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Sunday, November 03, 2013

WATCH: James Lee's 2000 debut feature film SNIPERS

Malaysian independent cinema pioneer James Lee has uploaded another one of his feature films onto Youtube.

This time, it's his debut feature film, SNIPERS 狙击手, made in 2000. It was screened at a number of film festivals and pre-dated what would later be known as the Malaysian New Wave. Whoa.

I found a 2001 Malay Mail article by Gerald Chuah about this film on this website.

The MALAY MAIL: MARCH 14, 2001

In the line of fire
by Gerald Chuah

A new local film explores the dark side of the human psyche through the use of guns and ammo

IF ONLY I had a gun ... some people mutter the death wish in silence whenever they are repressed, angry, or frustrated; as their blood pressure escalates. Squeeze the trigger, that's all you need do to justify yourself and do your enemy harm - one bullet, one bang, and the enemy is dead.

There is only so much words can express. On the other hand the gun provides swift justice and a chance for man to play God. The gun, being a symbol of power and equaliser seems like a natural extension of ourselves and our angst.

A new Malaysian digital film - SNIPERS - that tackles the subject of guns and trigger-happy snipers is making a statement of sorts.

James Lee, the creator of the 100-minute home-made low-budget digital film attempts to explore the darker side of the human psyche through the use of guns, ammos, and deranged minds, albeit with a large dose of humour.

SNIPERS ends its run at The Actors Studio Box at 8.30pm tomorrow, and continues its run at the Filmnet Equator Club at Lorong Stonor from April 9 to 21 at 8pm.

SNIPERS, a Doghouse Seventy-Three production, is jointly produced by Lee and the producers of LIPS TO LIPS: Vernon Adrian Emuang (executive producer) and Amir Muhammad and Sylvia Tan (associate producers) - who lent their experience and expertise.

Set during the recession in Kuala Lumpur, SNIPERS is a trio of tales involving a former military sniper-turned hitman (Tan Eng Heng), a retrenched middle-class Chinese man (Pang Khee Teik), and a debt-ridden mamak restaurant-owner (Huzir Sulaiman) whose lives are altered through contact with a sniper's rifle.

Linking the tales is the mysterious gunman (Paul Lau) who owns the deadly weapon. During the preview there were also scenes of Anwar's [Ibrahim] supporters staging a protest in the city through a news bulletin.

By taking the law into their own hands snipers unwittingly use the gun to make a statement. It is also a form of expression, as evidently recognised by the film producers. Though SNIPERS is a good start and seems promising, don't expect the gutsy firepower of Die Hard, the epic battles of Saving Private Ryan, or the slick moves of The Professional, although Pang's deadly kung fu moves may seem close.

Blood and gore? Well, due to some technical problems, Lee decided to leave them to the audiences' imagination, though you will get to see many fallen bodies.

Lee refers to his company as Doghouse and the total cost of production is only RM 15,000 with more than half going to food expenses.

The music accompaniment by Eric Kok is superb and fits the suspense(ful) moments well.

Of all the props used in the film, the home-made sniping rifle is the coolest and was a sight to behold.

The plastic body was extracted from a toy gun bought from Carrefour, while the rest of it is homemade including the telescope, the muzzle, the butt, and tripods, all painted black after assembly.

An amateur effort, SNIPERS has many jagged edges which makes it both raw and fun to watch, not to mention hilarious whenever the actors take their roles too seriously.

Lee said that making the film was challenging in every aspect and he has learnt much in the process.

"I wanted to test myself to see if I have the calibre to tell a story and shoot."

Armed with a single Panasonic NV-DX10 camera, he shot the entire movie and edited it at home using Adobe Premiere software. Lee said using the digital camera and (the) non-linear editing process gave him a lot of flexibility in fine-tuning his work.

Lee who also wrote and produced the film said he took six months to write the script.

"The film was shot at random over a period of four months in Kuala Lumpur, between six hours and 18 hours a day."

"Most of the actors did not know or rehearse their roles but improvised as we went along," he said, adding the actors gave their full cooperation throughout the shoot.

Lee said that his film project was inspired by John Carpenter's low-budget ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, with only one soundtrack throughout the movie.

"In terms of vision it is more of a character study like TAXI DRIVER and FALLING DOWN.

Lee said that SNIPERS was supposed to be a story on just Steve Tan but after reworking it, two additional short stories were added.

Executive producer Emuang who funded the project said that he was in two minds whether to get involved, but after seeing Lee's direction of Harold Pinter's Dumb Waiter in December, he was impressed.

"Not everybody dares tackle Harold Pinter's work but Lee interpreted it his own way and did a superb job."

Vernon said he enjoys his position as the executive producer and by putting money in the project, he takes a gamble for a good cause - an opportunity to promote creative work and local talents.

He emphasised that his role is only to help the local talents promote their work, not interfere with their creative process.

He said that when funding Amir Muhammad's LIPS TO LIPS he was sure he would not fail and feels the same way about James Lee's SNIPERS.

Will the Malaysian audience be ready for an onslaught of digital films?

Vernon believes that audiences will never be ready (for anything new) but it is important for people with good ideas to blaze the trail and create a market for it.

Meanwhile, associate producer Amir Muhammad said the philosophy of violence as depicted in the film is about the damage you do to yourself.

"We are the sum of our mistakes. The message in the movie is how we deal with our past. Do you move ahead in the right path or do you let your mistakes overwhelm you?"

Lee said that of the many things he learnt from his film-making experience, the most important thing is this:

For a non-professional to make a low-budget movie, all it takes is a camera, an actor and a good script.

"Just shoot and see where it goes."

Lee is also thankful to the talented and dedicated cast who, despite not being paid, gave their fullest cooperation and gave him no reason to stop shooting.

SNIPERS is James Lee's first full-length feature as a writer and director although he has made several short videos - AH YU'S STORY (35 mins., 1998), THINK POSITIVE (12 mins., 191999), THE MAN FROM THAILAND (30 mins., 1991), SURVIVOR (12 mins., 1999) and most recently SUNFLOWERS (seven mins., 2001), which will be shown during the screening of SNIPERS.

All his previous shorts were shown by Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia at the British Council KL, and also (during) the popular Chicken Parts series at the Actors Studio.

SNIPERS was planned to be shot entirely on Video 8. But after being introduced to digital video via his starring role in LIPS TO LIPS, Lee decided to shoot the movie on DV because of the advantages of the high shooting ratio and opportunity to edit on non-linear editing PC system.