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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preparing THE TIGER FACTORY for Cannes

The past few days went by in an even quicker blur. Day became night, night became day, sometimes I didn't sleep, sometimes a nap is treated as a sleep, I have lost all sense of time.

I went back to Malaysia for 3 nights to:

1) Edit the final version of THE TIGER FACTORY for the screening in Cannes.
2) Fix the subtitles
3) Wrote a press release
4) Went through a quick interview while I was editing
5) Designed the opening credits
6) Compile the list for end credits and also design it

The rendering process took hours, it was unable to finish it, yet I had a deadline to beat in Tokyo. So I brought the hard disk containing the film back to Tokyo on Sunday and headed straight to the editing lab, continuing with the gruelingly tedious process.

One of the worst things that could happen is that you sat through 7-8 hours waiting for a film to render, or exporting it into a video file, only to then realize that things didn't work out, colours looking all messed up, weird lines appearing on the images, etc. And then you had to pinpoint the source of the problem, and then go through the process again.

That happened to me.


So it was another couple of sleepless nights in the editing lab, (in which I was also helping to coordinate the trip to Cannes) I realized in horror that the whole 7-8 hours rendering process that I went through a few times were all... unnecessary. The initial program used for the colour correction was what caused the rendering to be that slow, I removed things and REDID the colour correcton from scratch.

I was relieved to solve the problem, relieved enough to not feel sickened by the unnecessary amount of time I wasted.

It was tiring to have to do so many things at once.

After the film was done, and we delivered it to Qtech for the HDcam transfer, we had to move on to the second stage. Another sleepless night spent in the editing lab for the poster design.

Two nights ago Kubouchi and Stephen were working on one of the two posters we were going to print in Japan. Golden Week was coming soon, so we had only a day to send the design to the printing company.

Kubouchi and Stephen working on THE TIGER FACTORY poster

Kubouchi working on THE TIGER FACTORY poster.


The next day, it was done. Ming Jin arrived in Tokyo with his wife, Tomoko. Just in time to see the finished designs.

The other version is a painting done by Wen Shing and the Korean painter Hwang Ouchul.

Kubouchi with THE TIGER FACTORY posters

Two versions of THE TIGER FACTORY posters

Filmmaking is often a collaborative effort, even after the film is long complete. The promotional aspects, and all these preparations for next months' screening in Cannes Film Festival involve numerous people who weren't initially involved in the actual shoot. All these different people of different backgrounds, ideals, temperaments, pooling what they can do for the film, it's not really about the money, it's really about liking to do what you can do, some sort of passion, some sort of craziness. That is why we are all part of these. For a producer it can be a delicate balancing act, to ensure everyone is helping out voluntarily and not out of obligation, and even if it had been the latter, there would always be some sort of emotional stake in it. In the end, we might really have to believe that what we are doing is really bigger than what we are.

And for me, this is what it is. Many times I have said that this whole... film thing, is the only thing i have, everything else in life is a disappointment. This is a constant act of chasing something that most would dismiss as non-existent, deriving from this perverse pleasure of proving doubters wrong. But who are these doubters? Most of the time they are imagined. Imaginary foes to fuel my motivation. What a life I lead.

I am leaving for Cannes in two weeks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Behind a scene of THE TIGER FACTORY


This was shot on the 6th of March (my birthday!), during the 4th day of THE TIGER FACTORY shoot. Pang the Sound Guy had to play a minor role, so it was up to the director Woo Ming Jin himself to carry the boom mic.

Making films in Malaysia, you kinda have to do everything.

(another 2 hours before I head off to Narita Airport)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Returning to Malaysia for 3 nights to finish THE TIGER FACTORY edit

Pearlly Chua and Lai Fooi Mun in THE TIGER FACTORY
Pearlly Chua and Lai Fooi Mun in THE TIGER FACTORY

Ever since the news announcement of THE TIGER FACTORY's Directors' Fortnight selection in the Cannes Film Festival (once again, I would like to point out that the film is a Malaysian - Japanese co-production, which wasn't mentioned in the initial press release, nor written on the official website!!) I haven't been getting any proper sleep. Last night I slept (more like fell asleep before the computer) at 12am and woke up at 3am. Then after that I just started replying to many emails from some publicists and distribution companies who had interest in our film, and then had email exchanges with Prof Ando the executive producer, who was also awake.

I was going to sleep at 6am when Prof Ando called me and asked whether I could fly back to Malaysia immediately.

The situation is like this: Ming Jin has the master copy of the film. By next Monday (26th) we need to send the film somewhere for a HDCAM transfer, and after that deliver the HDCAM to France for a DCP transfer.

Lots of transferring are involved to ensure a screening at the Cannes Film Fest. But the problem now is that Ming Jin is unable to come to Tokyo earlier with his master copy, AND there are still some minor editing that has to be done with the film. While he had hoped to do the editing after he comes to Tokyo next Tuesday (27th), we will not have any time left.

Therefore I must return to Malaysia, help with finishing the editing, and then come back to Tokyo myself on Sunday with the film just so we could beat the Monday deadline (26th).

Prof. Ando had managed to help me book my ticket back to Malaysia, and I will be heading to Narita Airport in perhaps around 6 hours. Taking to the skies again. My time in Malaysia will be rather short, just 3 nights, solely to finish up THE TIGER FACTORY and bring it back to Tokyo. Would be nice if I could attend the press conference on Monday, alas it's not to be.

THE TIGER FACTORY goes to Cannes Film Festival

Dear all,

The past two days had been a blur. Woo Ming Jin's THE TIGER FACTORY, which I produced and co-wrote, had been selected for The Directors' Fortnight section in next month's Cannes Film Festival.

Preggers Ping (Lai Fooi Mun) bathing pigs in The Tiger Factory

Principal photography of THE TIGER FACTORY started in March, and I mentioned back then how I spent my birthday in the pig farm because of the shoot. It's all worth it!

THE TIGER FACTORY is the third Malaysian film, after U-Wei Haji Saari's KAKI BAKAR (in the Un Certain Regard section, 1995) and Chris Chong's KARAOKE (in Directors' Fortnight, 2009), to be chosen for Cannes. (... and also the first Malaysian film in Cannes that doesn't start with a 'k' in its title)

Ming Jin also becomes the first Malaysian director in history to participate in all three of the 'Big Three' film festivals: Berlin Film Festival (his feature debut, MONDAY MORNING GLORY at the Forum section in 2006), Venice Film Festival (the award-winning WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, which I also produced and edited, at the Orrizonti section in 2009) and now THE TIGER FACTORY in the Directors' Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival.

THE TIGER FACTORY, starring Lai Fooi Mun (Charlotte Lim's "MY DAUGHTER") and Pearlly Chua (Tsai Ming Liang's "I DON'T WANT TO SLEEP ALONE") is a Malaysian-Japanese co-production, it marks the first collaboration between Malaysia's Greenlight Pictures and Japan's Waseda University Ando Laboratory (who were also behind my short film, KINGYO), and hopefully, the first one for many more to come.

It was on Sunday, when I was following Golden Rock's live blog of the Hong Kong Film Awards, that I received a long-distance phone call from Ming Jin regarding our selection. It was overwhelming! I couldn't really pay attention to the rest of the major awards being announced as I was already starting to make phone calls.

Being picked for Cannes is an unbelievable honour, but it also comes with a new set of issues. For example, yesterday was spent entirely on coordinating the screening print for the film (in the Digital Cinema Package format), meeting and thanking some of our sponsors with my professor Ando (executive producer of the film). The festival is less than a month away, so we had to do things quick. Ming Jin is flying in to Tokyo next week so we can get everything finalized.

For now, I would like to also thank the cast and crew of THE TIGER FACTORY, this would never have happened without you guys. We did it! If I don't get crushed underneath the pile of work that I'll be going through for the next few days, you will be hearing some updates from me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My short films, LOVE SUICIDES and KINGYO will also play at the Singapore International Film Festival tomorrow (with LADYBIRD'S TEARS)

I mentioned in my previous post that the Thai-language short film that I wrote and produced, LADYBIRD'S TEARS, will be having its world premiere at the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival tomorrow (19th of April, 2010).

Aside from that, both the shorts that I wrote and directed, LOVE SUICIDES and KINGYO will also be part of their Asian Shorts program. It's quite an honour to have 3 shorts that I was involved in being presented at the film festival.

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

kingyo poster

More info at the Singapore International Film Festival website.

This marks the third time that LOVE SUICIDES and KINGYO, both loose adaptations of Yasunari Kawabata's short stories, are traveling together in a film festival, after last year's Cinemanila International Film Festival and China Mobile Film Festival (that's where LOVE SUICIDES picked up a Best Director award).

KINGYO was last screened at the Gulf International Film Festival in Dubai last week.

LOVE SUICIDES was screened in Rio De Jeneiro and Sau Paulo as part of the O Novo Cinema Da Malasia festival last month, and will also be part of the FLUXUS Film Festival (also in Brazil) later this month.

Ladybird's Tears, a short film I wrote and produced

Back in January, I mentioned that I was reworking somebody else's film. The film will end up being called 'LADYBIRD'S TEARS', directed by my Thai friend, Kong Pahurak, and starring Zhu Dan (who can be seen in my upcoming short THE WHITE FLOWER, which Kong acted in as well).

zhu dan in Ladybird's Tears

In the previous post, I mentioned that LADYBIRD'S TEARS were assembled from footages of Kong's unfinished experimental short film STARDUST MEMORIES. I saw some potential in what he did, and decided that it would be a bit of a pity to leave the film in the can. The pictures you see here are actual screenshots of the film.

So I ended up writing and editing a brand new film out of what he shot. It was rather challenging, but a short brainstorming session made us come up with a simple story.

(Ladybird's Tears) Zhu Dan in a field of flowers

LADYBIRD'S TEARS became the story of an aspiring filmmaker who is chronicling a low-budget sci-fi film that he was unable to finish, and also his musings of the film's lead actress. The 11-minute short film is narrated by Kong himself (he translated my writings to Thai). It's almost meta, but still somewhat fictionalized. It's not really a narrative fiction, nor is it an essay film like my film FLEETING IMAGES. It's more a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing.

I used music from the French composer Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) because at that period of time, I had fallen in love with her works and was also fascinated by her tragically short life. The following is one of the pieces I used.

Click here if you can't watch the embedded video

LADYBIRD'S TEARS will be making its world premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival tomorrow. It will also mark Kong's first appearance in a film festival.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Goodbye Cherry Blossoms

The rain 2 days ago removed most of the cherry blossoms from sight. How fleeting they were, and how hard it is to not feel a tinge of melancholy to know that I won't see them for another year.

Cherry blossoms at Kanda river

Cherry blossoms at Kanda river 2

Cherry blossoms at Kanda river 3

Cherry blossoms bathed in sunlight

cherry blossoms outside Toho Studio

I returned to Japan last year in mid-April, so I missed the cherry blossoms. I realized that the last time I saw them was 2 years ago when I first got here.

I remember what awed me the most two years ago were the sight of cherry blossom petals covering the Kanda River near the place I stay. The river almost turned entirely to pink.

This year I tried to capture it on video.

Click here if you can't see embedded video

But somehow, I wondered whether I was deceived by my memories, the river never seemed as filled up as I remembered. Had I been idealizing my memories of two years ago. As I wrote this post, and check (the surprisingly beautiful) photos of 2008, I realize that there were indeed more cherry blossom petals floating in the river.

There were indeed less cherry blossom petals in the river this year. That's a little worrisome.

If only I had been less busy, I would have gone to places like Yoyogi Park, or Ueno Park, or perhaps Inokashira Park (that's where KINGYO was shot), or the park in Shinjuku, recommended by a friend, just to see more of them. Pity.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Road trip in Slovakia. Adieu.

Time for me to upload the rest of the photos I took while I was in Bratislava (check out the earlier Bratislava blog posts and photos here). I was waiting to do this only when I was able to edit together the video I took on that particular day.

27th of March. Last day there. Many people from the workshop had already left. I had lunch with Fabienne (of France) and Elaine (of Ireland) in a nearby pub. The food was yummy.

Having lunch with Fabienne and Elaine

After that, Anita picked us up in her car and took us for an afternoon tour. The road trip commenced.

Slovakian scenery

Houses in Slovakia

Anita took us to the Mango Cafe, it's one of her favourite hangout places.

Mango Cafe

I was amused by the sight of palm trees in the middle of an industrial area.

Palm trees in Slovakia???

We had some drinks in the cafe while being engaged in intellectual discourses about life.

Inside Mango Cafe


Anita in Mango Cafe


Elaine in Mango Cafe


Fabienne in Mango Cafe

The gentle waves of the lake filled the air as we left the cafe and headed for another destination.

The lake by Mango Cafe

Park Kormoran.

Entering Park Kormoran

Walking in the park

Walking in the park

Standing by the sea

Standing by the sea

Picturesque view

Elaine, Fabienne and Anita, viewing the scenery

Tiny chihuahua

Park Kormoran

We passed by an old abandoned church. I vaguely remember Anita saying that it was nearly a thousand years old.

An old Slovakian church

Walking around the abandoned chuch in Slovakia

Viewing the church

Leaving the church

The tour ended during the sunset.

Sunset in Bratislava

Anita drove us home, she had to prepare for a TV shoot the following morning.

In the evening, we prepared to head off for dinner.

Here's Simon the French animator.

With Simon the French animator

We were led to the Accademia del Gusto Italiano, obviously an Italian restaurant.

Accademia del Gusto Italiano

The restaurant was ran entirely by the elderly woman above, who took orders and did all the cooking by herself.

Dinner in Accademia del Gusto Italiano

Food were yummy. But then, I was already starving.

Delicious pasta

Yummy dessert

Dinner ended late at night. We took one last stroll through the streets of Bratislava, taking in the sight of its quirky statues...

Not Simon.

Simon looking scary

A French army soldier who kinda looked like Napoleon. Here is its legend taken from this site:

There is also the French army soldier, looking like Napoleon himself, leaning on a bench right on the historical Main Square (Hlavne namestie). Napoleon’s armies attacked Bratislava twice and Napoleon himself has visited the city in 1809. The legend says, that a wounded French soldier called Hubert fell in love with a nurse from Bratislava, decided to live here and started to produce a sparkling wine based on the French tradition. Hubert is now the name of the most famous Sparkling wine in Slovakia.

Also the statue of Schoener Naci (Beautiful Ignaz), an elegant symbol of the city life of the early 20th century, is greeting people walking down Rybarska brana street. The legend says he had lost his mind because of an unrequited love. Although he was very poor, he was walking the streets in Bratislava always well dressed for almost 40 years. The townies used you give him some food and he was, in return, giving flowers to the ladies passing by.

Fabienne with statue of Schoener Naci (Beautiful Ignaz)

We returned to our hotel.

28th of March. I left Bratislava.

Farewell, Bratislava

Wish I'll be able to come back again to explore the place more.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Would I recommend another to join the film industry?

Well, dad had came for a visit since Friday. The following photo was taken on his first day here, in Shibuya.

Dad in Shibuya

Today we went to Roppongi. Outside Roppongi Hills, I asked a Korean tourist to take photos of us, but one tricky thing about DSLRs is that SOMETIMES, the settings might be in manual focus.

... and the photo ended up out of focus. Sigh.

With dad at Roppongi Hills

At night we went to have dinner with Maiko the Producer, who had started working in NHK earlier this week.

Having dinner with dad and Maiko the producer at Restaurant Acacia

With Maiko the Producer. Restaurant Acacia.

Now that she has left Waseda University to forge greatness for herself, I'm left alone. Among everyone who is pursuing a Masters degree in the past two years, Maiko was the go-to producer, the fact that she could speak English made her invaluable among foreign students too. Of course, it's also a little tragic that most in my department are more interested in becoming directors than producers, hence Maiko was the last of her kind. Her graduation = immediate doom for those who want to direct.

Filmmaking is a tough job for most when passion is not one of their main drives. There are much more jobs out there where you can easily earn more and work less, jobs that are taken more seriously by a materialistic society used to disregarding the seriousness of creativity and art.

As I was growing up, I have met many in the creative field (be it film, music, literature or art) whose first description of what they do was "difficult", or "tough". Back then I was a little annoyed that everyone seemed to have such a one-note answer for such an important question in my young, undeveloped mind.

Yet here I am now. Whenever I had old friends, or people who had once studied filmmaking with me, asking whether I could introduce them to a job in either film or TV, I would usually recommend them against it. Especially when financial considerations were the first in their minds.

Person A: "Can you recommend me a job in a production company? But I need at least 2500 ringgit for my salary."

Me: "Nope, get another job."

After that she got a more stable job in another industry, paying more than she mentioned. Our recent conversation were like this:

Me: "Hey, how are things? How's work?"

Person A: "So-so. At least you're chasing after your dreams."

Me: "Yeah, but I sacrificed financial stability for that. So I'm pretty much living like a peasant in Tokyo. Starving myself, skipping meals, etc. Haha. At least you don't have money to worry about!"

Person A: "No, it's still not enough for me."

Me: "Oh, I'm sure it will. Someday."

Most people who get into entry level jobs in the film industry are paid less than half of what Person A asked for. They did seem pretty damned happy with it (despite, yes, some grousing about the stress), but hey, the lack of numbers were made up by job satisfaction, I guess. But nonetheless, it's not financially stable for most, so it's not a respectable job in a capitalistic, and materialistic society. All these sprang up from a conversation we had during dinner, between dad, Maiko and I.

(for the record: If financial earnings is the sole measure for job success, I am definitely a failure.)

Maiko the Producer was left to choose between two jobs last year, one with NHK, another was a respectable company in another industry that would have paid her twice. And unlike NHK, which might station her somewhere far from Tokyo, the latter was situated in Tokyo.

She had asked me which one would she have chosen, and I asked her to go for money (being Chinese, I can't help being somewhat materialistic when thinking for other people). My reasoning then was that with more money, maybe it could make it easier for her to pursue her dreams some other time.

But after a few weeks of consideration, she went for NHK.

I realized later that she did the right thing. It IS better to work in somewhere closer to what she loves doing. There's more focus. More room for her to concentrate.

Now, I don't deny the fact that one can do a completely unrelated job WHILE trying to balance it with their own creative endeavors, perhaps in this crazy, unpredictable world of ours, there are many who can juggle in such a way.

I suck at multi-tasking, hence I thought one needed more commitment if you were doing something creative. A friend who studied film with me was going to do a job that her mother wanted her to do, and she said (more to herself than to me) that she might dabble in filmmaking for the sake of rekindling her passion for the latter. I was dismissive, I cited Maiko the Producer as an example and said that if filmmaking was indeed her passion, then do something related to it. Otherwise, wouldn't she be jeopardizing her day job? (after all, that being what her mom wanted her to do, I would think that some concentration would keep her for being fired)

Some people are passionate about things. Some people just drift through life without having anything to be passionate about. I was once quite incredulous about the latter group, wondering how can they not be the masters of their own destinies? But my friend, Peng Shien would offer his most favourite retort whenever I launch into another one of my monologues regarding my dissatisfaction with the mechanical workings of society.

"Hey, why the hell do you care? As long as they're happy with their lives, that's that."
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