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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rest in peace, Kaneto Shindo

The Japanese director Kaneto Shindo passed away yesterday at the age of 100.

I remember him most clearly from the closing ceremony of the Tokyo International Film Festival 2010. That day, he received the Best Director award for his very last film POSTCARDS. During his acceptance speech, the then 98-year-old director would announce his retirement from filmmaking.

Kaneto Shindo speaks


I actually managed to catch his speech on video.




That, along with TIGER FACTORY receiving the special jury mention, were among the most memorable moments of the ceremony for me. That was also the closest I've ever gotten to this .

Reading about his death, I could only immediately remember that moment again.

I tried to look at his filmography to see whether I have seen any of his films. Sadly, and to my shock, I haven't seen any. His two most well-known films had been THE NAKED ISLAND or ONIBABA.

I am going to rectify this immediately by watching THE NAKED ISLAND now, in his honour. Rest in peace, Kaneto Shindo. How awesome it is, to be able to make films until you were almost a hundred years old.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Theo Angelopoulos mini-retrospective and documentary

Last week, just a day before I headed off to Ningbo China for a short trip over the weekend, I walked past the nearby arthouse theater Waseda Shochiku and paused when I noticed that they were screening three Theo Angelopoulos films in a span of two weeks.

mini Theo Angelopoulos retrospective held in Waseda Shochiku


The films were:

The 4-hour THE TRAVELLING PLAYERS (1975), which I have yet to see.

THE TRAVELLING PLAYERS Japanese poster


The other two, shown in a double bill, were LANDSCAPE IN THE MISTS (1988), and ETERNITY AND A DAY (1998). Both I've already seen, (and in the case of the latter, I've seen quite a number of times)

AN ETERNITY AND A DAY / LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST double bill


I went into the cinema, looking around, hoping that there would be copies of the Japanese film posters around, unfortunately, they were none. (Japan usually promote their films in the form of A4 sized flyers, called a "chirashi", I have made some for my own films before, and often collect them)

Angelopoulos' films had always been rather critically well-received in Japan. Aside from limited arthouse releases in the country, they had won some local awards too. THE TRAVELLING PLAYERS received a Best Director For a Foreign Film from Kinema Junpo, while ULYSSES' GAZE (1995) was Mainichi newspaper's Best Foreign Film winner.

Japanese obituaries of him written during his untimely death in January were posted on the bulletin board.

Theo Angelopoulos Japanese obituary


I wrote about my remembrance of Theo Angelopoulos back in January, shortly after his death, recounting how I discovered him by stumbling into a DUST OF TIME (which would end up being his final film) press screening at Berlin Film Festival 2009. Although I didn't really like DUST OF TIME, there was something fascinating about it that made me dig out the rest of his filmography. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with his films.

Here's what I wrote then:

"...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."

So far, I have seen eight of his films. (aside from the aforementioned three, I have also seen ULYSSES'S GAZE, THE BEEKEEPER, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, THE SUSPENDED STEP OF THE STORK and THE WEEPING MEADOW) I don't necessarily love all of them, yet I always loved the fact that he was aiming to do something ambitious and monumental with his films, he would try to give his films this novelistic depth and sweeping scope, constantly revisiting his own past while depicting the history of his country, which were probably filtered by his own memories.

Every time I think of his films, the great music of ETERNITY AND A DAY (probably my favourite of all his works) would play loudly in my mind. His films would never be the same without Eleni Karaindrou's soundtrack.

Along with those grand, goosebumps-inducing moments from various different films (that are usually accompanied by majestic music from Eleni Karaindrou).

Like the Lenin statue scene in ULYSSES'S GAZE.



The separation of the lovers in THE WEEPING MEADOW.



The ending of SUSPENDED STEP OF THE STORK.



And the ending of ETERNITY AND A DAY.



(notice how the last two are actually supremely long tracking shots)

I have struggled with whether I wanted to catch the ETERNITY AND A DAY / LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST double bill during the last few days. Today, I decided that I really wanted to go and was about to leave until I checked the theater schedule and realized that the screenings ended two days ago. (it's now a GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO / LET ME IN double bill). And now I feel a hint of regret because I had wondered what the two would look like on the big screen since I've only viewed them on small computer screens via my DVD (which had some pretty bad-quality transfers. Blu-Ray releases of his films would be great)

While most would say that Angelopoulos's best films were the ones he made during the 70s and 80s, I probably like his latter-day works more (minus DUST OF TIME) because the melancholic themes of regret and alienation are more apparent, while the harmonious convergence of past and present, dream and reality, appear more frequently (he often had scenes where the protagonists encounter ghosts of his memories and people from his past in a single continuous shot). The latter films were less rooted in realism, they are more spiritual and mystical, more dream-like.

I'll end this post by sharing a documentary of his.

THEO ANGELOPOULOS: LIFEWORK IN FILM.















Monday, May 14, 2012

Why film festivals matter to me

(UPDATED: This blog post was initially a repost of an email on the Malaysian Cinema mailing list from Venice Film Festival programmer Paolo Bertolin asking for the means to contact FINAS (the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia). Was hoping that posting this in public would help him get a reply.

He got it, problem solved, so as per his request, I'll remove his email exchanges in the mailing list. And expand more on my last few paragraphs regarding my thoughts about film festivals. It's sort of a love letter for film festivals, perhaps.)


The Malaysian Cinema mailing list is a mailing list started by filmmaker Amir Muhammad back in 1999 that, miraculously, remains (rather) active until this very day. It is frequented by all kinds of film people, directors, actors, critics, fans and the like. Almost everyone is in this mailing list, from the late Yasmin Ahmad, to folks like Tan Chui Mui, Woo Ming Jin, Ho Yuhang, Liew Seng Tat etc.

I usually recommend this to aspiring filmmakers, film lovers, or other people with some sort of casual interest in Malaysian independent cinema, in case they want to find a place to contact these filmmakers, or know about certain film screenings and other events that are announced in the mailing list.

One of the members of this mailing list is Paolo Bertolin, film programmer of Venice Film Festival (and a few others, like Udine Film Festival). I've known Paolo for a couple of years and he is an ardent supporter of Malaysian cinema. Long has he tried to make sure foreign countries are exposed to Malaysian film directors and their works. And because of his efforts, I had the opportunity to have my short film KINGYO screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival back in 2009. For an unknown then-25 year old small fry Malaysian filmmaker like me, to have such a platform to present my work was quite a life-altering and mind-blowing experience (for starters, you get upgraded from "small fry" to "slightly bigger but still rather small fry"), especially when you know that only a handful of other Malaysian films before yours were shown in Venice during its nearly 70 year history.

(in case you were wondering about what other Malaysian films were shown in Venice before: the first was Saw Teong Hin's 2004 costume epic PUTERI GUNUNG LEDANG, still the most expensive Malaysian film to date, I think. Yeo Joon Han's 2006 short ADULTS ONLY and his 2008 debut feature SELL OUT! And then there's also Ho Yuhang's 2006 film RAIN DOGS). On the same year that KINGYO was shown, Woo Ming Jin's WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER (which I produced), was also screened under the Orizzonti section at Venice.

Ming Jin, Paolo, Fooi Mun and me
Ming Jin and I with Paolo, at Cannes 2010 (along with THE TIGER FACTORY lead actress Moon Lai).


A few days ago, Paolo explained to a member of the mailing list why he had "rebeloftheneongod" on his email address. This was what he said:

"Rebels of the Neon God" is the title of the debut feature of your fellow national Tsai Ming-liang. You might not know it, but Mr. Tsai is the most widely known and internationally respected Malaysian-born film director - although, alas!, he has been almost entirely active in Taiwan. And I am very glad to add that in 1994 his second feature film, "Vive l'Amour!", was a winner of the Golden Lion at the festival I am working for (you might not know it, but this is one of the most important awards in the international festival circuit, and in the past directors like Andrei Tarkovski, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Robert Altman, Alain Resnais, etc won it).

I was excited to see these names being mentioned, names of my heroes like Tarkovsky (I wrote about him to commemorate his 80th birthday last month), Resnais, Altman (I wrote about his film, The Company, back in 2006, long before I knew I would really be making films for a living, and about him again later that year when he passed away). Their Golden Lion wins cemented their places in the Pantheon. I was actually quite glad that Alexander Sokurov joined the club last year with his latest film. Sokurov is a filmmaker whose films I had been watching quite a lot recently and might write about in the near future if I have the time or opportunity.

Tsai Ming-Liang was a Golden Lion winner. Unfortunately, not many casual Malaysian film viewers (or Malaysians in general, really) have either heard of Tsai Ming-liang, let alone seen his films. But then, for those who have actually seen his films, not many of them knew that he's Malaysian either! (I wrote about his career advice for me in 2007, and also posted videos of his Q and A sessions for Visage at the Tokyo Filmex 2009.)

I guess that happens when your films are played more in festival circuits.

"Film festivals are meant to educate the audiences." Was a line from film critic Chris Fujiwara (currently the artistic director of Edinburgh International Film Festival) that buried itself deep in my heart when I first heard him say that during the CON-CAN awards ceremony. It really summed up for me one of the great joys of attending a film festival, it's not just about walking the red carpet or promoting my own films, but also (mostly) the fact that I can watch other films from countries I've never been to, by directors I've never heard of. Most of the time, they can be such pleasant discoveries!

I never heard of Nuri Bilge Ceylan until I saw 3 MONKEYS at the Dubai International Film Festival 2008. I heard of Theo Angelopoulos but had never seen any of his films until I saw DUST OF TIME at the Berlin Film Fest 2009 (which, sadly, would end up becoming his last film due to his untimely passing earlier this year). In Venice Film Festival 2009, I managed to catch Brillante Mendoza's LOLA, that was the first film of his that I ever saw.

Aside from providing long overdue introductions to the masters, they were also perfectly wonderful opportunities to discover new directors.

For example, last year at the Tokyo International Film Festival, I was absolutely enthralled by FIRST RAINS OF SPRING, a Japanese/ Kazakhstan production by Shinju Sano (from Japan) and Erlan Nurmuhambetov (from Kazakhstan). I liked it so much that when I bumped into the filmmakers at the closing party, I had to tell them about it. And because of that, I wanted to keep a look out for their future films. Shinju Sano had been in Kazakhstan for a long time, directing and producing many award-winning films in that country.

I always like to remember the time when I was rushing to AN EDUCATION screening at the Berlin Film Festival, I saw, a short distance away, that the film's young actress was walking excitedly down the red carpet with its director, smiling at the flashing cameras. I noticed how happy she seemed, to be there, how fresh and young she was. And just a few short years later, she, Carey Mulligan, would be delivering all kinds of wonderful performances in so many good films.

There are all kinds of similar examples I would love to give, from the film festivals that I managed to attend in the last 4-5 years. But I don't even know where to start, or where to end. I had wished so much to share these beautiful experiences with people I met, films I saw or discovered randomly. Yet I have to resign to the fact that those I can share this with back in my country is rare. And thus, when I tell stories of film festivals, I can only talk about famous directors or actors I met, instead of the films I actually saw.

The sad fact is, until this very day, most Malaysians don't know what a film festival is really about. Which is unsurprising, aside from the glorious Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival that lasted for a lengthy two years (2006-2007), we never really had an actual film festival. It is something entirely alien to the fabric of our culture, to our everyday lives. (there are some small festivals organized by foreign embassies or private bodies in multiplexes, like a "Hong Kong Movie Festival", "French Film Fest" or "Japanese Film Festival" where, in a span of a week, 5-6 films from one particular country are shown.

I am often asked by people back home whether I am flying to all these film festivals by parasiting on my family's fortunes. (and also that I was never truly regarded by most as a "filmmaker" because my films are shown in this weird thing called "film festival", instead of in multiplexes of their favourite shopping malls. So even though I have been producing and directing films for a few years, many friends from school back home still refer to me as "the future film director", because the existences of what I do now are denied.)

For many, going to the cinema is viewed only as a social thing to do (I know many who are unwilling to go to a cinema alone), a mode of entertainment to pass time and forget about after you exit the theaters. The fact that cinema can be more than just that is beyond comprehension... or it induces groans and eye-rolling with damning mutters of "artsy fartsy". (There is a stigma to "film festival films" that they are always boring. The word "art film" is mostly thrown at films that are inherently boring and slow-paced.)

I grew up being slightly self-conscious that I was a bit more passionate about cinema than people around me. It's a funny thing, growing up in Malaysia as a filmmaker.

But when I'm in a film festival screening, sitting and waiting comfortably in the dark for a film to start, the rest is forgotten.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ying Liang, James Cameron, The New Yorker

I wrote about Ying Liang's horrifying situation with the Chinese authorities a few days ago, the responses were surprising. Although many of our friends in the circle were already aware of the situation and had communicated with him on Facebook, other friends of mine were very nice to help spread the news around on Twitter and Facebook. This news was picked up by Richard Brody of The New Yorker.

Brody had written in the magazine about Ying Liang's previous films, which, to tell you the truth, I haven't really seen. (I'll rectify that soon), and in his blog post, Brody had many nice things to say about Ying Liang's films.

Specifically, Ying has a seemingly instinctive eye for incisive angles—there’s something amazingly relaxed and spontaneous about his cannily expressive compositions—as well as a naturally analytical grasp of revealing situations and moments. His stories are straightforward and simple, but they make contact with the most sensitive points of Chinese life, which he views with a quiet, stoic, almost ironic outrage—until his narratives burst forth with grand-scale catastrophes (filmed documentary-style, on scant budgets). His apocalyptic imagination has an inescapably sociopolitical and gloriously metaphorical dimension. I’ve written in the magazine about his first three features (“Taking Father Home,” “The Other Half,” and “Good Cats”), as well as his short film “Condolences” and, for that matter, about Ying himself, whom I met when he came to town in 2009.

But what really caught my eye in Brody's article was a James Cameron quote from a recent New York Times interview. (James Cameron was visiting Beijing for the release of Titanic 3D). It was a discussion about the Chinese censorship, where Cameron pointed out that censorship had became a lot less restrictive than before, and was probably moving to the right direction.

When asked whether he had talked to other filmmakers— his peers—about Chinese censorship?

This was Cameron's reply:

"No. I’m not interested in their reality. My reality is that I’ve made two films in the last 15 years that both have been resounding successes here, and this is an important market for me. And so I’m going to do what’s necessary to continue having this be an important market for my films. And I’m going to play by the rules that are internal to this market. Because you have to. You know, I can stomp my feet and hold my breath but I’m not going to change people’s minds that way. Now I do feel that everything is trending in the right direction right now, as I mentioned earlier."

It was an honest reply that showed very clearly where his interests lie. Yes, it's tricky to be political, and trickier to comment on the practices of a foreign culture. But it was a little discomforting to see the dismissal of the "reality" faced by Chinese filmmakers, artists and writers. Especially when this comes from someone you admired so much since you were a child (TERMINATOR 2 remains one of my all-time top ten action films). It does suck to be one of the "little guys".

Anyway, back to Ying Liang, yesterday, he had posted on Facebook a list of explanations in both English and Chinese regarding his own issue, just to clarify a few things.

1. WHEN NIGHT FALLS is a feature film, not a documentary, because there were performing and shooting plan in the film. Just one thing: the story really referents that case.

2. The copyright holder is Jeonju IFF, not me. Therefore the government discussed with the head of the festival, not with me, and they tried to use 10,000,000,000 won to buy. Of course, the festival refused this “business”. My film belongs to the part of Jeonju Digital Project, this year they invited Raya Martin, Vimukthi and me. The festival gave me about 280,000CNY as production fee.

3. My parents and my wife's parents were harassed by policemen at the early of this April. The last time, I got the info, the policemen from Police Department, National Security, and National Protection had visited my family in Shanghai at least seven times. Their main work were helping my parents to understand “my case”: such as the film exposed the eyesore of them, nobody could be allowed to touch the case about Yang Jia, and I would be arrested once I come back. The day before yesterday, my friend gave a call to my home; she said my mother’s voice and emotion sound ok, but telephone always discontinue, maybe phone was being eavesdropped.

4. When the Policemen from National Security visited me in HK, they didn't use true identity, just said they from the Foreign Office of Shanghai Government. Because of my families' troublesome, I thought I must see them. They told me my film didn’t meet the true, and violate somebody's emotion. Then they request me to cancel all screening plan, or re-edit the film.

My friend who is the human right lawyer told me the policemen's accusations are absurd. They should tell the people what the true situation is, and all lawyers who with the heart of justice are waiting for re-adjudging Yang Jia's case. Regarding somebody's emotion, in fact, that person should sue me, not police department. However, it wouldn't be a criminal case, and I shouldn't be arrested too.

5. I'm Hk now, because I accepted the invitation to be the Artist in Residence, from Mr. Shu Kei who is the dean of School of Film and Television, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Shu Kei also is the Artistic Producer of this film, some of students of the school attended in this film's production. Therefore the film was made by a team. I wish some person on FB who doesn't know more about these won't criticize HKAPA anymore. I have great friendship with students and colleagues here, and we just like a family.

6. Somebody always asks why I want to touch this “sensitive” story. This is my answer: to me, there is not any “sensitive” story, just the story what I interesting, I have feelings, and I want to tell. I never consider whether a story is political, with the topic of conversation, or social.


说明几点,如下:

1.《我还有话要说》是一部剧情片,并非纪录片。因由演员扮演,拍摄是组织性的。只是“电影故事”里的人和事,与现实对应。

2.政府拿出100亿韩元(5千万人民币)向全州国际电影节购买版权,并非向我,那是因为版权归全州影展所有。我参与了全州的艺术项目:“三人三色”(Jeonju digital project),该项目已做十几年,每年邀请三位导演。今年有我,菲律宾的Raya Martin 和斯里兰卡的Vimukthi, 而出了制作费的全州影展当然是出品方。

3. 我和我太太的双方家人受骚扰,始于4月上旬。我最后一次了解到上海家人的情况时,我妈妈说公安、国保和国安已上门累计达七次,主要是给我父母分析我的“案情”,并指明我的片子揭了短,与杨佳有关的题材不能碰,我只要回国必被捕。前天,我有朋友去电我上海家里,据说我妈妈声音和情绪都正常,只是电话有中断现象,疑为被监听。

4.国安到香港来找我谈时,并没用真实身份,只说自己是上海市政府外联办的人。而我之所以愿意在香港与他们一谈,那是因为我的家人已不堪骚扰。谈话期间,他们对我提出两点指控:1)片子与案情不符。2)伤害了某些当事人的感情和权益。——据此,警察要求永远不要放映,或修改片子。

我做维权律师的朋友告诉我,两点都为荒谬:1)假设警察认为片子与案情不符,那就请当局公布当年所有的案情,所有有职业道德的律师都盼着这一天的到来,等着杨佳案的发回重审。2)假设侵害了某人感情,就请由具体某人提出对我的诉讼,且说到底是民事诉讼,何至于逮捕。

5.我之所以在香港,是因受到香港演艺学院电影电视学院院长舒琪老师的邀请,在此任驻校艺术家一年,并带课。另,舒琪老师为这部片的监制,且电影电视学院的部分毕业生和在校生参与了这部片子的制作,所以是集体的心血。请某些不太了解事实的网友,不要指责演艺学院没有声援我等等,我与该学院的师生关系非常好,是一家人。

6. 总有人问我为什么碰这个“敏感”题材等等。我的回应是,对我来说,只存在感兴趣的、有体会的、想表达的题材,不存在“敏感”题材。是否政治性,具备话题性,或者社会性,是别人的事,并非一名作者需要考虑的本分。

And just a few moments ago, Ying Liang posted some words from Wang Jing Mei, the mother of Yang Jia during an interview with RFA (Radio Free Asia). The article is in Chinese only.

“杨佳的母亲王静梅表示,该电影是要反映她的经历和感受,只有她才有资格判断是否符合事实。当局无权指责电影的内容,更不应任意打压。

她说:“只是做一个真实的记录,为何这样对待他。那是我亲身经历的东西,你没经历,没权说对与错。”

王静梅说,很高兴她的真实经历能以电影方式留下记录,亦很希望能有机会看到该影片。”

My translation:

Wang Jing Mei, mother of Yang Jia, said that the film (When Night Falls) documented her experiences and feelings, and it was up to her to decide whether they were factually accurate. Authorities had no rights to question the content of the film, let alone suppress it.

She said: "This is merely a documented reality. Why did the government treat him like this? Those were my personal experiences, not yours, who are they to say that it is right or wrong?"

She added that she was happy that what she endured were chronicled on this film, and hoped that she would be able to watch this film one day.

Yes. Who are they to dismiss her reality?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Ying Liang - A Chinese filmmaker's plight

Two weeks ago, I translated Professor Si-Tu Zhao Dun's words of wisdom about how film directing as a profession does not really exist shared by my friend, the Chinese filmmaker Ying Liang.

I met Ying Liang in late 2009 at a Chinese restaurant near Keio University. It was quite a coincidence, we were both at the university for separate screening events (he was a guest of a showcase of independent Chinese directors, I was there for the Con-Can Movie Festival Screening of my Grand Prix-winning short, Fleeting Images), and we all ended up at the same restaurant. It was even more coincidental when it turned out that he knew Ming Jin too (and a bunch of other Malaysian director friends of mine whom he met in various film festivals).

Ying Liang had directed a few feature films, like TAKING FATHER HOME 背鸭子的男孩 (2005).



THE OTHER HALF (2006), GOOD CATS (2008), and the Tiger Award-winning short film CONDOLENCES (2010).

He also ran the Chongqing Independent Film and Video Festival. My dad went to the 2010 edition of the festival and ended up meeting Ying Liang as well. The world is very small.

A few days ago, Dad called me from the Jeonju International Film Festival (which Ying Liang was invited as one of the three directors for this year's Jeonju Digital Project, along with Filipino director Raya Martin and Sri Lankan director Vimukti Jayasundara).

"Did you hear what happened to Ying Liang?" Dad asked. "He can't go back to China anymore. It had something to do with the new film he made."

I was a little mortified.

A few days have passed. And finally, on Ying Liang's Facebook status update, he sort of shed some light upon this matter:

It's a so stupid country! I just made a film, maybe it's very bad, very boring, very bullshit, and it's really a film only...

In the past one month, the policemen from Police Department, National Security, National Protection visited my family in Shanghai at least seven times. They used the intimidate words to talk with my parents, such as: "Major Case", "Special Case", "Important Case","Force Action", "Arrest" ... Then they went to Sichuan, visited my wife's family, used the same way to do...Then they went to HK, fault me that my film didn't meet the truth, and violate somebody's emotion (they got my script through non-legal way)... Then they went to South Korea, want to use 10,000,000,000won (about 50,000,000CNY, about 5,000,000Euro) to buy the copyright of this film... I came back in HK the day before, and heard the head of Shanghai Police Department gave an order: once I am in China, they will arrest me.

OMG, I just made a film, it's really a film only...


这是一个愚蠢透顶的国家。我不过拍了一部电影,也许是一部很差、很闷、很狗屎的电影,真的只是一部电影唉。。。

过去一个月,公安、国保、国安轮番到我上海家里,对我父母“轰炸”:什么大案、要案、特案、特别办理、“刚性行动”、“回国就逮捕”。。。所有能想到的恐吓词汇一并用上;之后跨省到四川我太太家,又是连日“轰炸”;再跨境到香港,指责我作品不符合案情实事,侵害某些当事人的感情(他们通过非法手段,看过我的剧本)。。。再之后是跨国到南韩,向全州市政厅和全州影展提出,用100亿韩元(5千万人民币)购买版权。。。前天我回到香港,昨天从警察系统内部听说,上海市公安局局长亲自下的令,只要我回国,先逮捕再说。。。

天,我只是拍了一部电影,真的只是一部电影唉。。。

This is indeed quite horrifying.

Looking at the comments section, Ying Liang responded to some well-wishers.

The title of his film is WHEN NIGHT FALLS 《我还有话要说》 (literal translation: "I still have something to say"), which is possibly a fictionalized (?) account about the case of Yang Jia (a guy who got executed in 2008 for murdering six policemen with a knife in a Shanghai police station after being arrested and beaten for riding an unlicensed bicycle. Mr. Yang became a hero among many Chinese, and was later executed.) and his mother. (who disappeared after being taken to the police station for questioning prior to her son's trial, and, well, reappeared months later in a psychiatric hospital with a different name, another article about Yang Jia's mother can be read here)

It is his contribution to the Jeonju Digital Project.

Ying Liang is now stuck in Hong Kong.

He later posted (on Facebook) a letter to his parents.


亲爱的爸爸妈妈,

如果你们真的想帮我,不知后来接受警察的恐吓时,是否做了录音?如果没有的话,请下次有机会时,录下。这些都是必要的证据。

假设与你们讨论前信,我担心陷入无效的争辩。我只提一点:根据我从小受的教育,面对不公义的对象,无论个人还是政权,首先想的肯定不该只保全自己。因为不公义者破坏的是环境,是每个人的权益和普通个体的未来。

这个制度会走到今天:说句话,拍个片,安全会受威胁,自由被用来当成交换条件,是我们所有人共同促成的,鼓励的。最希望司法独立,言论受保护的,过去的有刘少奇,陈良宇,现在有薄熙来和王立军,未来是每一个现在正滥用权力的既得利益者。

希望我的父母可以坚持对我的教育,希望你们不要继续以服从,配合,劝导的方式纵容这台腐烂的国家机器,并以保护人身安全的名义让你们的儿子失去作为人的尊严和维护正当权利的机会。

应亮

My (rough) translation of his letter:

My dear parents,

If you really want to help me, did you record what the police said when they were threatening you? If not, if this happens again, please record them. They are important evidences.

I don't really want to get into a long debate with you. I merely want to point out that, what I learnt when I was a child is that, when facing injustices, be it a personal one or a political one, the first thing that crosses my mind is not my own self-preservation, because those who caused these injustices are destroying our environment, our rights and our future.

This system existed til today: A single line you say or a single film is enough threaten your own safety. Freedom is used merely as a bargaining chip. This system existed because we ourselves contributed and encouraged it.

I wish you (my parents) can uphold what you taught me from before. I wish you will not choose conformity, compromising or persuasive methods to indulge this country's corrupt system, just for the sake of self-preservation, you'll end up causing your son to lose his dignity as a human being and also the loss of opportunity to fight for his rights.

Ying Liang

I don't know what will happen next. Hang in there, Ying Liang.

(you can follow Ying Liang on Twitter)

Saturday, May 05, 2012

BUDDYZ on Astro Ria

The kombi van in BUDDYZ is also an important character


BUDDYZ is a series of 5-minute minisodes on the Astro Ria channel presented by Digi. It stars Alif Satar, Syed Ali, Erin Malek and Elliza Razak, with special appearances by Shaheizy Sam.



I actually directed it. (You might remember back in March that I mentioned about directing a Malay TV series. Yes, it does look rather different from my usual output) The series finally came out on Tuesday (1st of May), followed by the second episode on Thursday (2nd of May).

Sadly, being in Japan, I can't really watch any of them.

The whole thing came about when Ming Jin, who was originally going to direct it, had to do his big zombie film, so I flew back to Malaysia and took over the directing reins instead.

It was a breezy 9-day shoot. (well, 9 days for 15 episodes isn't exactly THAT easy, even though each episode is just 5-minute long) I flew back to Tokyo right after the shoot, but continued to work closely with my editor with the editing while communicating via emails and Twitter. Although I fine-tuned the visuals, I didn't exactly see the finished versions.

So, if you happen to have Astro, you can do what I can't do and catch BUDDYZ on TV, every Tuesday and Thursday nights. 8.55pm (repeats at 11pm)

I posted this on Facebook with the group photo taken when I finished the shoot.

With the cast and crew of Buddyz

The cast and crew of BUDDYZ, after we wrapped the shoot on the 20th of March.

It was a 9-day shoot, beginning from the 10th of March til the 20th of March (with a 2-day break in the middle).

Like most productions, it was an emotional roller coaster, where my feelings swung from murderous rage to ecstatic joy, usually in mere seconds.

I had never directed a Malay TV series before (well, a "mini" one, each episode being 5 mins and all..), this production had allowed me the opportunity to meet many different people, learn many different things, experimented with some styles and techniques.

We are all different people of different backgrounds and experiences coming together to make a production. And when it is done, many times we might never see one another in our lives again. Maybe we will just look back at this 10 days with vague wistfulness and go:

"Whoa. What a crazy 9 days I had."

Anyway, the shoot was pretty smooth, despite the damned rain constantly threatening to derail my plans. So yes, despite the occasional murderous rage or melancholic depression I felt during the shoot, I now feel nothing but relief and gratitude that it all ended well.

Many thanks to the team for making this happen. :)

It was indeed a crazy 9 days. Only a bit less than 2 months ago yet it felt so much longer. That's really the strange thing about filmmaking, the film shoots often feel like a distant dream.

Oh, and here's another photo of the nice-looking kombi van (the Volkswagen Type 2).

The Kombi at the paddy field

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

When what you desire in life bleeds into video games...

A week ago, after having a rough cut of my latest short film shown to financiers and clients, I decided to take a sabbatical. (Usually, after a film shoot, I would immediately jump into putting the footage together, editing them, seeing whether what I got had been what I've envisioned, or, perhaps I got something better than I hoped. But once I'm done with a first rough cut, I would for myself to adhere to usual industry beliefs, and to take a break from the footage so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes, approaching the materials with much more objectivity and distance. Because of the freeform improvisational nature of my usual filmmaking methods, I tend to "make discoveries" of my films through post-production)

Therefore, during this break, I intended to just do some researching, finding inspiration from other films regarding the editing, finishing up a book that I was reading (currently reading: Italo Calvino's THE BARON IN THE TREES), follow the NBA Playoffs.

Oh, and maybe play a game...

So I installed SKYRIM.



It's the 5th installment of a role-playing video game series (I played the last two) because, well, role-playing games had always been my genre of choice. (I like being swept away by their epic scale and being immersed in these awesome, fantastical worlds. Do you know that I started playing my first Final Fantasy game when I was 11? I cannot believe that it had already been 17 years already when I was first exposed to this beauty below. The music still give me goosebumps.)



Anyway, after a week of SKYRIM. I was left in a daze, and a slight feeling of self-loathing. The game was indeed as awesome and ambitious as advertised, to be able to navigate in a world of such sheer scale, to explore dungeons filled with undead monsters, to fight against centuries-old evil entities trying to destroy the world, to become the head of a college of wizards, and then going around making lots of money by selling magical items, wow, they were the kind of things I imagined and dreamed as a fat nerdy kid long ago (which was why I loved reading fantasy books when growing up, but I was self-conscious about it when people in school didn't "get" my literary tastes, it's true, I wasn't reading highbrow literature that most loved, like Sweet Valley High, True Singaporean Ghost Stories or Chicken Soup For The Soul Stories.)

I spent so much time playing SKYRIM (okay, between that, I also took some time to watch Martin Scorsese's AGE OF INNOCENCE and CASINO for the very first time) that I began wondering why was I even doing it at all. I winced in sympathy whenever a guard told me he was an adventurer once before he took an arrow in the knee.

(By the way, the two films were great)










Yesterday I had such a conversation with Kong. (we were catching the new Hiroshi Abe film THERMAE ROMAE)

I said: "I felt like a protagonist in a musical icon's biopic, you know, like Ray Charles in RAY or Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE, the ones that chronicle their rise to fame, fall from grace, and then their redemption. That "fall from grace" part is usually about their drug addiction, mine is kinda like a SKYRIM addiction."

Kong said: "Dude, just stop playing it. I played it for two weeks and then I stopped. I never looked back."

I said. "I can't! I need to perfect my smithing, enchanting and alchemy skills, they can all reach 100! And then I can fall a dragon with a single blow!"

(Yes, my line sounds even more ridiculous when spoken in real life)

Just now, I stumbled upon Patricia Hernandez's "I’m Sick of the Disturbingly Neat Lives Video Games Expect Us To Enjoy" article on Kotaku. It was a wondrous article, both insightful and personal. The lines in bold were what made me continue reading. And then, nodding with agreement.

I stopped playing (Skyrim) after losing a few largely pointless, unfulfilling—but addicting—days to the game. I told myself I probably just wasn't in the right mindset to find Skyrim meaningful, which was strange to think about since it's not as if it wasn't engrossing. It was difficult to explain, then.

My friend kept playing, though—almost every day, for months. Most people I knew did the same. I didn't get it, but I became determined to understand. I asked her why she kept playing despite most of it seeming like busywork, and this question was met with a shrug. I asked her why she spent hours crafting armor despite not actively working towards anything, and she had no idea. I would ask her why she was undertaking a quest that day, and there was never a particular reason.

I remarked that watching her play was like seeing her check things off a to-do list, taking cues from how organized she tended to be in real life. Suddenly the robotic gaze enveloped in the world of Skyrim broke free of the glow of the screen. "That's exactly it," she said. "I like feeling like I'm checking things off a to-do list. I feel like I can take charge of my responsibilities and that's comforting.

Yes. It made a lot of sense. I'm probably the most disorganized person ever, but I feel that as I grew older, I became increasingly anal with video games. I had to be a completionist, or a perfectionist.

As a child, it was merely the joy of seeing the game's ending that kept me playing ("just save the princess! What? She's in another castle?"). But now, I make sure that I "perfect" the bloody game via grinding, by trying to complete everything that can be done. When playing Japanese RPGs, I would never be happy until my character levels are all maxed up and I can destroy the final boss with a few blows. When playing Angry Birds, I had to get 3 stars for every single stage (which I did).

Later in Hernandez's article, she said this:

I want to make choices—what we do in life is always a choice—I want to live a life worth living, I want purpose. I figure these are some of the fundamental ingredients toward approaching happiness. This desire for a worthwhile, meaningful life bleeds into games.

This had been a suspicion of mine in the past few years, but reading her article confirmed it. And it feels wonderful to read an article that voices my own thoughts.

My approach in life does bleed into games.

It's the same as why I would want to go through entire oeuvres of directors or writers who interest me, taking the time to track down rare films, books and such, either online, or in shops. It's an adventure, a... treasure hunt. These are the things in life that kept me going.

(You see, contrary to popular belief, I actually demand quite a lot (from myself) when it comes to filmmaking. The shots, the acting, the execution, the editing, if my film is less than awesome, I have probably failed. In fact, I didn't just fail in making an awesome film, I feel as if I have failed IN LIFE.)

I also love competition. I hate losing. I enjoy winning. But these are quite fleeting. A few passing days and I don't even care anymore. It's not just about besting others but also to best myself as well. Maybe the true excitement had always merely been the competition itself. It drives me. (I also remember people who had, er, slighted me, just so that I would do whatever it takes to prove them wrong, it really fuels my motivation. I occasionally feel a little offended when I give someone a DVD of my films and they end up either not watching it or forgetting about it, the blood and tears of not just me but also my cast and crew do not deserve such treatment! Which leads to "I will make more great films in the future and make sure you regret, er, not watching them in the first place!")

But nevertheless, I am writing this blog post now, not sure how many people would actually read it. (... seriously, do people still come to my blog?) But mostly to remind myself that my one-week sabbatical is over. I'm getting back to my editing. Back to doing some writing. Video games are fun, but I think I still prefer making films.

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