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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Attending a high school play triggers a flood of memories (... again)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Chung Hwa International High School on Friday evening to attend a high school play starring TIGER FACTORY lead actress Moon Lai's younger brother, Jack. You don't get invited to high school plays everyday.

Moon Lai, after the play
Moon Lai


The play was loosely translated as 'Grandma's Magical Box'.

My final year in high school was ten years ago. I was more than a little curious to witness for myself, the artistic endeavors of kids nowadays.

When I walked into the hall, they were actually playing teaser videos on the screens. One of them is this:



It amazed me more than a little, that secondary students of today are capable of shooting their own videos (and then upload them on Youtube), when, during my time (gosh, I sound so old!), to be able to operate a camcorder is a rare privilege. Yeah, ten years had changed quite a lot of things.

The play itself was quite an ambitious one with rather nice production values, where the performances, I can see for myself. were obviously painstakingly rehearsed. With Moon Lai's prodding, I snapped a phew photos of her brother in action (he's the one wearing a cap)

There were even evil clowns in it. Like the ones seen in Alex de la Iglesia's THE LAST CIRCUS. Kidding.

Chung Hwa High School play

Chung Hwa High School play 2

Chung Hwa High School play 3

Chung Hwa High School play 4


There's even a rather coherent plot. A brilliant but arrogant scientist gets transferred to a village after the failure of his latest invention, in the village, he ends up living with a single mother and her two children (a boy and a girl). He is allowed to live with them for free if he does the house chores and babysit the kids. The boy and the girl shows the scientist the titular magical box, he opens the box, they end up getting transferred to a fantastical world. During their adventures, the scientist bonds with the children, and also understands himself a little more.

I managed to capture certain parts of the play on video, mostly bad quality. But here is a video of its curtain call.



As you can hear at the end of the video, the performers and the audiences were rapturous after the play ended. The actors were mobbed by audiences for photos and autographs.

Jack Lai has managed to follow his sister's footsteps by acting. Here's a photo of him + his family... and me too.

With new theater superstar Jack Lai, and his family


I thought the actress who played the devil (circus ringleader) was the MVP of the play.

MVP of the play


At times, I find it a little hard to believe that some of the actors were just high school students! Showing a lot of flair in their acting that seemed beyond their years.

To continue with the nostalgic theme of the previous post, I have to say that going to this play, which was fun for what it was, also became a trip down memory lane for me.

Dramas and stage plays played a prominent role in my life during my last two years in high school.

In 2000. I was in form 4, and had just taken over as president (or was it chairman?) of the English Language Club in school. One of the very first events organized by my club during my administration (yes, please allow me to self-aggrandize a little) was an inter-class Drama Competition for fellow Form 4 students.

Each of the classes came up with highly ambitious plays, almost like the sort in Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE. One did a Chinese martial arts costume epic in the vein of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Sebastian wrote it), another did an adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra (the actor who played the evil Octavius ended up winning acting honours and was definitely a show-stopper), there was an adaptation of King Arthur's tales (with intricately choreographed swordsfighting scenes), one did the Crucification of Jesus (it was Passion of Christ before Passion of Christ), and my own class did a riff on GREASE and other sorts of old-school musicals. It's a little funny that I can remember some of them so well even though it's been so long already.

The Drama Competition was a rousing success. There was even an article about it on The Star, thanks to our teacher-advisor.

Because of this, my club started to put together this grand plan of organizing a 'Drama Night', for the public. A gala night filled with glitz and glamour, where we would put together a series of plays, we started writing plays and collecting scripts. I remember that Sebastian wrote something called SEVILLE, a swashbuckling tale set in Seville, Spain. It had a feisty heroine and a bland love interest, and a mustache twirling villain.

I was at my Raymond Chandler phase back then, and secondary school was also defined by my endless repeated viewings of Casablanca, and wanting to be as badass like Humphrey Bogart. Early in my teens, I felt self-conscious about my large head because random assholes from school made fun of me. Then I saw Bogey, who, with his large head, exuded awesome coolness, and made beautiful women like Ingrid Bergman cry pathetically when they were to part with him and spend the rest of their lives with boring Victor Laszlos.



So I wrote a noir-ish tale of loss and woe set in the 1920-30s, complete with an ex-gangster (or private eye, I can't remember which) hero wearing a hat and trench coat. I vaguely remember the plot: The protagonist is in a jazz club, having a drink, a beautiful singer emerges on the stage and starts singing. The protagonist recognizes the singer as a former lover, feeling a rush of indescribable regret in his heart, he writes a note and hands it to the bartender, asking the bartender to hand the note to the singer once she is done with her singing. Protagonist exits the bar and roams through the atmospherically dark streets, sees a blind flower girl and buys a flower from her.

Then, as he examines the flower, he gets shot at from behind... because, well, you know, it's tragic. He collapses onto the ground, writhing in pain, then dying, while the singer is still in the bar, singing her heartbreaking ballad.

Next scene, the singer is seen at a train station, presumably waiting for him after reading the note, waiting for a someone who will never come. Story ends.

With sheer pompousness, I named my short play 'ADIEU'.

Finally, I could direct a play again! I thought gleefully.

There I was, during high school, constantly fantasizing about this event, about the plays we were to put together, I even thought of uniting all these plays with some time traveling angle, a time traveler as a Greek chorus. I imagined the audiences enjoying the night, I imagined the fun we would have, acting in these plays. We went around, looking for props, pondering about costumes, imagining those unattainable Form 6 beauties in school as my actresses. When high school was merely a series of repetitions, reviving the long-dead English Language Club, and the excitement I felt about the Drama Night, were the things that kept me going.

Alas, things were not to be. Summoned to a meeting with the vice-principal, I was told that the school wasn't going to allow the club to organize this event. I cannot remember the reasons, I only remember a crushing sense of disappointment, as if a hole had opened up beneath me, and I was spiraling endlessly into nothingness. There was this hapless rage towards the vice-principal, towards the school authorities, towards fate, towards my teacher-advisor, towards many things.

I walked out of the room, feeling that a part of me had just died. Thinking that perhaps, my childhood dreams of becoming a director had gone down in flames. Most of all, I felt this hatred towards them, for conspiring to stifle my creativity. The same 'them' who had confiscated my novels when I was reading quietly during recess time, the same 'them' who sadistically existed to ensure my suffering. The 'them' had never been anyone in particular, but an imagined embodiment where I would direct my rage at.

I attended Moon Lai's brother's high school play and found myself remembering this heartbreaking incident from ten years ago. Perhaps what I saw, was what the 'Drama Night' could have been like, if we had been able to pull it off, back in 2001.

Perhaps it was just wishful thinking. But let a man dream.

When I finished my term as club president (how lofty-sounding!), the general verdict given to me by the juniors who took over the committee, was that 'Edmund likes to dream... perhaps rather unrealistically'. I was mildly bemused by the negative connotation associated with the word 'dream'.

"At least I dared to dream, you brats." I answered bitterly within my heart, while giving them a friendly little grin.

I wonder what the 2001 me of high school would think of the present me? I'm sure he'd be awed that his diligence paid off, and that the childhood dreams of becoming a film director didn't really go down in flames at the vice-principal's office, I'm sure he'd be please to know that he became someone a little... awesome.

Did I just say that I was sure?

Pardon me. I'm just dreaming again.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An empty high school canteen, a basketball court, and the passing of time.

It's not everyday that you get invited to attend a high school play, so when Moon Lai (THE TIGER FACTORY's lead actress) told me about her younger brother's musical play, I was intrigued to go. (I will write about the play in my next post.)

I've never been to Chung Hwa Independent High School at Kuala Lumpur, so my attempts to go there yesterday afternoon was somewhat comical. I looked at Google Map, identified the closest train station, and found my way there. Once I reached the station (Sentul Timur via Rapid KL on the Ampang Line, if you were wondering), I started making phone calls to friends, wanting to make sure that I was at the right place.

The first two friends of mine had never been to the place.

So I called Ah Guo the Production Manager, who knew every place in everywhere, being a production manager and all. But she usually drove to the place, and not travel by train, so her directions were vague.

I then called another friend, who graduated from Chung Hwa. She was in the middle of a meeting that lasted for an entire day.

The final phone call I made confirmed that I was at the right place.

I reached the school and it was already six thirty in the evening. After having a light meal at a roadside stall (the food was absolutely cheap since they catered to students), I headed into the school. Just to explore.

The sun was setting, casting a nice golden glow into the empty school canteen.

School canteen drenched with golden sunlight

School canteen drenched with golden sunlight 2

School canteen drenched with golden sunlight 3

School canteen drenched with golden sunlight 4


Well, it wasn't exactly empty, and this blog post title is somewhat inaccurate. There were a few students hanging out at the corner, chatting and laughing softly, while I find myself a little mesmerized by the image.

It's been ten years since I finished high school. Don't think I've ever stayed there late enough to see the evening sun. Or maybe I had, but I've never actually noticed them back then. It's like life.

I walked out of the canteen and past the main building.

Chung Hwa Kuala Lumpur Independent High School


And to the basketball court, where some students were still playing.

Kids playing basketball at Chung Hwa High School

Basketball court at Chung Hwa High School


There was a basketball court close to my house, where I've always used to play with my friend Meng Hui during evenings, until the sunset, until the streetlights were on. Meng Hui lived a couple of houses away, we went to the same primary school and secondary school. We then went to different colleges, and we gradually stopped playing basketball together. After Perth, after Japan, hanging out became a rarity, a once-in-a-year occurrence. Or maybe even less.

He had gotten married just a couple of months earlier, didn't know about it until he mentioned it on Facebook. I'm bad at keeping track of things, or people.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"... So, I finally bought edmundyeo.com"

It took me a while, but I bought the edmundyeo.com domain three days ago. The blog has finally completed its transition to this new domain few moments earlier, so I thought it's time to make this official announcement.

I find it difficult to believe that this blog has existed for nearly 7 years. It was known as THE GREAT SWIFTY SPEAKETH! at first (taking my cue from Kevin Smith's blog SILENT BOB SPEAKS), before I switched to the current SWIFTY, WRITING, just to coincide with its then-url (swiftywriting.blogspot.com).

Many had actually complained about my previous URL, telling me it's too long, or too difficult to remember. Their complaints were valid, but I thought I should be faithful to the title of this blog. Besides, it has sentimental value anyway. In the end.... not too many people could actually remember the URL of this blog. My stubbornness also made it very difficult to tell people my blog URL orally.

("My blog URL is es, double-u, eye, ef, tee, ef, eye, are, ee, double-u....")

You get what I mean.

This blog existed for seven years. Beginning from the time when I was still studying in Perth as a naive 20-year-old university student with faraway dreams of wanting to become a filmmaker, when I merely needed a journal of sorts to keep track on my tragic attempts at writing fanfiction, or making homemade films starring my friends with my camcorder.

With My Camera (Forced Labour Shooting Session)


Me in 2005, when I was trying to shoot a homemade gangster video with the help of friends.

The Cast and Crew of Vertical Distance
And 2006, with the cast and crew of my very first student film.


I was more comfortable with the 'Swifty' pseudonym then, or rather, 'The Great Swifty', because being excessively narcissistic in a cartoonish manner was a way to amuse myself.

Seven years have gone by. I'm fulfilling my dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Directed countless short films, produced numerous feature films too. Having the incredible honour of being able to screen the results of my efforts at film festivals around the world that I've heard of since I was a child.

With my actresses Luchino Fujisaki and Qyoko Kudo at Venice Film Festival 2009
With my actresses Luchino Fujisaki and Qyoko Kudo at Venice Film Festival 2009, after the premiere of my short film 'kingyo'

Fooi Mun, Ming Jin and I on red carpet
Walking the red carpet with Ming Jin and Moon Lai at Cannes Film Festival 2010 (where 'The Tiger Factory' which I produced and co-wrote, had made its world premiere)

Me at the press conference
At the Tiger Factory press conference in Cannes 2010

Me being interviewed
TV interview at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2011


My filmmaking endeavours had allowed me to fly to many places, meet many people, make many friends.

Sometimes when I were alone, I wonder whether all these things were real. And trying not to think too much, I'll just jump into one project after another.

Directing fills me with angst
shooting my Prada short film, August 2010

Walking through the snow for the film shoot

Shooting the sunrise at Shirakawa-go

Me, deep in thought.
shooting 'Last Fragments of Winter', 2011


Ever since I started making films, I've gradually ceased using the 'Swifty' pseudonym (except on Twitter, which is the one and only reason why I'm still keeping the blog title). I'm more comfortable with my own name now.

So maybe this isn't just a blog transition, but also a way to mark a transition in my own life.

I hope you readers will still stay around with me as I continue posting my own misadventures in filmmaking (and also life in general). Cheers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My favourite moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I saw this a few days ago.

I'll write about the series in its entirety when I'm free enough. After all, the Harry Potter film series was something I viewed with cynicism at first, before becoming something I gradually loved. (I stopped reading the books after Book 5) Perhaps because it's finally ended, its inevitable absence makes the heart grows fonder.

Anyway, I thought that Snape's flashback was the highlight of the film. Alan Rickman's sublime performance, for his unforgettable character, it was a great way to send him off.

And the following exchange was my favourite moment in my favourite scene of the entire film.

Dumbledore: Lily... after all this time?

Snape: Always.



Somehow the exchange lingered in my mind. Perhaps it was the context, or the performance, the haunting music, the way Rickman enunciated his lines as Snape, perhaps it was the previous shot of Snape holding a dead Lily Potter in his arms crying, perhaps it was a little bit of everything. Perhaps I'm just a softie.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My message about the July 9th BERSIH rally to the Guanajuato International Film Festival

My short film INHALATION is now playing at the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico. (film page here.)

[INHALATION] Mei (Susan Lee) at the dock


Due to the fact that I was unable to make my trip to Mexico, the festival staff members asked whether I would like them to help me pass a message to the audience after the screening of my film. So I wrote them the following:

"Hello all,

Malaysia is half a world away from Mexico. I am very honoured to be able to share with you all a reflection of my own country. Perhaps because of the tropical sun, we are similar in many ways, peace-loving, laidback, cheerful, a love for partying and good food. But I really would like to share with you a recent incident that rocked our nation.

On the 9th of July, 2011. Thousands of Malaysians went on a peaceful rally in the city to hope for some changes in the current political system, especially the electoral system that had favoured our ruling government party for the past 50+ years.

Instead of allowing the citizens to voice their thoughts, there was a massive police crackdown. Tear gases and water cannons were fired at the demonstrators, regardless of age and gender (yes, there were children and old people at the rally). The police arrested almost 1400 demonstrators. One demonstrator died in a fall when he tried to run from the water cannons and tear gases. Another one was Liew Seng Tat, an award-winning filmmaker friend of mine, who, after gotten arrested and being handcuffed, was beaten up a few times, and had a chemical-covered towel pressed against his face.

He's fine now, thankfully. But we're shocked to see how people were treated as criminals by the police for our desire to express our own voices, for exercising our rights as citizens to create a discussion with what we think is wrong about our own country, Malaysia. The police were supposed to protect us, yet we are forced to fear them now.

I'm a little sad to think that the democracy that exists in our country is a fictitious one. The mainstream media, be it the newspapers, or the TV news, are owned by our government. They constantly face the risk of having their publishing licenses revoked if they cease to churn out pro-government propaganda.

The day after the rally, most of the mainstream media painted demonstrators as 'troublemakers' trying to disrupt the peace of our country.

With such an environment, the issues of brain-drain and migration had became quite prevalent among Malaysians. Many young Malaysians of my generation are encouraged by parents or others to move out of the country (like the girl in the film did), others choose to live mediocre lives within the system just to avoid trouble (like the guy in the film did). 'INHALATION' was meant to depict this.

Under such circumstances, I worry my film might would get me into trouble if I were to play it to the Malaysian public since I'm being negative towards certain parts of the system.

But I'm glad it's shown in Mexico. Thanks."


INHALATION trailer


(Updated: Despite my above complaints about the mainstream media, I was more than a little surprised to see this column, 'The Polarised World of Politics' by Marina Mahathir, which had some pointed words towards our leaders, on The Star Online.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Last thoughts on Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2011

I've already returned to Tokyo yesterday afternoon.

Ultimately, Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (PIFAN) 2011 had been a fun festival for me, to be able to hang out with old friends, and then meeting up with new ones. Great food, interesting films and the like.

What I learnt, in this film festival, is that when you run out of business cards, the next best thing is to hold up your iPhone and ask "Are you on Facebook? I'll add you immediately!" Which I did.

Here's Kiki the Producer, holding an interview article of her and Koji Fukada. (their film 'HOSPITALITE' was showing in PIFAN)

Kiki Sugino holding an article of herself #杉野希妃


Kiki the Producer, had rushed off to Toronto a day earlier for the 3rd Shinsedai Cinema Festival, where 'HOSPITALITE' was going to be the opening film.

While Kiki and I were both in Puchon, our short film 'EXHALATION' was also shown in competition at the Curtas Vila Do Conde International Film Festival. (it will also be one of the closing films at the InDpanda Short Film Festival in Hong Kong next month, along with 'INHALATION', which is serving as one of the opening films)

Meanwhile, the NAFF Closing Party was rather fun.


NAFF Closing Ceremony


I ended up seeing two films in the festival. Na Hong Jin's THE YELLOW SEA, which was in played at the Un Certain Regard in Cannes back in May. I thought the film was really good! When your first two films are CHASER and this film, you are definitely on fire. He definitely had the directing chops.



I followed THE YELLOW SEA with the insane KARATE-ROBO ZABORGAR.



My mind exploded.

I always marvel at how well-organized film festivals in Korea are. By now, I've already attended the 'Big 3' film festivals in Korea - Busan, Jeonju and now, Puchon, as a guest, and the experiences had usually been great. Audiences are often passionate about films, and this sort of passion can be so very contagious. The volunteers and the staff members work so hard to make everything a flawless stay for us guests that you cannot help but think "ah, I wish my country runs a film fest like that", oh right, I forgot that the Kuala Lumpur International Film Fest hasn't happened since 2008, oops. But nonetheless, they have became benchmarks of sorts, for the quality of their programming, or the way they were organized, I cannot help but yearn to return to another Korean film festival as soon as possible.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Video: Seru (Resurrection) Q & A session with Woo Ming Jin at Puchon International Fantastic Film Fest

Aside for the NETWORK OF ASIAN FANTASTIC FILMS project market that Ming Jin and I was attending. Ming Jin was also at Puchon International Film Fest for the screening of the film SERU (known as RESURRECTION outside Malaysia), which was making its second festival screening after Udine Far East Film Festival back in April.



SERU was a film co-directed by Ming Jin and Pierre Andre. I visited the film set last year.

Here's an 11-minute video of the Q and A session I shot last night.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2011 Day 1

Yesterday, I took a morning flight to Seoul to attend the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Ming Jin's new project THE FORGIVEN has been selected for this edition's NAFF (Network of Asian Fantastic Films). NAFF is a project market, like Hong Kong's HAF, which selects projects in development by filmmakers and allow them to pitch to possible co-producers and financiers in one-on-one meetings. I'm attached to the project as producer.

As usual, I didn't sleep the night before because it's a morning flight and I had to take a 5am train to the Tokyo City Air Terminal to catch a bus to Narita Airport. The journey to Narita, as usual, is always more soul-sapping than the flight.

The flight, however, was wondrous since I got bumped up to business class.

OMG! Business class again! I love you KOREAN AIR!

Bumped up to Business class!


Just two months ago, during my flight to Jeonju, I was also bumped up.

Yeah! Business Class!
(two months ago)


It's deja vu, thank you very much, Korean Air. I slept through the whole flight.

Arrived at Incheon Airport, festival volunteers were there, a taxi took us to Puchon (it's like a 40 minute ride).

I picked up my ridiculously sexy festival bag.

Reached Buchon. Got my sexy festival bag and pass from #pifan


At 7 in the evening, there was an opening ceremony for NAFF.

NAFF Opening Ceremony


There was a long line of food for us.

Yummy food at the NAFF opening ceremony


There was also a girl in high school uniform.

With actress Miho Matsushita


I later found out that she's Miho Matsushita, an actress of the film SEAFOOD GIRL MAIKO, which is playing in the festival.

After the the ceremony, headed off for some pajeon (it's like pancake with eggs, green onion and other stuff) with some friends like Kiki, Ono-san the Japanese filmmaker Koji Fukada and Korean filmmaker Lim Taihyung.

It then dawned upon us three filmmakers that we all had films produced by Kiki, making us the three most important men in her life.

The 3 important filmmakers of Kiki's life


We later had the young actress Eunah So joining our table. She's in Kong Quee Hyun's UFO.

With actress Eunah So


The Pajeon was absolutely yummy.

Yummy pajong


It left Kiki very blissful.

Kiki after some pajong

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Japanese director Masahiro Kobayashi's live gig at Manda-la 2

Yesterday evening, I headed to Manda=la 2 at Kichijoji to catch Japanese director Masahiro Kobayashi's live gig.

Director Masahiro Kobayashi performs


I knew Masahiro Kobayashi as the director of award-winning films like MAN WALKING ON SNOW (2001), BASHING (2005) and WAKARANAI (2007) which won the Golden Leopard in Locarno Film Festival that year. Met him in Rotterdam Film Fest earlier this year. Wasn't aware that he actually started out as a folk singer... until I checked the Wikipedia today (yes, after I attended his gig, I wondered why he could sing so well)

The live gig was supposed to be held on March 12.

Sign outside Manda-la 2


Because of the March 11 earthquake, it was called off.

It served some nice mango parfaits!

Nice manga parfait


When guest performer Goro Nakagawa was performing... there was a minor earthquake.

Nakagawa Goro performing

Was watching a gig in a bar, suddenly there was a quake!


Finally, it was Masahiro Kobayashi's performance.

I only shot the video of the first song, then my iPhone ran out of batteries :(

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Revisiting "The Downtown Star Festival" (Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri) at Kappabashi-Hondori

Back on Thursday, I visited the Kappabashi-Hondori with a friend to check out the Downtown Star Festival (Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri). We were both struck by how quiet it was, and wondered why people were actually still preparing the decorations in the evening.

Of course, I actually made a mistake, thinking that it was a one-day festival for July 7. In truth, this festival was supposed to last until weekends.

We revisited the place again today and it was a huge difference!!! Even from the distance, I could hear the sound of Taiko drums. The street was totally crowded.

There was a taiko drum performance!

Taiko performance at Kappabashi

Taiko performance at Kappabashi 2

Taiko performance at Kappabashi 3


Good work, little girl!

Taiko performance at Kappabashi 4


I actually filming the performance, but somehow, I think my 7D overheated, or it froze, I had to switch it off, and when I switched it on again, the video was gone. Darn.

Taiko performance at Kappabashi for Tanabata Matsuri


We continued our way.

Tanabata matsuri at Kappabashi


There were numerous stalls set up at the streets. Some were selling iced cucumbers on sticks.

Iced cucumbers

Old man selling cookies/ pancakes?


I think these elderly folks were in the middle of a game of some sort, a crowd was gathered around them.

Some stuff happening at the Tanabata matsuri


Crowd at Tanabata Matsuri


There was a Kappa too!! My experience at the street was complete.

Kappa!

Three girls in Kimono


Oh yeah, here's a photo of myself.

Me at the Tanabata Festival 七夕祭り
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