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My Short Films

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Interview with me on the Pia International Film Festival website

This Japanese interview with me was done last November and had been posted on the PIA International Film Festival website.

I feel bad that I am posting old news, I never liked clinging to past glories. But for the sake of preservation, and just in case I cannot find the interview anymore, at least I will have records of it here.



エドモンド楊監督


ヴェネチア国際映画祭2009に正式招待された『金魚』をはじめ、自身が手がけた監督およびプロデュース作品が、世界の名だたる国際映画祭に次々と正式招待、入選しているエドモンド楊監督。アジアの若き才能として注目を集める彼は現在、留学生として早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科で学んでいる。マレーシア出身の彼に、早稲田大学で映画を学ぶに至った経緯をききました。

オーストラリアを経て、日本で学ぶ


――早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科に来る前に、オーストラリアで映画制作を学んでいたと、おききしました。まず、自国のマレーシアではなく海外で映画を学ぼうと思ったきっかけを教えてください。

「父親が映画の批評家、母親が歌手だった影響からか、小さい頃から映画に親しんでいて、いつからか将来は“映画監督になりたい”という意志を抱くようになりました。ただ、昔に比べると増えてはいるのですが、マレーシアにはこの早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科のような映画を専門に研究する大学は少ない。映画が専門的に学べる場が少なく、選択肢があまりないというのが実情です。また、マレーシアは残念なことに東南アジアで唯一映画祭のない国。おそらく一般的なマレーシア人は映画祭をイメージすることさえできないと思います。ここから察しがつくように、映画界が活況とは言い難い。さらに言うと、マレーシアの場合、作られるのはあくまでビジネスを目的とした商業映画がほとんど。いわゆる日本で言うところの芸術性の高いアート映画が作られ、上映できるような環境にもありません。自国の映画を海外マーケットに向けて発信していくといったことにも積極的ではない。そういう状況がありまして、自分としてはもっと広いビジョンを持って映画を学びたいと思い、海外を選択しました。」

――それで、まずはオーストラリアへ渡ったわけですが、そこから早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科入学に至った経緯を教えてください。


「オーストラリアの大学では文学と映画のマネジメントおよびマーケティングの方面を学びました。文学を学ぼうと思ったのは、シナリオを書くのに非常に勉強になると思ったからです。一方、マネジメントおよびマーケットは、プロデューサーとしての勉強をすることで映画をもっと広い視野で見られると思いました。映画の全体像を見ることで、自身の夢である映画監督になることも近づけるとともに、映画を別角度から考えることもできる。そう思い、マネジメント方面からまずは映画を学びことを選びました。で、次のステップに進む時期を迎えたとき、それまでは西洋的な文学や文化を学んでいましたから、今度は東洋的かつ自国のマレーシアを含む東南アジア的文化といったものをもっと学びたいと思うようになりました。また、それらを自分の中で消化し、反映してなにか独自の作品がつくれないかと思ったんです。同時に僕は日本の映画や文学、文化がすごく好きで興味がありました。そんなとき、日本の文部科学省に奨学金制度があることを知って、早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科に進むことを決めました。」

現在の環境から様々な映画制作のアイデアが生まれる


――現在まで在学して、ご自身にとって早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科はどんな場所になっているでしょうか?

「自分が留学生ということもあるのでしょうけど、日本の文化をはじめ様々なことにインスパイアされることが多くて。自分でも驚くぐらい、いろいろなアイデアが生まれるようになりました。今はとにかく映画を作りたいと思う衝動に駆られる毎日です(笑)。これはもちろん日本での経験は大きいのですが、早稲田大学大学院に身を置いていることも大きいと思います。というのも、早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科は、その自分の案を具体化、作品として実現化できる場所でもあるんですね。ありがたいことに、当初から、安藤鉱平教授をはじめ、ほんとうにいろいろな方がサポートしてくださって、自分の研究テーマを軸に、自身による創作を自由に作れる環境がある。早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科は、やる気さえあれば、いつでも自分の創作に挑むことができる場所です。僕はとにかく毎日毎晩研究室に入り浸り(笑)、作品制作に挑む日々が続いています。」

――今、研究テーマとの話しが出ましたが、それを少し教えていただけますか?

「僕の研究テーマは“マジカル・リアリズム”。ラテン・アメリカの作家、ガルシア・マルケスらが使っている言葉なのですが、日本語直訳すると“魔法現実”(笑)で、ようは現実とイリュージョンが交差するとでもいいましょうか。例えば、自分の心の中で思ったことが、実体となって現れたり、または死んだはずの人が目の前に現れたりといったこと。こういった世界観はマレーシアにもある。いろいろな文学や文化を学ぶ中から、僕は今、南米文化と東南アジア文化がひじょうに近いところがあるように考えています。また、日本に来て川端康成や谷崎潤一郎、寺山修司といった作家の作品に触れて、そこにもどこか共通性を見い出しました。それらから大いにインスパイアされて今、“マジカル・リアリズム”をテーマかつ表現した映画作品を撮り続けています。もし、来日して日本の文化や文学、映画に触れていなかったら、自分はこういう題材に思いを巡らせることができたか分からない。映画作家としての個性ともいうべき、オリジナルな創作に至れたかも分かりません。それぐらい日本であり、早稲田大学大学院での経験は大きい。実は来日前に作った作品があるのですが、これは完全なコメディ映画。たぶん今の僕の作品を知る人が観たら、まったく想像すらできないでしょう。当時は自分の進むべき映画作りを模索していた時期でした。それが日本でありこの研究室に来て、いろいろな刺激を受ける中で、自分の進むべき方向が見えたところがあります。」

――早稲田大学大学院国際情報通信研究科で最初に制作した『手紙』も、ヴェネチア国際映画祭2009に正式招待された『金魚』も川端康成が原作ですね。これもやはり日本であり早稲田大学大学院で学んでいなかったら、生まれていなかった?

「そうですね。どちらも、今まで蓄積してきた自分なりのモノの見方や経験に、早稲田で得たことが加味されて出てきました。日本に拠点をおく今の自分の環境から生まれてきた作品といっていいと思います。あと、映画監督を目指すひとりの人間としては留学も大きな経験になっています。というのも、留学生活を経験することで、客観的に母国・マレーシアのことを見られるようになりました。自国にいるとなかなか見えてこない、日本にいるからこそ見えてくるマレーシアの真実であり真髄に気づかされました。ある意味、ひじょうに冷静かつ客観的な視点で自国であるマレーシアのことを語り、描くことができるようになりました。物事を画一的に見ないで多角的に見る、映画作家としての視点が養われた気がします。また、外国人としてここ日本にいることで体感する寂しさや悲しみ、これもまた大きな経験。やはり体験者だからこそ描ける、本当の悲しみや寂しさがある。こういったことも現在、日本に拠点をおき、自身の映画作りをあれこれ考えられる早稲田大学大学院の環境があるからこそ表現できるようになったと思います。」

――撮影技術や演出手法など、実践的なことで体得できたことはありますか?

「僕の場合は、自分の作品の現場で体得していっている感じです。この実践こそが今後のための大きな力になっていますね。もちろんシナリオを書いたら、教授からいろいろとアドバイスをいただけますし、ほかにもいろいろとサポートはしてくださいますので、それも大きいのですが。あと、僕は日本のスタッフともマレーシアのスタッフとも仕事をしている。日本の現場もマレーシアの現場も経験しているわけですが、これが同じアジアでもまったく取り組み方が違うんですね(笑)。日本のスタッフはすごくプロフェッショナルでひじょうに細かいところまでこだわり作り上げていく。完成図のあるシーンがあったら、それに向かいきちんと手順を踏んで、一切の妥協許さない完璧な画を作り上げようとする。でも、それゆえ融通がきかないというか、急な変更やハプニングへの対応が苦手で、そういったことをあまり良しとしない。マレーシアのスタッフは良い意味で大雑把。あまり細かいことを気にしない(笑)。でも、その分、急な変更や予定外のことがおきても、フレキシブルに対応する能力がある。例えばマレーシアだったら晴れのシーンを想定していて撮影当日雨降りだったら、じゃあ、雨でどうにかシーンを成立させられないかみたいなことになっていく(笑)。でも、日本だったら当然晴れるのを待つ。そういった具合に違うんです。この異なる現場を体験できているのは非常に大きい。それぞれに撮影や演出するに当たって毎回新たな発見があるんです。例えばどうもうまくいかないシーンの問題を現場で洗い出し対処して、新たな発想や構想のもとで創作するようなこともできるようになった。これは監督として今後歩むに際してすごく大きな経験になっていくと思います。教授のみなさんも実践主義で。映画を作ることが何よりも力になると考えておられて、応援もしてくれるので、それも心強いです。」

――ちなみにエドモンド監督のような留学生は現在どれぐらいいらっしゃるのですか?

「たぶん全体の1/3ぐらいが留学生だと思います。チェニジア人の留学生など、いろいろな国の学生がいます。ただ、別に留学生と日本の学生という線引きみたいな感覚はありません。あくまで同じ映画作りを目指す人間といった感じ。互いが刺激をもらい、与え合う存在です。」

自身にとっての映画作りの道をみつけられる場所


――今も次々と作品を作り上げているそうですが。

「先ほども話したとおり、とにかく今は1本完成すると、もう次にとりかかりたくなってしまう(笑)。」

――失礼な話ですが、どれも低予算でなかなか作るのが大変だと思うのですが?

「よくそう言われるのですが、そんなことはないです。例えばヴェネチア国際映画祭2009に正式招待された『金魚』はたった4日間の撮影で完成させた作品。みんな低予算映画というのですが、マレーシアの低予算映画を知る僕からするとビッグ・バジェット(笑)です。また、僕はプロデューサーをするとき(2010年に制作した『タイガー・ファクトリー』で彼はプロデュースを担当した)もありますから、無駄なお金は一銭も使わないし、許しません(笑)。僕は低予算でも高品質の映画ができると思っています。優れた映画かどうかに予算は関係ない。そのことを実証するような低コストでも人の心に届く作品を作っていきたいと思っています。」
『避けられない事』
『避けられる事』
『最後の欠片』

――もう実証されていますね。これまで発表した作品の数々はほんとうに海外の映画祭で高い評価を受けています。2010年制作のプロデュース作品『タイガー・ファクトリー』と監督作『避けられない事』は東京国際映画祭2010アジアの風部門で審査員特別賞に輝いています。『避けられない事』は釜山国際映画祭2010の短編部門でグランプリにも輝いている。その後に発表した篠原ともえと杉野希妃を主演に迎えた『避けられる事』もロッテルダム国際映画祭2011に正式招待されるなど、数々の国際映画祭で反響を得ています。変な話、海外映画祭への戦略とか綿密に練っていたりするのですか?

「これがまったくないんですね(笑)。よく安藤先生にも“戦略もってみては”とアドバイスされるのですが、僕にとっては常に最新作がベストなので、これは“半年後の映画祭を狙ってとっておく”とかあまり考えないんですよ。その間に新たな作品を作り上げてしまう可能性もあるので(笑)」

――もう、次の作品は出来ているのですか?

「『最後の欠片(原題:Last Fragment of Winter)』という作品が最新作です。この作品の出発点は何気ない風景でした。新宿に出かけたとき、古いカメラをもった女の子の姿を見かけて。その姿に、僕はとにかく心をひかれたんです。そこからインスパイアされてひとつの物語が出来上がり、白川郷の冬季ロケで撮りあげました。これから映画祭に出品予定です。」

――最後に、これから大学院を目指す人にアドバイスがありましたらお願いします。

「映画に対して情熱があれば大丈夫。とにかくその気持ちさえあれば、安藤教授をはじめとした方がバックアップもしてくれますし、自分の目指す創作が存分にできると思います。自分にとっての映画作りをきっと見つけられる場所になると思います」

(2011年11月28日 取材:水上賢治)

7 years ago, some guy wrote a novella in 24 hours

In August 2005, I participated in something called Blogathon, a 24-hour blogging marathon for charity. In the span of 24 hours, participants had to write a new post every 30 minutes. For a pre-Twitter/ Facebook era, that was quite a difficult thing to do.

I had just turned 21, my lifelong dreams of filmmaking were still far from reality. I was a mere university student studying in Perth who dabbled in video-making with his camcorder. In order to do something awesome, I dragged in my high school friend Yuan-Yue as well, so that we would take turns posting instead.

She would post a random drawing.

I would write something random based on the random drawing.

The initial plan was just to write limericks, poems, haiku, or something simple.

But we ended up with a novella.
I called it THE COTTAGE AT THE END OF TIME because I had no time to think of a different title. It is a story of a lovelorn guy... trapped in a cottage at the end of time.

The whole thing was an act of spontaneity where we worked entirely on our own instincts. Nothing was planned. Yuan-Yue was in London, I was in Perth. We didn't know what each of us were going to do.

It's still quite unbelievable to see something somewhat coherent (relatively speaking) coming out of this. (of course, this would serve as a precursor for my own improvisational filmmaking methods since then)

For the past 7 years, each of the 48 blog posts we did during Blogathon had remained in my blog, until I realized recently that Yuan-Yue's illustrations were all gone.

So I deleted all these old posts and replace it with a single post featuring a link to where you can download the whole novella for your, er, reading enjoyment.

Long ago, before Edmund Yeo was sure he could become a filmmaker, he had aspirations of becoming a novelist. This was what he wrote.

A COTTAGE AT THE END OF TIME by Edmund Yeo with illustrations from Chin Yuan-Yue

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Films of Edward Yang

The Taiwanese director Edward Yang had been one of my biggest influences.

He died of cancer at the age of 60 exactly 5 years ago, on the 29th of June, 2007.

A few filmmaker friends of mine like Ying Liang and Eva Tang had posted the video below on Facebook to mark this occasion.



At that time, his name was a familiar one to me, but I have yet to see any of his films until a few weeks later, when I was preparing for the television movie that I was producing, KURUS (DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY), directed by Woo Ming Jin. As Ming Jin and I went through the script and reached the very last scene, Ming Jin told me that he would have his protagonist give a monologue describing the ending of CATHER IN THE RYE, which would be a homage of sorts to the ending of Edward Yang's final film YI YI: A ONE AND A TWO (2000).






Intrigued by his reference, I went home and watched YI YI. In the course of the film's 3-hour running time, I found myself mesmerized and amazed by the novelistic scope of the film, which seemed to cover every single aspect of humanity in the film. It was an absolutely rich experience, that the film would follow the lives of a typical Taiwanese family in the span of a year, beginning with a wedding and ending with a death, and the middle of it, we see the Father reminiscing his past love with an old lover, the Mother crying over the monotonous everyday life she had led, the Daughter undergoing the experience of first love, and the Son, gradually finding his own artistic side, taking photos of people's backs because he wanted to take photos of things that people could not see.

Just like how the film was subtle in its majesty, my life, in a subtle way, was altered after watching the film, I never realized how much it would impact me.

One particular scene that stood out to me had been a masterful sequence which featured a crosscutting between Father speaking to his old lover about their previous relationship while they were both in Japan, and Daughter, during her chaste first date. I stopped and looked at the sequence over and over, years later I would attempt its editing methods on Ming Jin's film WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, and a couple of my shorts.

The next Edward Yang film I saw was THE TERRORIZERS (1986) in the following year at 2008, at that time, I had already moved to Tokyo. Edward Yang was what many had called, a "poet of the city", therefore his films had mostly been about Taipei instead of the countryside. THE TERRORIZERS was a lot about the effect of globalization and modernization had affected the city, thus causing the increasing alienation between people. In stark contrast to YIYI, this was a bleak and dark film, which had a wonderful ending that could be interpreted in so many ways, either as dreams within dreams, or fantasy sequences, or numerous alternative endings, it didn't matter which was it really, it gave me chill. I highly recommend you to watch this fine 20-minute video essay by The Seventh Art.



It was also in 2008 when I saw the 4-hour film A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (1991). This would end up as my favourite Edward Yang film of them all. Again, this was a sprawling tale set in the 60s and revolves around a 14 year old boy. The literal Chinese title was "THE MURDER INCIDENT IN GULING STREET", which was an incident that really happened during Edward Yang's teens, when a teenaged boy murdered his girlfriend who happened to also be involved with a teen gang leader. Therefore, knowing Chinese, what exactly happened towards the end of the film wasn't exactly a surprise, but watching it placed in context of the Taiwanese political environment then, and seeing how it affected the many primary characters in the film (the film had a cast of hundreds of amateurs), gradually consuming and eating their souls, the ending was inevitable.

If you have not seen it. See it now. Buy its DVD. Or... well, let's just say that the film isn't that difficult to find.

This is the scene of Lao Er the protagonist (Chang Chen's debut role) and his supposed romantic rival the gang leader, discussing WAR AND PEACE.



There had been a restoration of the film by World Cinema Foundation in 2009. How I wish I could watch the film on the big screen, in its restored form.

A line spoken by the tragic female character Ming (played by Lisa Yang, it's a tragedy that she never again after this film) that stayed with me. I paraphrase:

"Why do you want to change me? I am like the world, I will never change!

In early 2010 I saw A CONFUCIAN CONFUSION (1994), another ensemble piece that focuses on a white-collar group, it is a comedy, but not a laugh out loud type, but compared to the other Edward Yang films, it is lighter and had more humorous moments. (It's sort of like Jean Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME, and some hints of Robert Altman) Yet it was also a heavy film, since, again, the themes of the rapid modernization of Taipei, along with its effects on people, are re-examined. The relationship between art and commerce, the dehumanizing effects of capitalism, the absurdist feeling of love, the inevitability of certain things.



"Everything is inevitable." (or, in a more literal translation, "everything is natural") was a line uttered in melancholy by a character before he started listing out the various historical tragedies that had happened in the nation. The screen gradually turned black as he continued speaking. Stylistically, that scene was different from everything else. But what he did lingered. So were the words.

A few weeks after that, I made INHALATION. In numerous question and answer sessions after the screening, I had pointed out that the short film was a homage to Edward Yang. Its Chinese title is "everything is inevitable (natural)", and the male protagonist would go into a monologue similar to the one mentioned above. The female protagonist would also have a "why do you want to change this? I am happy with being who I am right now!" line similar to A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY'S Ming. (you can watch INHALATION here)

When I visited Taipei twice in the past year, I looked around and felt with some wryness that I had been transported to an Edward Yang film. When INHALATION finally made its Taiwanese premiere at the New Taipei Film Festival last month, I wondered whether any of the audiences had spotted the blatant influences. I wasn't at the festival, so I would never know.

In truth, I have only seen four Edward Yang films in their entirety, yet it felt so much more. When each and every single film of his could leave so deep a mark, it is difficult to move to another film. I have only started watching his film after he passed away five years ago, in these five years, I felt that I have gotten a little older.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rest In Peace, Nora Ephron




Nora Ephron


I was slightly saddened when I learned of screenwriter director Nora Ephron's passing yesterday right after I woke up. She had been ill with leukemia for a while.

As you may have noticed from my blog posts this year. Often when a filmmaker dies, I find myself pondering the body of work that they have left, and my memories of them.

Growing up, I always had this secret fondness for romantic comedies, a true rom-com sucker. Perhaps it was the type of escapist entertainment that appealed most to a lovelorn soul like me. Suffering so much from a string of heartbreaks and unrequited love, being transported to a fairy tale-like world of a romantic comedy where a man can just win the heart of a woman with persistence, sincerity and genuine love, all those big romantic moments could easily make my heart flutter.

The very first Nora Ephron film I saw was MICHAEL (1996), starring John Travolta, which I didn't know was a Nora Ephron film until I checked her Wikipedia page just now. I saw it in the cinema with my dad, I didn't think much of the film because it had a downer ending which felt inconsistent with the rest of the film. That year John Travolta was in a couple of films, like PHENOMENON and BROKEN ARROW, I preferred these two films much more and remembered MICHAEL as the weakest among the three Travolta film that came out in 1996. I was 12.

3 years later, I saw YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998) in Los Angeles Las Vegas. It was a Christmas vacation with family. That was, to date, my last trip in the United States of America, I cannot really believe that I haven't been there for 14 years either. (from the age of 7 to 12, I went there almost every other year)

I was quite fond of YOU'VE GOT MAIL, because it transported me to a world where, as long as you've met your soul-mate, it really didn't matter that you have, er, put her out of business. Well, okay, I was probably less cynical then.

The final scene, when SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW played in the background, my heart skipped a beat. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had so much chemistry.






Ahem, watching it now, my eyes still watered a little. Urgh, I'm such a sap.

But let me move on.

Another few years later, on the night of a lonely Valentine's Day, towards the end of my high school years or the beginning of my college years (I cannot remember which) when I popped in the DVD of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989), which was written by Ephron. Through the course of the film, I found myself very emotionally invested in the Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) characters.

Most people remember it for its hilarious fake orgasm scene.






Me, again, I was elevated by its ending.






It's almost a little tragic, for a hopeless romantic to watch a romantic comedy, hoping that in reality, such heartfelt confessions of love can actually yield something in return. But they usually don't happen.

I wish I could write about SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993), which I watched only once, shortly after WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, but my memories of it are very vague. I remember some very affecting moments, but somehow I could never forget WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.

Therefore, I cannot deny the fact that some of her works had given me quite a lot of fond memories, and this is a feeling that I will miss.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA film series were cinematic masterpieces

It all happened yesterday evening, when two friends of mine were reliving memories of old Jet Li films on Youtube.

The first film they were looking at was the 1993 film TAI CHI MASTERS which co-starred Michelle Yeoh... and it was DUBBED IN ENGLISH! Yes, the entire film is on Youtube, but out of principle, I'll just post a clip from its climatic fighting scene in original Cantonese.



(The English dub version was horrifying not only for its campy voice acting, but for the total replacement of the soundtrack. How can I ever accept an early Hong Kong film without the endearingly intense synthesizer music I hear above?)

I saw this film with my dad almost 20 years ago when it just came out in the cinemas, I cannot imagine it's been that long ago! But looking at the fighting scene, I was struck by how kinetic the camera movements were back in the day (obviously this wasn't something a 9-year-old me was able to notice).

However, despite its merits, I never really thought of Tai Chi Masters as an essential Jet Li film (although the film's main novelty value was pairing him with Michelle Yeoh).

For most Malaysians my generation, we were first introduced to Jet Li as the folk hero Wong Fei Hung in Tsui Hark's seminal ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series. A series of 6 films (Jet Li was momentarily replaced by Vincent Zhao for the lead role in the 4th and 5th films of the series)

The first ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA film came out in 1991. I was 7. The martial arts scenes blew my mind. I saw the film with my parents, those were the good days when we could just march into a big old theater near my house in a lazy sunny Sunday afternoon to catch a film. I would know nothing about the film, and then walk out having my entire life changed.

The sheer heroism of Wong Fei Hung, the beauty of 13th Aunt (the love interest) played by Rosamund Kwan, the zany antics of Wong Fei Hung's disciples like the morally conflicted Leung Foon (Yuan Biao), the stuttering "Bucktooth" So (Jacky Cheung) and "Porky" Wing (Kent Cheng). In fact, the three disciples were iconic in their own ways, having numerous spin-off TV series that centered on them (but played by different actors) It was indeed a film that appealed to old and young, and the ladder fighting scene was something I've never ever seen before. Just like how some people's childhoods were defined by the memories ET on a bicycle flying over the moon, this ladder fighting scene was an image from my childhood that stuck with me.

THIS is the climatic fighting scene between Wong Fei Hung and a rival kungfu master Iron Yim, who had fallen into hard times and was forced to sell out by working for the corrupted government (or something like that, based on my vague memories of the film)



ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 was released the following year. This time, Wong Fei Hung takes on evil cults. This is him fighting the White Lotus sect leader played by Hung Yan-Yan (also known as Xiong Xin Xin), who was supposedly "invincible", until Wong Fei Hung proved him wrong.



It had Donnie Yen as the big bad (as a corrupted official, I think he wasn't. He played a Qing Dynasty loyalist who wanted to stop Sun Yat Sen's revolution. Thanks to Simon Seow for pointing that). Look at how, towards the end of their fight, Donnie Yen's character transformed wet towel into a deadly spear-like weapon. Whoa.



Donnie Yen and Jet Li would meet again exactly ten years later in the 2002 film HERO by Zhang Yimou. Once again, Donnie's character would use a spear, do you think it could be a homage to their fighting scene in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2?



The early 90s was indeed a great period to be a fan of Hong Kong martial arts films, especially when Wong Fei Hung films were coming out every single year. Somehow 1993's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 3 was my favourite back then. (The entire film is available on Youtube. Though, again, I highly recommend you to watch this in better quality)

Because it introduced the badass antihero character Clubfoot (in Chinese, his name is literally translated as "Ghost Foot Seven") played masterfully by Hung Yan Yan again (since no one really recognized him as the White Lotus sect leader in the previous film, I guess. I sure didn't back then.)

(Hung Yan Yan's directorial effort COWEB has the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing film in Hong Kong for the past decade)

This is the very first scene of Clubfoot, and it's one hell of an introduction. In this scene, he fights Wong Fei Hung's dad (who is obviously an accomplished martial artist himself). His fighting style relies solely on powerful kicks.



Clubfoot has a dramatic character arc, beginning as a cocky lackey of the Big Bad, and then, after a tragic turn of events, he gradually became a good guy, joining Wong Fei Hung and gang in the end to take part in the epic lion dance competition.

And the lion dance competition was Hong Kong cinema at its finest. The exhilarating editing, where it intercuts between the competition itself and the other subplots, the hundreds and hundreds of dancing lions that Wong Fei Hung had to battle. I never saw anything like that in cinema before, and I'm not sure whether I will ever see anything like this again.



ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA were not just simple chop-socky films, they were cinematic epics that depicted patriotism, honour and chivalry in the hearts of heroes, as they battled against the inevitable twin forces of industrialization and westernization. They were such fine films to watch back then, either alone, or with family. In a better world, their statuses in the history of world cinema should be reevaluated.

I saw each of the three ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA films more than just a few times, either with friends, or with family, with cousins, we would just sit and laugh at the comedic moments, cheer at the fighting scenes, be swept away by the romantic portrayal of the past where heroism was so beautifully pure and badass.

Many years later, when Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON came out, and then the aforementioned Zhang Yimou's HERO, they weren't exactly popular with the mainstream audiences. I guess probably because these films had a more arthouse sensibility, and a languorous pacing that people who grew up with the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA films were uncomfortable with. I like CROUCHING TIGER and HERO in my own ways, and for what they are, but re-watching scenes from ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA again, I do feel quite nostalgic towards the days when my Chinese New Years were all about Wong Fei Hung and friends.

Jet Li would return to the Wong Fei Hung role again in 1997's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA AND AMERICA, which was directed by Sammo Hung and Lau Kar Wing instead of Tsui Hark. It's a decent film, and this time, Wong Fei Hung took on evil cowboys. (watch out, this video is dubbed in French!)



But I don't think it had the complexities and brilliance of the original Tsui Hark trilogy.

Tsui Hark and Jet Li reunited last year for the well-received FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE last year. It was their first collaboration in 18 years (since the 3rd ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA film). I enjoyed the film too, but how I wish they would both make another ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA film again (yes, I won't mind if it's in 3D).

UPDATED:

Treat this as an afterword.

A short while after writing the above post, I feel compelled to also share the fact that in the past few years since I became a filmmaker myself, I had the honour of meeting Mr. Tsui Hark in two different occasions.

The first time was Dubai International Film Festival 2008, the very first film festival I was invited to as a director. Tsui Hark was there to receive a lifetime achievement award at the closing ceremony.

I managed to take a photo with him, my dad was there as well.

With Tsui Hark, Dubai Film Fest 2008 Closing Ceremony


In another photo with him, Brigitte Lin appeared in the background!

With Tsui Hark (and behind me was Brigitte Lin!), Dubai Film Fest 2008 Closing Ceremony


It was so loud that I was unable to speak to him then.

I would meet him again three years later, at last year's Shanghai International Film Festival. He served as jury president of the short film competition, where my short film, EXHALATION, was competing.

(I never really got to speak to him in both occasions)

It's mind-boggling. Even in my previous post about the festival, I wrote: "the idea that a guy whose films I grew up watching had managed to catch one of my short films is quite a different, and astounding, experience."

But what I didn't realize until now was that, the Shanghai Film Fest happened exactly twenty years after I saw the first ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

BUDDYZ TV Spots (a TV series of 5-minute episodes I directed for Astro Ria)

The kombi van in BUDDYZ is also an important character


I mentioned about BUDDYZ last month, it's a Malay TV series of 5-minute episodes that I directed back in March starring Alif Satar, Syed Ali, Erin Malek and Elliza Razak, with special guest appearances by Shaheizy Sam (the guy pretty much appeared in almost every single episode as a different character).

Although I worked very closely with my editor and producers for the post-production (I returned to Tokyo right after the shoot, so had to do everything via email or Twitter), I haven't watched the finished work. So it was quite interesting to monitor what viewers thought of the series via Twitter. Was very flattered to see an increasing amount of tweets for the show, and that many of them had nice things to say about it. (obviously, BUDDYZ is a clear departure from the melancholic and "arthouse" films that I've always been making).

The final 16th episode is airing on TV tonight at 8:55pm (with repeats at 11pm), so I'm taking this opportunity to post all of the TV spots for the series that came out every week. Each TV spot covers two episodes of the week. Each spot is supposed to be 30 seconds, unfortunately, the slate is also uploaded on Youtube, so... the first 20 seconds are black screens with the titles, the actual video only starts playing during the 20-second mark. Other than that, I enjoyed what they did.


Week 1 (Episodes 1 and 2)


Week 2 (Episodes 3 and 4)


Week 3 (Episodes 5 and 6)


Week 4 (Episode 7 and 8)


Week 5 (Episodes 9 and 10)


Week 6 (Episodes 11 and 12)


Week 7 (Episodes 13 and 14)


Week 8 (Episodes 15 and 16)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

10 great Father's Day films that you might not have seen

Today is Father's Day. Happy Father's Day, dad. Dad is going to be at a TV shoot today, accompanied by Mom and my sister, it's going to be a good one. (my dad is a judge in a AMERICAN IDOL-like Chinese singing show, however, unlike idol, the contestants are restricted to 45 and above. Quite a popular show that recently turned my dad into a celebrity of sorts)

Since my lifelong love for cinema was influenced by Dad, and I would never been a filmmaker if he were indifferent towards films, I think it's fitting that I try to commemorate this day by listing out a number of great Father's Day films that you might not have seen (I know I haven't).

To make things simpler for me, I'm restricting this list to only Asian films. (I'll do another list if this goes well, haha)

I will kick this list off with a highly recommended film. It's an award-winning melancholic tale of a father and son, where the son finds his own fate increasingly similar to his own father's when it comes to matters of romance.

It's a Malaysian film.

I produced and edited it.


1) WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER 遗情 (2009) by Woo Ming Jin


To watch the entire film, you can find it somewhere... online.

Um, now I'm done with the shameless plug, let's move on to the rest of the list.

All these are films recommended to me by friends when I asked for help on Twitter and Facebook last night.



Yasujiro Ozu's films were actually mentioned a few times. Aside from his classic, TOKYO STORY, I have to admit that I haven't seen any of his other films before! A crime, really.

So, from Samantha Culp via Twitter:

2) LATE SPRING 晩春 (1947) by Yasujiro Ozu



Producer Kousuke Ono (he's also the executive producer of my short film EXHALATION) recommended two Ozu films. They are:

3) THERE WAS A FATHER 父ありき (1942) by Yasujiro Ozu


4) THE ONLY SON ひとり息子 (1936) by Ozu

This is the first ever sound film by Ozu, and reading about it, I realized it sounded more like a Mother-Son story, but then, the "son" himself is a father, and many of his actions were seemingly prompted due to his responsibilities as a father, so I'll leave this film in as well.


After that, Roger Garcia, director of Hong Kong International Film Festival, recommended these three Hong Kong films:

5) FATHER AND SON 父子情 (1981) by Allen Fong

I wanted to just find a clip on Youtube, but I couldn't. The entire film is available though (Cantonese only).



(Mandarin version here)

6) THE IMP 兇榜 (1981) by Dennis Yu

From what I read about this supernatural horror/ thriller, it seems that it can be interpreted as a film about a man's anxiety about fatherhood... (kinda like David Lynch's ERASERHEAD.) Here's the entire film, Cantonese only though.



7) MAD MONKEY KUNG FU (1979) by Lau Kar Leung

Not all films are about fathers and sons related by blood. Surrogate fathers are allowed too. In martial arts or wuxia films, the relationship between a "sifu" (master) and his (usually orphaned) disciple is similar to a father-son relationship, sometimes, it's even stronger.

Here's a training montage from the film. I love old-school training montages in kung fu films.


Niklas Kullstrom (cinematographer of my rare and utterly underrated experimental short film THE WHITE FLOWER) recommended a Japanese film about surrogate fathers as well:

8) KIKUJIRO (1999) by Takeshi Kitano

Haven't seen it. But the Joe Hisaishi music is totally familiar.


Miho Matsugu recommended an Oscar-nominated Japanese film:

9) TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2002) by Yoji Yamada



I will round off the list with a film that I have actually seen.

When searching for Father's Day films, I am so used to looking for Father-Son films that I end up forgetting that Father-Daughter films count too.

So here's my favourite Chinese-language film by Ang Lee:

10) EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994)


I almost forgot about him until New Zealand-based Chinese filmmaker Beyond Wen suggested WEDDING BANQUET on Facebook!

(A quasi-sequel of the film called EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: JOYFUL REUNION, or just JOYFUL REUNION, came out this year and premiered at the Berlin Film Fest. It's by the same producer. I'm a little intrigued.)

How about you folks? Are there any Father's Day films that you really love or recommend?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Discovering the world of radio plays (and dramas)


It all started from a phone conversation with Maiko the Producer (she produced my short films "Kingyo" and "Exhalation") a few weeks ago. She had been working at NHK Osaka for the past two years, earlier this year she was involved in the hit morning drama "CARNATION" as an assistant director.

She asked whether I wanted to try my hand in writing a radio drama. It was an interesting preposition. A storytelling medium I was entirely unfamiliar with, but seemingly filled with possibilities.

The first thing that came to my mind was, of course, Orson Welles' famous 1938 WARS OF THE WORLD radio drama, believed to be probably the most famous radio drama of all time.

I also remembered the Cantonese radio dramas I used to listen to as a child, when I was in a car with my mother on the way back from primary school. They were usually soap opera-like stuff, where the woman is constantly on the verge of weeping. A gross generalization, but a sheer reflection of my ignorance.

Yesterday, free from most of the projects that I had been working on, I decided to do some researches on a radio drama. I then realized that a new TWILIGHT ZONE radio drama had just came out a few years ago. (I immediately downloaded the iPhone app that came with four free episodes)

But as I dug deeper, more riches emerged, especially in the form of BBC radio plays (many thanks to the wonderful MODERN SOUNDLING blog). I then discovered that some of the greatest playwrights of the past century, like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Tom Stoppard, had written numerous radio plays (a few were later adapted for the stage, but usually with lesser success).

Immediately I secured a few recordings of these radio plays, ran off to McDonald's for breakfast, and listened to them.



The first one I listened to was the 55-minute A SLIGHT ACHE (1958) by Harold Pinter. The production I listened to was voiced by Pinter himself. It revolved around a middle-aged married couple, and a third character, a match seller who is an old man with a glass eye who never speaks... so he could probably be a figment of the protagonists' imaginations, used to channel their own frustrations and self-doubts, their innermost desires and the like. Mom called me after I listened to it, because my sister read my previous tweet and told her about it.

Mom, who had performed and written a few serialized radio dramas back in the day, was quite excited.

"So, what are you writing? Do you know that I have written a few episodes that I performed in?" Mom said. "Which ones are you listening to now?"

"Um. BBC ones. The one I just listened to is about... um, well, it's mostly about a middle-aged couple talking to each other in the span of one day. Yeah." I answered.

After a short chat, I switched to listening to John Arden's THE BAGMAN OR THE IMPROMPTU OF MUSWELL HILL (1970). (Mr Arden passed away just recently, in March)

It's a story about a guy who bought a bag from an old lady and was mysterious transported to a dystopian land 'where the people are starving while the rich live in idleness and squalor'. It had quite an epic scope, and reminded me of novels I used to read, like Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE, or Paul Auster's IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS. Arden's stylized prose flowed beautifully and musically through the voice of the narrator, I almost wanted to look for the script just so I could savour it again.

Of course, listening to the 90 minute radio play, something else struck me. An idea.



After that, I was momentarily distracted by Boston Celtics' improbable victory over Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. They now lead the best of 7 series 3-2.



A few hours later...



Eliza Dushku is the only actress on my Twitter feed who cares about the Celtics.


(All my life, most of my circle of friends don't really care about the NBA. So Eliza feels like a sister to me.)

With that out of the way, I decided to listen to my last radio play of the day. Tom Stoppard's ARTIST DESCENDING A STAIRCASE (1972). Also almost 90-minute long. It begins with an artist, Donner, falling to his death while descending a staircase. His two other studio roommates of 50 years, Beauchamp and Martello, try to investigate the cause of his death. They even accuse each other.

Stoppard went with a more complex structure, something like David Mitchell's CLOUD ATLAS. It begins and ends on the present day (1970s), but going progressively earlier in flashbacks, each following scene is a flashback of the scene before, from the 70s to the 20s to 1914 during World War 1, revolving around the three friends' interaction with a blind woman named Sophie. And then it goes on, moving forward in time again. So the structure is like ABCDEFEFCBA.

It's quite a gripping play. At this very moment while I am writing this, I am listening to a different production from the one I was listening to last night. This is a live recording from a stage production of ARTIST DESCENDING THE STAIRCASE (complete with audience reactions). Listen to it!

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