friends Zhu Dan and Kong.

Kong, at the meantime, had been prolific. After finishing his debut short film CENSORED (which was Zhu Dan's debut role, read here and here), he had been making his new experimental sci-fi short STARDUST MEMORIES (also starring Zhu Dan, she's really his muse, though alas, solely in a strictly professional manner). I was just whining to Zhu Dan that since she's been acting for everyone, I have to look at images of her everyday in the editing lab, not just from my computer, but also Kong's.

Two nights ago Kong was trying to finish up STARDUST MEMORIES with one last scene. My friends, Yang Yang (last seen here) and Ko-san (last seen here), visited the set too.

Kong, Yang Yang, Ko-san, Zhu Dan on the set of Stardust Memories
From left to right: Kong, Yang Yang, Ko-san and Zhu Dan


The scene's setup: Kong's previous film CENSORED was projected upon Zhu Dan, and she had to interact with the projected images.

Kong thought the whole setup was familiar.


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


I thought so too. I figured it was something Godard had done, though I had no idea which one.

Then I thought of Yoshishige Yoshida's film, EROS PLUS MASSACRE, which I watched a few months earlier. It wasn't exactly like that either.



(Although I guess EROS + MASSACRE crossed my mind because it opened with a scene of a woman sitting just like that, though without any projectors involved. And there was also a scene of the same woman watching something through a projector, so everything got mixed up)

Then Kong asked Zhu Dan to interact with the images of her from the projector. It was so totally meta, to see her interacting with images of her from a previous movie she did.


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


Of course, at the meantime, I was throwing suggestions too. Like "I know!!! Maybe she can, like, KISS the image or something!" which received "*sigh* there he goes again" looks from the rest of the gang before they went on with the shoot and disregarding my oh-so-invaluable suggestions.


(click here if you can't see embedded video)


After the shoot, as we returned to the editing room. Something struck Kong.

"I know! This was the opening of Ingmar Bergman's PERSONA! I just imitated him subconsciously!"


(go to the 4:30 min mark)


(Kong did a thesis on Ingmar Bergman when he was in Thailand)
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