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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rest in peace, Theo Angelopoulos

Theo Angelopoulos


Yesterday, just like many other times, I woke up to the beeping sounds of Facebook chat, alerting me of incoming messages.

It was a film festival programmer friend of mine, his message was this:

Edmund, this has to do with one of your favourite film topics, Theo Angelopoulos. He had just died in a traffic accident, ran over by a motorbike!

I sat up, suddenly wide awake, and started retrieving more news of his sad passing just hours earlier. The Greek master filmmaker had indeed died of heavy injuries after being hit by a bike near his film set. He was in the middle of finishing his trilogy that started with THE WEEPING MEADOW and THE DUST OF TIME. Angelopoulos was 76 years old.

The motorcyclist, who was hospitalized too, is an off-duty cop.

To be hit by a bike near your film set while you were in the middle of a shoot, how horrible!

This brings my mind back to THE DUST OF TIME, a 2008 film that will end up, sadly, as Angelopoulos' last completed film.



That was the very first Angelopoulos film I've ever seen that introduced me to the rest of his filmography. It was in February 2009, I was at the Berlin Film Fest for the Talent Campus, just two weeks after I've completed the shoot of my short film KINGYO, and a couple of months before I would edit it. It was also a couple of weeks before I would launch myself into Woo Ming Jin's WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER (the very first feature film I produced and edited in its entirety)

Desperate to learn, I attended numerous workshops at the Talent Campus, one with Wim Wenders, another with Janus Kaminski, the famed cinematographer who had shot all of Spielberg's films since SCHINDLER'S LIST. Then, one more with Tilda Swinton, who remains one of my favourite actresses today.

Aside from these workshops, I tried my best to attend as many screenings as I could. After all, to me, one of the most essential education in filmmaking is to watch as many bloody films as you can, especially in a film festival, where you were able to discover gems that you never would do so under different circumstances.

I remember going to the gala screening of AN EDUCATION and watching Carey Mulligan from afar, and then, witnessing for myself, the birth of a star. I even ran through half the city of Berlin, and then hitchhike my way (a nice young German couple offered me a ride when I asked for directions) to another cinema where I could catch ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLONDE-HAIRED GIRL by then-101 year old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (he turns 104 this year). I saw him deliver his opening speech, but was already so exhausted that I passed out during the first scene of the film, and woke up by the sounds of clapping during its end credit. A fact that I feel ashamed of until this very day.

The press screening of Theo Angelopoulos' latest occurred in the afternoon. I arrived early to queue up for a seat. Intrigued by the synopsis of THE DUST OF TIME that I read on the festival catalogue. Being highly ignorant, I have only heard of Angelopoulos' name a few months earlier, when a Greek friend of mine who saw my old showreel told me that my visual style reminded him of the works of Angelopoulos. Being highly prideful, I remembered the name because I was curious to know why my humble little short films like LOVE SUICIDES and FLEETING IMAGES would invite comparisons to the oeuvre of a master!

I managed to secure a seat to the press screening. The film began and within its first ten minutes, as Willem Defoe launched into another one of his strangely-worded long monologues, I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness.

"Darn," I thought. "I should have drank some espresso before the film started."

A film-viewing experience without popcorn to munch on can be every intimidating. Alas, most film festivals disallow popcorns during their screenings, in order to preserve the PURITY of that viewing experience, to hear every single detail intended by the filmmaker without being drowned out by annoying crunching sounds of popcorn munching.

Around me, at the DUST OF TIME screening, were faint sounds of people snoring. The images onscreen became increasingly bizarre, like a half-remembered dream.

A half-remembered dream...

Ironically, this is how some people would describe an Angelopoulos film.

I feared, briefly, that I would doze off through the entire film like I did a night earlier with the de Oliveira film. My wounds were still fresh.

That was, until I reached a scene where a huge crowd converged at the city square after Lenin's death. The images were majestic, the score was haunting, I was suddenly very much awake.

I would remain awake through the rest of the film. Occasionally rolling my eyes at the "stylized" dialogue and maudlin histrionics, occasionally mesmerized by the poetic images I witnessed. Some scenes were indeed beautiful, some of his trademark long shots were indeed awe-inspiring. Seeing a long tracking shot where a character wanders in and out of his own memories, from present to past and then present again, speaking to people who could be ghosts or just conjurations of their own memory or imagination. How very art house! Or perhaps Art house with a capital A since it had so solemnly announce its own importance!

Seeing Willem Defoe in it, I thought of Carson Clay, his character in the second Mr Bean film. A parody of Art house filmmakers in film festivals filled with pomposity and pretensions. My mind wandered a little to the film within a film in Bean 2 and felt a little amused. That made me enjoy DUST OF TIME more.

Throughout the screening, some snickered, some continued to snore, a few seats away from me, a man was sighing a lot while scribbling on his notepad. A displeased film critic, it seemed.

"What was THAT?" I thought as the screening ended and I left. I was dazed. Until this day, I grimace at the mention of THE DUST OF TIME. But nonetheless, images from the film lingered in my mind for a long time, and I was adamant to find his earlier films, most master filmmaker have a, er, clunker. It would be stupid to write him off just because one of his latter-day works didn't turn out to be that good. That's like condemning Antonioni after watching his segment in EROS, or damning Kubrick for EYES WIDE SHUT (which to me, is still a bloody good film).

And because of this, I began seeking out other films by Angelopoulos. I started with LANDSCAPES IN THE MIST, followed it with the Cannes second place winner ULYSSES' GAZE, and then, the Palm D'or winning ETERNITY AND A DAY. Although I liked them to varying degrees, they all bowled me over by their scope, ambition and poetry.



Just look at that scene with Lenin's statue in Ulysses Gaze.



The flashes of brilliance I saw in THE DUST OF TIME were in full display in his earlier films, his style was very distinctive, somewhat Tarkovskian because of his meditative long shots and contemplative tone, yet different at the same time in terms of the recurring visual motifs and themes. Less bleak and more wistful and melancholic, maybe.

He, along with Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr,Wong Kar Wai and Edward Yang, are the few filmmakers I referenced most when I prepare for my film shoots.

Over and over again, as I find myself stuck while writing a script, I would pop in a dvd of an Angelopoulos film and study his craft, his tone, his rhythm.



I cannot count the amount of times I've watched bits and pieces of ULYSSES' GAZE and ETERNITY AND A DAY in the past two years, or the amount of times I've shown people one of his long takes, and then ask loudly "how did he do that??"

How indeed.

I would shake my head at parts of his films that didn't seem right to me. Even his masterpieces of the 80s and 90s (prior to that, his films were more emotionally distant, ALEXANDER THE GREAT is an example) The stylized acting, the stylized dialogue, the overblown melancholy, the manly monologues of melancholy delivered by his angstful protagonists.

And then I would smile, like how one would smile at the familiar antics of a fond one. "How very Angelopoulosian."

Yet I know that I would always revisit his works. Again and again. Perpetually studying. Perpetually seeking inspiration. There's always something new to discover.

Rest in peace, Theo Angelopoulos.

(I started to write this while I was in the middle of my 13-hour flight to Amsterdam. I continued fine-tuning this after reaching Rotterdam. When I was done with the entire entry, I realized the screening of my short films was an hour and a half away.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Two of my shorts, LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER and GIRL IN THE WATER at Rotterdam International Film Festival 2012

After only a few days in Malaysia to celebrate Chinese New Year, I'm flying off again in less than 24 hours to Netherlands for the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Both my short film LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER (making its European premiere) and another, GIRL IN THE WATER by Danish director Jeppe Ronde and my regular collaborator Woo Ming Jin ("THE TIGER FACTORY", "WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER"), which I helped to produce and edit, will part of the WAITING FOR SNOW IN MY KAMPONG program.

LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER poster
Last Fragments of Winter poster

Fern searching for stuff in the Mangrove tree
A scene from Girl in the Water


Aside from the aforementioned two shorts, SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR RADIOACTIVE VILLAGE (Survival Guide Untuk Kampong Radioaktif Project), a collection of four short films by Malaysian masters like Liew Seng Tat ("FLOWER IN THE POCKET"), Tan Chui Mui ("LOVE CONQUERS ALL", "YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER"), Woo Ming Jin again and Yeo Joon Han ("SELL OUT!") is also part of WAITING FOR SNOW IN MY KAMPONG.

The four short films are available for viewing on Youtube, you can check it out if you haven't already.

This is Ming Jin's LOVE DISH (Masakan Cinta).



This is LAI KWAN'S LOVE by Tan Chui Mui.



This is ORANG MINYAK XX by Yeo Joon Han.



And finally, WELCOME TO KAMPONG RADIOAKFTIF by Liew Seng Tat.



Will be curious to see all these films, along with GIRL IN THE WATER, on the big screen for the very first time.

You can read about my LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER shoot. I shot the film at the famed snowy village of Shirakawa-go, and then I returned to Malaysia to finish the rest of the film. Also went through a gruelling sound-mixing session with some industry legends.

Or you can read about the GIRL IN THE WATER shoot here and here. Along with my editing experiences too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A simple reunion dinner @ my home (Chinese New Year 2012)

After a few days of shoot in Taipei, and then another few days in Hong Kong for the post-production session, I returned to Tokyo for half a day, before making my way back to Malaysia for Chinese New Year.

It was the morning of January 20th. Tokyo was snowing for the very first time in 2012.



However, instead of the intended morning flight at 10:30am, some, er, stuff happened.





Yes, basically, I realized that there was a miscommunication with the travel agent and my flight ticket was never reserved! (I received an email more than a week earlier but that was really just a pending book which needed my personal confirmation... etc etc) It was horrifying to realize that only when I was at the check-in counter.

But I managed to fly in the end. Catching the 10pm flight instead.

At least the seats were empty.



So I arrived in the early morning of 21st Jan.

And today, on the 22nd of January, Chinese New Year's Eve, I'm having my usual simple reunion dinner at home with parents and sister.

Simple reunion dinner for Chinese New Year 2012


Last year in 2011, I celebrated Chinese New Year at Rotterdam International Film Festival dining at a Mexican restaurant with Filipino, Japanese and Korean film friends.

In 2010, I took more photos during my reunion dinner.

This year's simpler. Just a short video of our dinner to let you have a look at how I usually spend my Chinese New Year Eves.




Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hiroshi Teshigahara's films and Ikebana

It's been a busy week.

My friend Dawn Yang (she's also something of an unofficial mascot of this blog. Look at the 'most popular posts' on your right, people generally stumble onto this website because they were looking for her or the exposing of her alleged boyfriend) had just came to Tokyo for a visit, so I was showing her around. If you were following on Twitter, you'll spot these tweets.





Aside from that, I also started doing some research on ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement). It was for a script that I was working on.

Not entirely sure where to start, I tweeted for help. And help did arrive when Brian Darr asked me to check out the short documentary, Ikebana, by Hiroshi Teshigahara.



After all, Teshigahara came from a line of ikebana masters. His father Sofu Teshigahara was the founder of Sōgetsu School of Ikebana, and the documentary short covered some of Sofu's Ikebana classes, and also an amazing art installation that Sofu put together.

After Sofu died in 1979, Kasumi Teshigahara (Hiroshi's younger sister) took over as the second Iemoto (headmaster) of the school. But she passed away a year later, Hiroshi Teshigahara himself became the third Iemoto of the school in 1980 until his death in 2001. The school is currently headed by Akane Teshigahara, Hiroshi's daughter. Last year (2011), the school had a series of activities to celebrate her tenth anniversary as Iemoto.

Akane had actually done some flower arrangement demonstrations on the stage. This is a video of her ikebana demonstration in Sydney back on May 2010.



It's all really interesting. You can read about the Sogetsu school and the history of the Teshigahara family here.

One thing leads to another. As usual.

I started watching other films by Hiroshi Teshigahara. I've seen "Woman In The Dunes" a while ago, so this time, I decided to catch "Pitfall" and "Face of Another". "Pitfall" was his debut feature, "Woman In The Dunes", his second, was an international sensation, winning a Special Jury Prize at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, and also getting nominated for Best Foreign Film and Best Director (!!) in the Oscars. The latter was a rare feat, especially considering how avant-garde his film was!

Some time ago, Justin (who used to contribute for this blog) told me that if I were to adapt one of his stories into a film, it better be as sensual as this scene in Woman In The Dunes.



(Pitfall, Woman In The Dunes and Face Of Another are all collaborations between Teshigahara and the novelist Kobo Abe, and they are all scored by the composer Toru Takemitsu).

Very sensual indeed.

I don't know how to describe PITFALL. It's about a wandering miner who got murdered by an assassin in a white suit, and became a ghost wandering around the town, witnessing the plight of other impoverished, helpless workers of postwar Japan. Here's the PITFALL trailer. It's like an Alain Resnais film (Hiroshi Mon Amour comes to mind), or a magical realist novel, some called it a documentary fantasy. It's really pretty damned good.



But the one that really captured my attention was FACE OF ANOTHER, his follow-up to WOMAN IN THE DUNES, which was, apparently, a critical (and commercial, I'm sure) failure during its time. But obviously, it was another one of those films that was way ahead of its time. Unlike PITFALL and WOMAN IN THE DUNES, this is set in an urban landscape, and feels more contemporary.

A guy got horribly disfigured, he becomes increasingly bitter and self-centered when his bandaged look garnered some unwanted attention from other people, and even his wife acted uncomfortable around him. But then, his psychiatrist makes him a mask, a medical experiment which uses the face of another, so that it can cover his scars seamlessly and give him the identity of another person. With a new face, he sets out to seduce his own wife! The scenes of his seduction is so mindblowing, erotically-charged, that I had to pause, and rewind, just to make sure I saw what I taught I saw. The filmmaking was so daring, so masterful in atmosphere creation! My mind began to race through a number of possibilities for my own script. That's the joy of watching the works of masters, regardless of time, you always end up feeling inspired. Well, for me anyway.

Here's a newer trailer of FACE OF ANOTHER (for the MASTERS OF CINEMA series). Look at it, LOOK AT IT!!



When it comes to discussing about the Japanese filmmaking masters, Teshigahara is often overlooked, perhaps for his avant-garde style, or perhaps he's not as prolific as the others. But I think he definitely up there on the Pantheon, with the likes of Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Imamura etc.

So, there you go, if you have the chance, please check out Hiroshi Teshigahara's films.

Since then, I have returned to my research on ikebana.


And have put together a rough outline of sorts for the story. Let's hope I'll be able to make that in within these few months. After I'm done with this other directing job that I've picked up. But that's a story for another blog entry.

Friday, January 06, 2012

My segment in '60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero' also mentioned in NEGATIV

This article by Dennis Vetter at the highly-regarded German film website NEGATIV came out just a few days after the Dec 22 screening of the omnibus film '60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero' (on Christmas Day, actually).

I saw this article shortly after it was published and browsed through it hoping that I could understand something with my limited German skills. Unfortunately, the only word I recognized was my own name.

So I ran this through Google Translation and here's a rough translation about what the article said regarding 'I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME', my contribution to the omnibus film.

The original German text...

Jeder einzelne Moment besaß hier Bedeutung. Im Gedächtnis blieb etwa Edmund Yeo, nicht nur aufgrund seiner lebendigen Persönlichkeit, sondern auch deshalb, weil in seinem Film der Schneefall der Örtlichkeit eine Entsprechung fand und er in wunderschön fotografierten Bildern wunderschöne Darstellerinnen präsentierte. Das zieht immer, weil im Publikum Menschen sitzen, so funktioniert der Anthropozentrismus, den viele so gerne mit dem Kino verknüpfen.

is translated to:

Every single moment had meaning here. In memory of Edmund Yeo was about, not only because of his lively personality, but also because in his film, the snowfall was a correlation of the location and he presented in beautifully photographed images beautiful actresses. This often leads to sit in the audience because people, so does the anthropocentrism, which many love to associate with cinema.

Well, I kinda guessed what it mean. Thanks, Dennis!

I DREAMT OF SOMEONE DREAMING OF ME 1


The aesthetics of my segment was definitely enhanced by my two beautiful actresses Moon Lai (Woo Ming Jin's 'The Tiger Factory', my one-minute Prada short film 'Now') and Arisa Koike (my latest short film "Last Fragments of Winter").

Once again, you CAN watch my 1-minute segment in my video recap here.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

I was mentioned in Hollywood Reporter's review of '60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero'

It's a great way to start the year. The stunningly beautiful balloons of the Zojo-ji New Year Countdown. An epic dinner of desserts with Dawn Yang yesterday.



And today, on the 3rd day of 2012, Maggie Lee's review of 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO (omnibus film I participated in) on Hollywood Reporter had this to say about my segment "I Dreamt Of Someone Dreaming Of Me".

Twentysomething emerging short film directors also make their mark with works that display resourcefulness (with budgets, time, etc).

Through "I Dreamt of Someone Dreaming of Me," 26-year-old Japan-based Malaysian Edmund Yeo expresses his cultural duality with split screens, one following a Malaysian girl in a cheongsam as she loiters around the city, the other featuring a Japanese girl against backdrops of traditional architecture in the snowy North. Bookended by one standing by the sea and the other by a pond, he integrates the water motif into a broader idea of the flowing, ephemeral nature of filmmaking and of this particular one-off screening.

Very awesome. Very honoured.

You might remember me mentioning about the film's one and only screening at Tallinn that I attended on December 22, 2011, with my nice video recap, where you can actually see the whole 1-minute of "I Dreamt of Someone Dreaming of Me"




Sunday, January 01, 2012

Thousands of balloons in the air during the countdown to 2012 @ Zojo-ji Temple, Tokyo

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Well, I wasn't expecting to end 2011 with such a downer of a post.

Therefore, I'm going to start this year with a bang, by showing you a video I shot of the countdown to 2012 at Zojo-ji Temple that I went to last night.

(... there was also a rather big earthquake right before I started writing this, when it was shaking, I was sitting on my bed, quietly wondered how serious would it get. And as I was thinking, the quake stopped. Apparently, it was a Magnitude 7.0 earthquake.)

But anyway, here's the video.



Every year during New Year's Eve, people would go there and line up for a 'Wishing Paper' in the Temple. the booth opens at 8:30pm, but usually people have to line up at least 2 hours earlier (which I did, yesterday). Each 'Wishing Paper' can be exchanged for a balloon to be released into the air during the countdown.

Thousands of balloon in the air? A sight so spectacular that I can barely even describe it.

In evenings, Zojo-ji is very beautiful.

Zojo-ji on New Year's Eve

Zojo-ji on New Year's Eve 2


Especially with Tokyo Tower looming majestically over it. Despite seeing it so often, I somehow find myself unable to stop taking photos of it.

My last two New Year's Eve were spent at Maiko the Producer's house, with the lovely hospitality of her parents and their delicious sukiyaki. I could just sit back, relax, and watch the Red-White Competition on television. (You can read about my New Year's Eve 2010 recap here, or the New Year's Eve 2009 recap here and here)

I wasn't going to be at her place this time, so I thought I would find another way to signal the beginning of the new year. (... even though it meant that I have to sacrifice watching Shiina Ringo at this year's Red-White Competition!) But I tried to retain some tradition. For example, every time when I reach Maiko's hometown on New Year's Eve, I would buy a shirt at Shimamura shop to wear on New Year's Day. Yesterday, I bought a shirt at a Shimamura shop closer to my place too.

Since 2009, buying a shirt from Shimamura on New Year's Eve (to wear on New Year) had became an annual tradition. Bought this just now, wearing it on the 1st day of 2012. Gangsta.


Saying goodbye to 2011.

Saying Goodbye to 2011 at Zojo-ji


And then, after the balloons that flew into the air, after the rapturous cheers of the thousands and thousands of people around me, I realized 2012 had started.

Tokyo Tower signaled the arrival of 2012


Again, the same question I asked a year ago.

I wonder where will I be a year from now?
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