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Thursday, August 18, 2011

My short film AFTERNOON RIVER, EVENING SKY screening at Thai Short Film & Video Festival 2011

My rarely-seen short film AFTERNOON RIVER, EVENING SKY will be screening at the Thai Short Film and Video Festival in Bangkok next week, on the 23rd and 27th of August.

[EVENING SKY] Chee Wai and Lay Fun


It's part of the S-Express Malaysia curated by Amir Muhammad with three other Malaysian short films, THE INVIGILATOR by Manesh Nesaratnam, SCENE by Soren Mohd Noor and AFTERNOON RAIN by Nadiah Hamzah.

THE INVIGILATOR can actually be viewed online. Worth a watch.

The Invigilator from Sunny Stories on Vimeo.



This is the trailer for Nadiah Hamzah's AFTERNOON RAIN.



It's interesting that we had similar titles. I'm proud to say that I was one of the (...99) backers for AFTERNOON RAIN during its Kickstarter campaign.

Can't find anything about SCENE, unfortunately.

Anyway, back to my own AFTERNOON RIVER, EVENING SKY. The short film had the misfortune of being made between KINGYO and the EXHALATION / INHALATION pair, so it kinda got lost while the other shorts were travelling extensively at the festival circuit. It's good to see that it will find some audiences.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

VCinema interviews Kiki Sugino. She thinks I should be an actor. (for my looks, I guess)

VCinema had just posted up Marc Saint-Cyr's interview with Kiki Sugino (actress and producer of my short film Exhalation) regarding both our collaboration and also HOSPITALITE by Koji Fukada, which she also produced and acted.

Kiki Sugino at the Jeonju International Film Festival booth


I loved the part where she called me a genius. Even though it was solely in my imagination and not really in the interview.

Anyway, here are some notable quotes of hers regarding our first meeting with her, and how EXHALATION came into being:

"I met Edmund through Woo Ming Jin at the Pusan International Film Festival in 2009; I met Woo Ming Jin in 2008 at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Edmund’s a really funny guy – I really love his character, and I really, truly believe that he wouldn’t be out of place as an actor. We met in October in 2009, and by December we had already created a short film. We chatted, exchanged e-mails and were asking each other what we wanted to do and what kind of story we wanted, and all of a sudden it just became a reality. Maybe the reason why we got so friendly is because our birthdays are five days apart – we were born in the same year. Plus, I’m a Korean living in Japan, and he’s a Chinese-Malaysian in Japan as well, so we had that search for identity in common with each other, and I felt that we had very close values. I think it would be great if we could make more films with an international perspective."

Regarding my directorial style:

"Edmund is the type where he’s basically worrying all the way up to when the shooting starts, then he makes a split-second decision right before everything happens. He has a very strong overall vision, but he does worry about specific things like visuals, the little details – those are the things he worries about. He loves Tarkovsky, and you can probably see that in his images."

Yes, I actually do have a very improvisational and hands-on approach to directing. That's the school of Malaysian independent filmmaking, haha.

Most of the time I would edit, add, or remove scenes on the spot, changing dialogues etc. For me filmmaking is quite an organic thing, but at the same time, collaborative too. When I realize that the actor's interpretation of my character is different from my initial imagination, and seems to actually have a chance to enhance what I originally had, I would immediately make quite adjustments that weren't in the script. Sometimes, when actors come out with a line during ad-libbing, that particular line might actually end up being a crucial, recurring line in my film.

These happy accidents makes things a lot more fun.

(Aside from KINGYO, I never really did storyboards, mostly composing and setting up shots on the spot too.)

"Give me a Tarkovskian shot!" is a line from me most cinematographers of mine had to endure.

So yup, read the full interview here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Editing GIRL IN WATER, the Danish-Malaysian short film co-production

Back in June, I was involved in a Danish-Malaysian short film co-production tentatively titled GIRL IN THE WATER. (read about the film shoot here and here)

The film was co-directed by Ming Jin and the Danish director Jeppe Ronde. I was one of its producers and audio guy. Our lead actress was Thai actress Sajee Apiwong.

Of course, like most films that I'm involved in, I had a hand in editing as well. So once the film shoot was done, I had swiftly put together a rough cut for both directors to work on. And then, I returned to Japan for a month.

Ming Jin had since edited his version, Jeppe too, after returning to Denmark, had gotten an editor to make a version.

The job was done... Right?

Coming back to Malaysia, I realized it was a case of "Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in" situation.

Both directors are supposed to cut their own versions and view each other's visions. Then perhaps we consolidate the best from both worlds. Co-directing is not THAT easy when both directors live half a world apart, have vastly different artistic sensibilities and aesthetic instincts. The post-production session is definitely tricky.

So yes, for the past two days, I've been at Ming Jin's house, doing a (somewhat major) re-editing for the film, revamping its narrative structure, pushing it to a rhythm that fits my own sensibilities (being a director myself, it's a little hard not to put a bit of myself into the film)


Editing GIRL IN WATER


Being away from the production for 2 months is a good thing, at least I can view the footage again with fresh eyes.

I also hung out with Baby Hanae.

That's me with her on Day 1.

"Wassup, baby Hanae?"


That's Hanae on Day 2. She had learnt how to stand up. I'm so moved.

Hanae can stand!


It's 4:39am now.

The editing ended at 4am. End results are satisfying. (although it's all subjective. While I'm confident enough of my own editing skills, I'm sure further adjustments will be made based on the whims of the two co-directors.)

Editing GIRL IN WATER 2


I've done all I can with the film. Past two days, I have immersed myself too into it. The final iteration of the film will depend on, once again, the two directors.

It's always good to prevent my own editing skills from eroding.


Location:Jalan Setia Damai U13/15d,Shah Alam,Malaysia

Sunday, August 07, 2011

83-year-old Yut Kee Coffee Shop

One of the icons of Kuala Lumpur that I probably never heard of until yesterday (yes, I'm embarrassed). I have returned briefly from Japan, my high school friends, Woan Foong (she's the composer of my short films, notably Inhalation and Exhalation, based in the States for the past few years), and Yuan Yue (based in Singapore since 3 months ago), were also back in Malaysia for a short while, so we went to the Yut Kee Coffee Shop for lunch.

The conversation prior to lunch was like this:


Yuan Yue: I'm picking Woan Foong up for lunch, I can come over to your place too.

Me: Hmm, I dunno, man, I've been writing my screenplay. Sort of lagging behind now. Hoping to shut myself away from the rest of the world to write! (like I did in Tokyo...) Where are you going anyway?

Yuan Yue: Yut Kee coffee shop. It's 80+ years old. Looks like one of those settings in your films. I have some craving for Hainanese chicken chop.

Me: Eek, Hainanese chicken chop, I now crave for it too! You know that WF had turned vegetarian, right? What a bummer.

Yuan Yue: Exactly, that's why I need YOU to help around with finishing the special dishes. Like the french toast, the roti babi etc.

So I decided to go.

Well, aside from that, I also heard from Yuan Yue that Yut Kee may have a limited shelf life, and it's supposed to move out of its historic building in less than a year. (Eating Asia has a eulogy of sorts for the place, worth a read)

While we were in the car, on the way from our homes at Petaling Jaya to the restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, I marveled at some of the old, traditional buildings that remained in KL, buildings that are hardly seen in PJ.

"Petaling Jaya is like the New York of Malaysia." I said. Despite being only a 15-minute car ride away, I start noticing some differences between the two cities that I previously never really gave a crap about.

Maybe that's what we're like, having spent so many of our years out of the country, we end up being increasingly perceptive towards our surroundings, we're like semi-foreigners, trying to reconnect. We don't seem to want to take things for granted anymore.

So we reached Yut Kee, finally.

Yut Kee restaurant

Another Yut Kee sign


It was, unsurprisingly crowded and we had to share tables with others.

Yut Kee restaurant is crowded


Yut Kee is managed by the Lee Family. Mervyn Lee and his dad, Jack Lee, could be seen in the restaurant. The place, apparently, was also known fondly as Jack's Place.

This is Jack's dad, he started the business in 1928.

Yut Kee's founder (Jack Lee's father)


Looking at the newspaper clippings below (which has a photo of either Jack or Mervyn), I'm struck by the family resemblance.

Ordered a couple of their specialties. Like that chicken chop.

Yut Kee's Hainanese Chicken Chop


And the french toast. (with homemade kaya)

French toast


The famous roti babi (literally translated as 'pork bread'). Which is basically like the french toast, but with shredded pork, onions and the like.

The famous Roti Babi


Had a cake and the kaya roll too.

Cakes and kaya rolls of Yut Kee


(Suanie had written about Yut Kee too, last October)

It IS a little depressing, to think that this place will move to a newer block, and that its current premise, soaked with 83 years' worth of memories, will be gone.

Food's hopefully the same, but its atmosphere is part of the charm.

Pigeons in front of Yut Kee

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Moments in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES that lingered

Yes, I'm still slightly shocked, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is actually pretty good. Possibly one of the best of the year.



So yes, go see it if you haven't already. Director Rupert Wyatt has a good grasp with pacing, characters, visual flourishes and some tiny little details, I ended up smiling and nodding a lot during the film. I always smile when I feel this unexpected rush when seeing an enjoyable film.

Obviously, this post contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film, don't read the rest of this post.

If you have, join in the fun.

These are some moments of the film that I really liked (in chronological order):

- I'm a fan of great cinematic time transitions. (Go read A. V. Club's 24 Memorable Cinematic Time Transitions if you are one as well) So I enjoyed the part where young kiddy Caesar is climbing up a tree in Muir Woods, and we see the cycle of time passing by in simple dissolves, and when he reaches the top of the tree, watching San Francisco, he is already an adult.

- There's this short scene at the dining table where Caesar notices that the Alzheimer-addled Charles is holding the fork the wrong way and gently reaches over to correct the position.

- I felt that the film reached a certain level of awesomeness after Caesar was thrown into the animal shelter. Caesar's passage from prisoner to charismatic revolutionary leader has a lot of great moments. Brooding in the cell, communicating with Maurice, dethroning Rocket as THE, er, ape in the group, sneaking into Will Rodman's house and watching his once 'father' (and 'mother') sleeping, unaware of his presence etc. By then, I was already fully invested in Caesar, and none of the human characters. I also immediately, mentally, joined the 'give Andy Serkis an Oscar nomination already!' camp (still felt that he got robbed for not getting any Oscar nods as Gollum in the LoTR films, I also thought he gave King Kong a soulful, sympathetic presence in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake, despite the film's flaws)

- Caesar's retort when Draco Malfoy shouted the Charlton Heston line: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" Caesar's response caused a lot of shocked gasps (including mine) in the theater during last night's screening.

- When the apes break out of prison, it is one great evocative image after another. Silhouettes of an ape army at night, leaves raining down the suburban neighbourhood, that climax at the Golden Gate Bridge, where Caesar shows his true tactical brilliance. I started wondering whom th cinematographer was, turned out that he's Andrew Lesnie, the Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer who shot the Lord of the Rings films, King Kong, I Am Legend etc. (he does give most films he shot an epic, visual feeling)

- Caesar on a horse.

So yeah, there are quite a lot of things I like about the film... and they all involve the apes!

Friday, August 05, 2011

WU XIA is a remake of some film by some Canadian director...

A day before I saw Peter Chan's Wu Xia last Sunday, I was having dinner with a bunch of other filmmakers. AT THE END OF DAYBREAK director Ho Yuhang, who had seen the film, said this:

"Wu Xia is sort of like a remake of a famous film by a Canadian director, but I won't tell you which one since it'll spoil you."

I tried to guess which film would he be talking about.

Names of Canadian directors materialized in my mind.

Obvious ones like David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan... I didn't think it would be Xavier Dolan.

When I went to see Wu Xia, I was a little worried because I knew that I would be seeing the Cantonese version, instead of the original Mandarin/ Sichuan-ese version.



Somehow, many films meant to be in Mandarin are shown in Cantonese over here in Malaysia. Totally diminishing my enjoyment. I can still remember cringing badly when I first saw CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (where Chow Yun Fat sounded like an old dude), CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (where Chow Yun Fat sounded much older), FEARLESS (Jet Li speaking with the low-pitched manly Wong Fei Hung voice) and the recent Donnie Yen-starrer THE LOST BLADESMAN (which I think would have been infinitely more interesting if I could actually listen to Jiang Wen speak in his original voice as Cao Cao... not in Lau Ching Wan-dubbed Cantonese).

(clicking to the links lead you to my reviews of those films. Long ago, when I was just a directionless student, I used to write film reviews on this blog. Turned out that in each review, I complained about the Cantonese dub, haha)

But turned out that the version I saw wasn't that bad, with Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro actually dubbing their own lines in Cantonese. (the original film had Kaneshiro actually speaking in Sichuanese, which probably made his character even more eccentric) And some scenes retained their Mandarin lines. So everything felt more authentic.

Director Peter Chan has an impressive filmography. Some of his films from the 90s are among the greatest of Hong Kong cinema. Imagine making a film like COMRADES, ALMOST A LOVE STORY in 1996, that would have been considered the peak of anyone's career. HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY FATHER is one of my favourite time-traveling films ever.

His last two attempts had been attempts to foster Pan-Asian ties, spectacular looking blockbusters that had some of their flaws. I kinda liked PERHAPS LOVE (2005), was initially awed by THE WARLORDS (2007) before losing interest due to its heavy-handedness.

What he had done as a producer should not be overlooked as well, his company UFO had came up with a lot of critically and commercially acclaimed films in the 90s (even today, "sigh, I wish there were some HK films that were like those UFO films" is something I complained about often) he was the one who put the Pang brothers on the map with THE EYE, and that he produced the smash hit BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS two years ago, which featured the greatest Leon Lai performance ever.

As for WU XIA, I think it is better than his last two films. Didn't get lost in its own spectacle, it's more consistent, and it's quite a loving homage to wuxia genre. It's probably the best Hong Kong film of the year.

Read Golden Rock's review of Wu Xia on Lovehkfilm.com, in which he said

"Wu Xia works better on a dramatic level rather than a visceral one because of how well the filmmakers tell the story. There are only three major action set pieces in Wu Xia, but each of them represents a major turning point in the story. The action in Wu Xia may be sparse in comparison to recent martial arts films, but the fight scenes are far more accomplished because Chan makes the action serve the story rather than the other way around.

However, Wu Xia‘s story has already been told many times in different genres. As Chan admits in interviews, his film is a stylistic exercise that stresses form over content."

So yes, this brings me back to finally guessing which film Yuhang was referring to.

(SPOILERS.... skip the rest of the blog post if you don't want to know ANYTHING about Wu Xia)

It didn't take me long. During the first set piece, when Donnie Yen's character tries to foil a robbery attempt in his workplace.

Immediately, I went "AHA! He must be talking about David Cronenberg's 'A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE'".

By no means am I pointing out that A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is groundbreaking for its 'Just-when-I-thought-I-was-out-they-pull-me-back-in' plot. The story had been done before, but the execution was different.

Let's face it, last year's REIGN OF ASSASSINS (I enjoyed it too) had a somewhat similar plot.

But A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and WU XIA?

Look at this synopsis:

- A family man with a loving wife and two kids foils a robbery at his workplace, killing two of the robbers in the middle of a confused struggle.

- He is lauded a hero.

- His past catches up with him when more bad people from his past arrives (during the mid-point of the film), the bad people hold people dear to him as hostage, threatening their lives until the protagonist is willing to admit whom he was. Protagonist gets injured, but he kills the attackers while revealing his past. (confirming audience's suspicions)

- In the end, our protagonist fights the Big Bad, who is actually his own father / ... or a brother who is like a father to him.

- Epilogue. He tries to return to a normal life. The film ends at his home, with his family.

The above works for both A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and WU XIA (but not really for REIGN OF ASSASSINS, despite the similar plot).

Thursday, August 04, 2011

NOW - Short film I did for Prada

Moon Lai is pensive


Almost a year ago, I mentioned about shooting a 1-minute epic here and here, and ended this:

We finished the shoot almost by midnight. By having such a long and ardous shoot with a child actress, it's most possible I'll be accused of child labour. In fact, because it's supposed to be an epic compressed into a single minute, it was one of the toughest and most challenging shoots I've ever endured.

Yet I soldiered on, and the end product is most probably awesome.

If it's really awesome, you'll be seeing it soon.

If not, well, I'll probably just pretend that this shoot never happened.

Moon Lai and Arika, happy to finish the shoot


I was in fact making the short film as part of Prada Japan's Yo! Video Project, and it has already been on their website for the past year (short film title is NOW). The short film is also played in certain Prada shops.

NOW (my short) playing at a Prada shop in Nagoya


Anyway, here's the 1-minute film that Lesly the cinematographer uploaded a while back.

NOW (Prada short film) from Lesly Leon Lee on Vimeo.



Aside from Prada shops, NOW actually played in film festivals like last year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, the Ozu International Film Festival in Italy, and the Festival du film minute de Lille 2010.

Last night, Lesly had just uploaded a 'DP's Cut' version of NOW (for the uninitiated, DP means Director of Photography, another term we used for cinematographers) using a lot of unused shots from the shoot. Because I had to stick close to the 1-minute limit, there were indeed quite a number of stuff that I ended up not using for the final film.

It's worth a look, the DP's Cut.

PRADA - NOW (DP Cut) from Lesly Leon Lee on Vimeo.



(UPDATED:
Lydia's interpretation of Lesly's cut on Twitter says everything that has to be said about the video.

Our conversation on Twitter

Her: WOW trippy. you encouraging a lifetime of consumerism? ;)
Me: or multiple generations!
Her: right, the DP cut spelt it out! and PRADA BAGS ON THE GROUND T.T edmund, blasphemy..

Indeed, it did look as if, one girl loses/ drops her bag, a younger girl picks it up and continues the eternal cycle of er... brand loyalty. Though Lesly's choice of music made this a somewhat dark affair!

The 'Prada Bag on the ground thing' was indeed part of the original plan and was in the original video. After I was done, I showed the rough cut around for some input. An experienced cinematographer who had been shooting ads for quite a while spoke out.

"Hm. You sure about this? I don't think Prada would be happy to see their bag on the ground..."

I started pondering, and figured that Prada wouldn't really get behind a short film that showed their classy products being... tossed onto the ground. So I cut it off and went for a more elliptical feel with the editing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

My short films INHALATION and EXHALATION are opening and closing films of InDPanda Short Film Festival

The InDPanda International Short Film Festival in Hong Kong is happening from the 5th to the 25th of August. My short film, INHALATION (last screened at the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico few days ago. You may remember that I wrote a message about the Bersih 2.0 rally to the audiences) will be part of its opening program on the 5th of August.

[INHALATION] Seng (Ernest Chong) confronts Mei (Susan Lee)
Inhalation


INHALATION is originally conceived as a spin-off short film for Woo Ming Jin's THE TIGER FACTORY. It stars Ernest Chong Shun Yuan and Susan Lee Fong Zhi. Cinematography by Kenny Chua, music by Wong Woan Foong. It premiered at the Pusan (now Busan) International Film Festival last October and picked up the Sonje award for Best Asian Short Film. It later played in Vancouver, Tokyo, Jakarta, Cinemanila International Film Festivals last year, and was also at this year's Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival.

My other short film, EXHALATION (last screened at the Curtas Vila du Conde International Film Festival in Portugal) will be part of the closing program on the 25th of August.

[Exhalation] Sayuri (Tomoe Shinohara) contemplates as Naoko (Kiki Sugino) is asleep
Exhalation


Starring Kiki Sugino (also one of the producers) and Tomoe Shinohara, EXHALATION is produced by Maiko Itagaki and Kiki. Cinematography by Shin Hayasaka. Sound by Sota Torigoe. Music, once again, by Wong Woan Foong. It premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival last year, and was also screened at this year's Rotterdam, Jeonju and Shanghai International Film Festivals.

It's not very often that you have a film festival bookended by a pair of your own films, actually, this has never happened to me before, so I'm very honoured.

If you live in Hong Kong, please go to the screenings at Broadway Cinematheque. I will be attending the closing ceremony (on Aug 25) and do a post-screening question and answer session for EXHALATION.

You can download the festival booklet here.
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