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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Notes from the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala

The year is about to end, before it does I want to write about the International Film Festival of Kerala, which happened from Dec 8 to Dec 15, 2017 (I was there from Dec 7 to Dec 16, stayed throughout the duration of the festival). AQÉRAT was having its Indian premiere at the festival, as an opening film of its brand new section, Uprooted: Films on Identity & Space, which are mostly films about refugees, displacement and search for identity.

The last time I ever been to India was 2007, so it took ten years to revisit the country. And Trivandrum, the city where the festival was held, was both familiar (reminds me of certain places in Malaysia) and not (the amazing audiences, the passion people have for cinema, it's one of a kind)

Each screening venue were huge auditoriums or theatres with a capacity of more than 800 people, with some of them seemingly meant for thousand over audiences. And having attended many screenings at the festival, it was amazing to see that the screenings were usually full, whether it was a 9am screening, regardless of the film, be it an arthouse film or a local Bollywood blockbuster, or an indie Malayalam film... or even my film. There would always be a long queue. And during Q and A, audiences would ask highly thoughtful and educated questions about the film. It was said that cinema is embedded within the blood of everyone there, from what I saw, I can't argue with that.

Aside from films, I also had a Tokyo Film Fest reunion with director Semih Kaplanoglu! (His new film "Grain" won the Grand Prix at Tokyo, while his previous film Honey was the Golden Bear winner at the Berlin Film Fest in 2010), having been too busy during the Tokyo Film Fest, it was great to finally catch his film in Kerala.

Aside from reunion with old friends, I also got to make new friends!

I even get to meet Alexander Sokurov, one of my heroes! He was there to pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. Many thanks to the festival for doing a Sokurov retrospective, and a talk session with him.

List the films I saw in the festival.

1) The Insult (dir: Ziad Doueiri) (opening film)
- This is when I experience the Kerala Film Fest crowd response for the very first time. People cheering, whistling and clapping their hands during moments in the film. Triumphant moments, when protagonists finally choose to do something decent, or a withering one-liner comeback, etc. A film about reconciliation of historical pain.

2) Sweet Country (dir: Warwick Thornton)
- For some reason, as I sat through this film, I was reminded of John Hillcoat's The Proposition, which I saw in 2005 at the Luna Theater in Fremantle. I was still studying in Perth, and naturally I was curious about the state of Australian cinema. I made a point to catch a few films in the cinema, but The Proposition left the deepest impression.

3) Angels Wear White (dir: Vivian Qu)
- I was vacationing in China last month when the film had its theatrical release. Although there were three multiplexes close to my hotel in Xiamen, none of them were showing this film. I'm glad to catch it. Teenage actress Wen Qi is exceptional!

4) Grain (dir: Semih Kaplanoglu)
- Semih's famous Yusuf trilogy consisted of the films, "Egg", "Milk" and "Honey". "Grain", however, has nothing to do with the trilogy, it's a scifi meditation on survival.

5) 120 BPM (dir: Robin Campillo)
- That soundtrack of this film by Arnaud Rebotini!!! Normally when one tells you that they "liked the soundtrack" of your film, most probably they have nothing else to say about the film, so I have to dispel it. I do think the film's great, there were moments in it so awesome in its visual flair. But that music just stayed in my head. Wish I had done the protest scenes in River of Exploding Durians with that much verve and energy.

6) Two Persons (dir: Prem Shankar)
- A Malayalam film in competition. Set in one night, a man meets a woman, a nocturnal journey, they discuss about love, life and things that trouble them.

7) Loveless (dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev)
- Yes, it's amazing. And I'm so glad the film had a theatrical release in Malaysia. There's a scene in AQÉRAT which was actually a homage to Zvyagintsev's previous film Leviathan ;)

8) Call Me By Your Name (dir: Luca Guadagnino)
- Loved Guadagnino's "I Am Love", which I had constantly revisited. This one's actually more restrained and subtle, yet it lingers, like its song.

9) Newton (dir: Amit V Masurkar)
- India's submission to the Oscars. A rousing, crowd-pleasing film, which, again, had audiences cheering and clapping hands during certain moments and lines of the film.

10) Let The Sunshine In (dir: Claire Denis)
- My biggest regret was being too shy to say hello to Claire Denis when I saw her at the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2011.

11) A Fantastic Woman (dir: Sebastian Lelio)
- Caught this on the last day of the festival. It was a morning screening, I woke up, I saw the Oscar's shortlist for Best Foreign Film. Among the 9 films, 2 I saw at the festival (Loveless and The Insult), so I needed to make it 3 instead. It was worth it.

12) Wajib (dir: Annemarie Jacir) (Golden Crow Pheasant Award winning film/ closing film)
- Guy in returns to Nazareth from Rome to help his father hand deliver his sister's wedding invitation. Set entirely in one day, father and son road movie, cultural clashes (Palestinians abroad vs Palestinians at home), very universal.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Video recap of AQERAT at Tokyo International Film Festival

I am now waiting to fly off to India for the Kerala International Film Festival. I haven't been to India for 10 years, so I'm quite excited. I have to say that my previous trip was a memorable one. It was a month, I went to cities like Bangalore, New Delhi, and then going to places like Varanasi, Bodh Gaya etc. to make my pilgrimage. I was traveling with a Tibetan Rinpoche and a lama, I experienced the country in many different ways, from its beauty to its horrors, with images that seared into my mind until now. 10 years ago, I went to India, and after that, to Chile, I was 23. it was 2007. That was the year I met Woo Ming Jin and started a decade of collaboration, that was a year before I continued my studies in 2008. It cannot believe it's already been 10 years even though it did feel like a lifetime ago.

But before India, I would like to share with you all a video recap painstakingly shot by TK Cheng, Aqérat's line producer, assistant director, production designer (yes, he does many things). Throughout the trip in Tokyo Film Fest he had been carrying his camera taking photos, shooting videos, and this then, is a result of his hard work. Just to help us remember. Where would I be 10 years from now if I were to revisit this video again? Just like how I reminisce about my India and Chile trip from 2007? (The Chilean trip, in fact, was written extensively in this blog, it was the first ever film festival I attended as a producer, and it left a deep impression, footages I shot on my DV camcorder during the Indian trip, however, was used to edit a video essay called FLEETING IMAGES.)

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Memorable November

This journal has existed since 2004, witnessing my days as a university student in Perth with dreams of filmmaking to the actual embarkation of my filmmaking journey. And thus it has witnessed many of my adventures and greatest triumphs, from my student short films in Murdoch during 2006 to directing a Japanese short film, KINGYO, that got into Venice Film Festival in 2009 to writing and producing Woo Ming Jin's TIGER FACTORY that got invited to the Director's Fortnight at Cannes Film Fest in 2010, and then winning the Sonje Award for Best Asian Short Film the same year at Busan Film Fest with another short film, INHALATION.

There are a lot of ups and downs, though I'm sure I don't really write the downs that much.

Exactly a month ago, November 3rd 2017, I received an award for Best Director at the Tokyo International Film Festival, for my latest film AQÉRAT (We, The Dead). My lead actress Daphne Low, who had worked with me since 2013 for the short film FLOATING SUN and then RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS, she received the festival's inaugural Tokyo Gemstone Award, which was for rising stars. That was her first ever award as an actress too!

Since then, the outpouring of congratulations, media coverage etc had been overwhelming.

As I stood on the stage then, it was difficult not to be emotional, firstly because I am aware of the film festival's history, and in 30 years of its history, many film greats had been recognized by the film festival, like Edward Yang and his Brighter Summer Day winning the Special Jury Award in 1991, while the Best Director award in the festival had won by filmmakers like Alan Parker, Yim Ho, Reza Mirkarimi, Guy Ritchie, Taylor Hackford, Ruben Ostlund, Alejandro Innaritu, Wu Tian-Ming, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the Safdie Brothers... to be mentioned with these greats is unbelievable, especially when I try to remember where I was when I saw the films they won their awards for. (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris won for 'Little Miss Sunshine', which harkened memories of my Perth days when I would go alone to the Luna Palace Cinemas in Fremantle, which specializes in arthouse films, with 'Little Miss Sunshine' being one of the films I saw then)

Then I thought of everyone who were part of my journey, from past to present, from Perth to Tokyo to back in Malaysia, teachers, mentors, comrades, companions who were involved in all my films, and I realized how fortunate I was that I have always met the right people who had helped me make worthy films that strengthened my belief in what I've been doing (well, there are some not-so-right people too, but they were rare, and they existed only as cautionary tales... or sources of irritation), with friendship that managed to endure. The connection I share with other people through film is one I cherish immensely, since being in love with cinema was such a lonely thing to do while I was growing up.

I remember in 2004 when I had a camcorder and I wanted to make a short film and one person decided to join me in this crazy quest. Here's to you, Justin. For being my best pal in Perth where we talked about films and literature, and for introducing people of J-Lit like Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki etc. to me. So glad I got to meet up and celebrate with you a few days after the award ceremony.

So, November ended, and Facebook prompted me to remember what happened in the previous month. (after the Tokyo International Film Festival, I went off to become a surprise jury member at the Digicon6Asia a few days after, a surprise that surprised even myself)

It also reminded me of my 10-year friendship with Lesly the Cinematographer, who had been mentioned quite a few times here, having shot my short films like CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, LOVE SUICIDES, AFTERNOON RIVER, NOW, FLOATING SUN, LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL and finally AQERAT.

I'm afraid of making this post too self-congratulatory. Winning the award makes me grateful, and very humbling, but I still have to remember that I have half of a new film waiting for me to finish! And another new project I'm developing a story for!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Photos from Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima

When it comes to filmmaking, I always have this yearning to shoot it at places I've never been to before. Every new project, we'll have to go somewhere we've never been to before, I think it coincides with my love for traveling.

The past few weeks I've been visiting Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima (the "fifth river" in Malay), the village on this island are mostly on stilts. A quiet sleepy town, where people travel around only by walking or bicycles, it's almost as if I were transported somewhere else in time.

Location scouting

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Ocean of dried shrimps

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Waiting for a storm that never came.

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

A room with a view.

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Jetty of Five Rivers

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Friday, June 30, 2017

Edward Yang. 10 Years later + Brighter Summer Day cast reunion

The great filmmaker Edward Yang passed away exactly 10 years ago.

That was 2007. I remember it most for being the year I got into the film industry. It was that one year between my return from Perth (late 2006) and my subsequent relocation to Tokyo (April Fool 2008).

5 years ago, to mark the 5th anniversary of his passing, I wrote this post about his films.

In that post, I remembered and chronicled my experiences of watching four of his films.

(in this order)


On the first time I saw 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.

On the first time I saw A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY:
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.

Interestingly, in that post, I wrote about hearing news of A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY being restored, and how I have yearned to see the film on big screen. That was 2012. I managed to fulfil that dream at Busan Film Festival 2015.

From 2007 to 2010, I only managed to watch 4 of his films.

From 2010 to 2013. I finished the rest of the films from his filmography. MAHJONG, THAT DAY ON THE BEACH, and finally, TAIPEI STORY.

Those old posts I wrote, they are more detailed when it comes to articulating how I felt about the films.

Anyway, in the last few days, as usual, a few film friends on Facebook had been commemorating and celebrating the works of Edward Yang.

I joined in.

And finally, a video from a recent BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY cast reunion. Somehow I can only embed the video and not my post, so I'll include what I wrote on my FB post.

10 years ago Edward Yang passed away. After his death I started watching his films. It was a year after I got back from Perth and a year before I moved to Tokyo.
I started with YI YI, it opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema. After that, I went to Tokyo, on one afternoon I managed to watch BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY. Life changed. I have watched the film a few times in the past decade, including its restored version on the big screen. Aside from Chang Chen,Elaine Jin and Lawrence Ko, most of the cast members remained in my mind, perpetually frozen in time, looking the way they look in the film.

So it feels so amazing to see this BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY cast reunion!!! Everyone looks so different after 25 years! Especially Cat, seeing him as an adult blows my mind (he's supposed to be in subsequent Edward Yang films but I couldn't recognise him)

Friday, June 09, 2017

Remembering Auntie Tan

Exactly a week ago, I was taking a plane to Langkawi for a wedding. A few hours before I flew off, I paid my respects to Auntie Tan, a dear family friend who passed away the night before.

While I was flying I wrote a post to remember her.

I am writing this while I’m flying to Langkawi for a wedding. It’s one of those pleasant flights where I’m fortunate enough to have an entire row for myself. Too bad the flight is so short.

Right now, I want to write about a very dear family friend who had just passed away yesterday. All these years, I’ve called her “Auntie Tan”. A great friend of my mom’s, a person our entire family had been very fond of.

This morning before going to the aiport, I went to her house to pay my last respects. That was the least I could do. I was going to miss her funeral for a wedding, it almost felt like a dark cosmic twist.

“Always cheerful, always smiling and always laughing, this is how I will always remember you. Thank you.” I said in my heart as I stood before her coffin.

I first met her when I was 15, it was a trip to Hong Kong. It was a momentous Buddhist occasion. A bone fragment of the Buddha was being venerated and exhibited in public. Coming along with my family were two of my mother’s friends, one was Auntie Jennifer, the other was Auntie Tan. I knew Auntie Jennifer before that because her son is a friend from high school (while her other son would later marry my cousin :D ) our connections are quite deep, apparently.

Some of my memories of Auntie Tan, for me, are of the family trips we took over the years, usually for Buddhist reasons. Hong Kong in 1999, a memorable trip to India in 2007. Or the Buddhist ceremonies she would always attend with mom. I remember too the durians she brought us. They are just simple memories, nothing dramatic, but the way she called my name was rather distinctive too. (sounds more like 宇恒/以恒 than 毅恒)

We learnt that she had cancer a few weeks ago. Since then I have visited her a few times. She remained in good spirits, telling me about a niece of hers that she really wanted me to meet because she's studying performance art. Also reminded me that I can just treat her like my own mom.
There’s not more I can say, but also a memory I have of Auntie Tan. It's a memory of a personal loss.
14th of July, 2012. My grandmother died. We rushed to Ipoh, and spent the entire night chanting mantra. My uncles and aunts, my cousins, we were all awake the whole night to give my grandmother a proper send-off.

One of the most unexplainable things about my grandmother’s passing is that I couldn't seem to cry at all. Despite how close I was to her since I was a child. The tears flowed freely from those around me, yet my eyes were so, so dry. From learning news of her death to the funeral to the burial. It baffled me. Was I so numb?

But my memory is inaccurate, just like the above paragraph. Some brief moments tend to linger longer than others.
On the morning of 15th of July, as the earliest light of the sun lit up the sky, we started making preparations for grandma’s funeral. In the midst of this, the first two people to arrive, who drove more than 2 hours to Ipoh, were Auntie Jennifer and Auntie Tan.
When I saw them standing in front of the gate, looking for my mom, I cried then.

(This photo was taken in 2010, Chinese New Year. We were visiting Auntie Tan's house. She was offering me my most beloved pineapple tarts. In the background was her husband Uncle Tan, who passed away not long after this photo was taken. Rest in peace.)

Auntie Tan, Uncle Tan and Seng Guan

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Starbucks Old Man

I'm now hanging out at Starbucks, supposedly trying to write.

What I'm supposed to write:
New script. A tale of two sisters told through multiple timelines, a merging of past and present, dream and reality. It is supposed to happen in Japan and Malaysia.

What I am writing now instead:
This journal entry.
An observation of an old man seated next to me.

For the past two hours, ever since I came in, the old man had been sitting here, his table covered entirely with newspapers. He had been staring at the papers, but I'm not sure whether he is reading it. He hasn't been flipping the pages, so I'm really curious whether he is reading or staring.

There are two cups before him, paper cups from Starbucks. He was just drinking water, no coffee in sight. He had not been ordering anything at all.

I think I've seen a similar old man in a Starbucks at a different mall, I wonder whether it's the same guy.

I find myself remembering those sleepless nights that I have spent in McDonald's at Tokyo few years ago. I was also writing a script for a film (it was never made).

For a few consecutive nights I saw the same elderly people who hang out there after midnight. Presumably homeless. They would just order a 100 yen drink and spend the whole night there.

I remember an old man who sat across from me, always holding a really thick dictionary-like book in his hands, and constantly wiping the table meticulously, compulsively with tissue paper. The repetition of his movement left me a little distracted.

And thus I find myself experiencing deja vu across time and space. The old man in Starbucks, who is reading but not really reading the newspapers. Who has two paper cups of water put beside a loaf of bread that he has brought over by himself. Who is now in a state of half-asleep and is constantly scratching himself and rubbing his hands together (the air-conditioner is admittedly a little chilly today), occasionally wiping his hands compulsively with tissue paper he had casually taken from the counter.

Merging of past and present, dream and reality, blah blah blah.


Whenever I'm in the midst of writing a new script, I often try to dig into my own memories.

Either they are events from my past,
or people I've met,
or something I've read.

It becomes some heightened state of awareness, where I begin remembering things I thought I remember. At the same time too, I wonder whether what I remember had really happened or were they just product of my imagination manifested because of my loneliness.

There's always my memory of a person whose existence I gradually starting to question, as no one else seem to remember her at all.

No sign of her on Facebook (her name was too common).

No memory of her voice as we had never spoken to one another.

My last memory of her was my last day as the president of the English Language Club in high school. I was Form 5 and stepping down, my (handpicked) successor was someone from Form 6. (my choice was either a Form 4 junior whose work ethics I questioned, or a Form 6 outsider, I chose the latter)

I gave a farewell speech. To my surprise, she was in the room too. She wasn't a member of the club, but maybe she was there because she was a friend of my successor? (she was also a Form 6 student) Perhaps she was there to see her classmate take over the club?

I was almost half the age that I am now, and as I (probably) fumbled through the speech, the only feeling I felt then was how surreal the entire situation was. I cannot remember what I've said, yet I remember her seated on the second last row of the classroom. She wasn't paying attention to the speech, which was okay, I wasn't paying attention to it either.

Did I imagine her existence?
Could it be possible that the sheer crushing loneliness that I felt during the last few months of secondary school had prompted me to conjure an imaginary person in my mind?

If she is real, I doubt I will ever see her again.
(Not the luminous eyes nor the (dark brown?) hair tied up in a ponytail,
nor the constant pink flush no her cheeks.)

If she is real, I hope she is happy now.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

To the writer of the "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films " article

It is 3:30 am in the morning. I was trying to write on this journal an entry about a new project of mine called YASMIN-SAN, which is either a documentary or a film essay. I thought I had to write about it because I was about to start recording my own voiceovers for the film. I'm generally camera-shy and self-conscious (I don't appear in my own films), the idea of recording MY OWN VOICE for a film project left me a little uncomfortable. But YASMIN-SAN is going to be screened in public two weeks from now, so I don't have much of a choice!

9 years ago, I attempted a film essay called FLEETING IMAGES. It happened a few weeks after I moved to Tokyo. Adjusting to a new life in a new country, I clung on to my lifelong love: cinema and literature. I brought many DVDs with me to watch, one of them happened to be Chris Marker's SANS SOLEIL. After I watched it in one lovely Spring afternoon, I realized my life was changed, my senses realigned, and it opened up to me the infinite possibilities of cinema. So I made FLEETING IMAGES, I had a lot of beautiful and bittersweet memories of this project. For the award I won, the unexpected appreciation it received, for the people I met, for the person I met after its very first public screening.

I tried Googling FLEETING IMAGES as I was writing that post (trying to find its Youtube embed code, which I added above this paragraph), and stumbled upon a Japanese article in the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia website, which I believed was written last June as part of the Southeast Asia Program & Symposium.

In the article "Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films", the author wrote about his (her?) first encounter with FLEETING IMAGES, which was essentially his introduction to Malaysian cinema.

After reading it, I decided to put my initial post aside and write this instead. I wanted to thank the writer, but I couldn't find a place to leave my comments. I wasn't too sure whom the author was either, but after reading it I felt nothing but gratitude.

I will put the entire article here (which is translated in English), along with its original Japanese text.

Edmund Yeo and Malaysian films

It has already been seven years since I first met the guy. To put it more accurately, maybe I should say, when I first met the guy’s short film—.

A woman’s monologue was accompanied by various clips that began in Japan, on to Malaysia, India, and so on. If these unrelated clips that filled the screen happened to be still pictures instead of videos, maybe it would have reminded me of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Emotions that words can’t explain, bustling intentions that can’t be replaced with languages, aspirations that continue pleading to be expressed… These things came fluttering down from the screen, and I found myself trying to capture each and every one of them with both of my hands. But before I knew it, they slipped past me and continued to flow toward their next travel destination, as if there’s a meaning to continue flowing for eternity and to never reach the destination for all eternity.

The guy’s film called Fleeting Images was exactly like that.The creator was a Malaysian man named Edmund Yeo. My first impression was, “So this is the guy…”

Edmund’s film Fleeting Images should be called “Short-lived Images”. The images that flowed and disappeared every second and every instant with the flow of time, was similar to that instantaneous flicker of our lives: elusive, haphazard, and the destination unknown. A letter filled with an ephemeral emotion is handed to us without telling us who it’s addressed to, and the voice that reads the letter becomes a distant echo, resists the flow of time, and continues to resonate in our ears.

Who is it addressed to? Without knowing, the woman’s monologue becomes grains of words, crystalizes through the flowing time, and awakens a piece of our memory as it turns and runs away.
While a couple of letters turn into the echo of a monologue and disappear between time and space, we quietly wait for the next page to be turned…You can say that seeing his films is like reading through a book. It’s a repetition of experiences. What’s important is not to give a fixed meaning to it. Rather than that, we must embrace the endless sway of transience as it is. It’s to continue this behavior in order to keep reliving the time.So this is the guy who depicted all that…

The guy in front of me didn’t look like a movie youth or like a literary youth at all. An innocent smile filled his dark-colored face and “friendly” and “lovable” were the adjectives that fit him perfectly.

Until then, I hadn’t had the opportunity to come face to face with a Malaysian person, so he was my first Malaysian friend. From his Chinese name, I kind of predicted he’d be a Chinese Malaysian, but his looks greatly defied my shallow speculation and I found myself sitting up straight. It was out of respect for the creator. This film’s unexpected surprise of beginning in Malaysia and going through Japan, will continue to touch my heart.

This is what triggered me to begin thinking about Malaysian films—.In Japan, Yasmin Ahmad is a prominent figure, but how many of us know the background, the present, and the future of Malaysian films……? Edmund mentioned this in an interview once— “The country of Malaysia consists of multiple ethnic groups and cultures. We all have our distinct ways of living. So in my case, since I’m Malaysian Chinese, the characters of my films speak Mandarin, but I think the flow of time and methods of visual expressions we use in our filmmaking as well as the emotions that exist are totally different from what you see in Taiwanese films, Hong Kong films, and Chinese films. (“OUTSIDE IN TOKYO” )

The multiethnic country, Malaysia. Although it mainly consists of Chinese people, just like the distinct development of its cuisine, films have also taken shape by absorbing a variety of sensibilities and tastes. That’s why I don’t feel that Edmund’s films are different from ours.

From Japan to Malaysia, and on to India, the fleeting fragments of images continue on as if they’re passing through a corridor, coupled with the monologue that tickles our ears as they pass by, taking us back to a nostalgic time and place that we possibly knew in the past. It’s the present but no longer the present. It was once a time in the past, but not anymore. It’s like a mixture of a faint memory and a premonition…… Each element is huddled together but then untangled once again…….

From Japan to Malaysia and on to India, transcending space and time, memories are linked together and images shimmer as they connect with one another. It’s something that’s created by passing through Malaysia, a topos where various times and cultures wander back and forth. That is the very reason why a certain richness is fostered and people who are no different from all of us begin living lives that are no different from ours… inside the film of Edmund Yeo.

Now let’s talk about Malaysian films… Well, I’m not actually well-versed and knowledgeable about Malaysian films. I only have a general knowledge. But my encounter with Edmund Yeo no doubt changed that a little bit.Yasmin Ahmad, a leading figure in the Malaysian film industry, passed away (summer of 2009) right after my encounter with Edmund, and special screenings to commemorate her took place in various locations. Let me introduce an Asahi Shimbun article from back then.

“Malaysia’s female film director Yasmin Ahmad, who has led the new trend of Southeast Asian films, passed away last month on the 25th from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 51. Her films that captured the realities of a multiethnic nation with humor and satire were screened in various film festivals in Japan and gained popularity. Her passing came just before the kickoff of her new film which included shooting in Japan. After graduating from a university in England, she became a TV commercial director for a Malaysian advertisement company. Her commercials with messages toward cross-cultural understanding and supporting the vulnerable, received high acclaim. She made her film debut with the feature film Rabun in 2003. The autobiographical film series featuring a young girl Orked, received international attention. Ahmad committed herself to supporting young directors in Malaysia and Singapore. She called herself “The storyteller”. She valued entertainment and creating content that was easy-to-understand for all. On the other hand, she cut through Malaysia’s intercultural conflicts and discrimination structure where ethnic groups such as Malay, Chinese, and Indian coexisted, and the screenings of her films often got axed. Her second film Sepet (2004) about the first romance between a Malaysian girl and a Chinese boy, received the Best Asian Film Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF). In a blog post prior to her passing, she mentioned that receiving recognition at TIFF etc. motivated her to keep pursuing her activities. Her maternal grandmother is Japanese. She mentioned that Otoko-wa-tsurai-yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) was her favorite film. Her newest film Wasurenagusa was going to be based on her grandmother in which she explores her roots. The filming was scheduled to take place in October in locations such as Ishikawa Prefecture.” (Asahi Shimbun September 9th 2009. ‘The greatest director of Malaysia’s film industry, Yasmin Ahmad, passes away.’

The death of Ahmad, who led the new wave of Malaysia, triggered people to reaffirm the frameworks of Malaysian films. I say this because I feel that new talents and gems in the filming industry are cutting their developmental stages short and moving into action.

Film festivals such as the Tokyo International Film Festival and Tokyo FILMEX have been introducing such Malaysian films both consecutively and at one-time screenings. As a result, young Malaysian talents such as Pete Teo (multi-talented music producer, film producer, and actor), James Lee (prominent figure in the Malaysian independent film industry), Lisa Surihani (leading actress in today’s Malaysian film industry), gradually became known (though it may be just among some).

Then in 2013 and 2015, special screenings such as “Cine Malaysia 2013 – Festival of Malaysian Film, Tokyo” and “Malaysian Film Week” took place to introduce the attractiveness of Malaysian films. There’s no doubt that this is an era in which new trends of Malaysian films exist and that there’s a ripple that hints something is about to emerge from there.

Now let’s return to talking about Edmund Yeo.Since encountering his film Fleeting Images, I’ve intentionally began pursuing his films. It’s because he belonged to Kohei Ando’s seminar at Waseda University and was using that as a backbone to create films one after another.

Kingyo (2009, submitted to the Venice Film Festival), Inhalation, Exhalation (both in 2010), Last Fragments of Winter (2012)… Each and every one of Edmund’s films adopts a slightly different style and topic. His inspirations include directors such as Tarkovsky, Edward Yang, Hirokazu Koreeda, but above that, Mr. Kohei Ando told me that Edmund loves Yasunari Kawabata. As if to prove that, Kingyo breaks free from locations and time, and fosters various cultures and multiple styles which are the backbone of Edmund’s films and includes new attractive elements of Malaysian films which would not have been created within the contained realm of Japan. No other location or time could have created that certain something that directly reaches out to us.
It’s not something that can be born and talked about using a single proper noun like Japan or Malaysia. It’s something that can only be born through the framework of Asia as well as the places and time where random cultures clash and react to one another while creating a buzz.

Edmund Yeo’s films not only help us focus our attention there but also continues to flow at the very center of all that.

Edmund Yeo’s first feature film River of Exploding Durians (2014) is a film in which he personally pursues the origin. A must-see.

けれど、それらはいつの間にかぼくのあいだをすり抜けて、次の旅先を目指して流れつづけてゆく。まるで、永遠に流れつづけること、永遠に到達しないことに意味があるかのように……。そいつの『イメージのはかなさ』(Fleeting Images)は、まるでそんな作品だった。作者は、マレーシア人で、エドモンド楊という。その第一印象は、こいつがそうなのか──と。




日本では、ヤスミン・アハマドの名前が突出して知られてはいるが、マレーシア映画の背景にあるものと、その現在、そしてこれからについて、どれほどのことが知られているものか……。エドモンドはあるインタヴューでこんなことを語っている──「マレーシアという国は、複数の民族と文化から成り立っている国です。私たちは皆、それぞれに異なる生活様式を持っているのです。ですから、私の場合は、マレーシア系中国人ですので、映画の登場人物たちは皆、北京語で話していますけれども、私たちの映画における時間の流れや視覚的な表現方法、そして、そこに息づいている感情といったものは、台湾映画や香港映画、中国映画で見られるものとは相当異なっているのではないかと思います」(「OUTSIDE IN TOKYO」 )










He described how my film has touched his heart, I too wanted to say that my heart is touched by this article. In case the article will ever be removed from the Short Shorts website, I will still have it in this journal. So I can hold on to it longer.

I also wanted to tell the author that him being reminded by Chris Marker's La Jetée isn't that surprising, after all, I was blatantly paying homage to his other film, SANS SOLEIL.

And now, as I am about to begin recording my voiceover for YASMIN-SAN, I would also want to tell him that, coincidentally, not only am I doing another work influenced by Chris Marker, I am also covering the late great filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad. However, when making YASMIN-SAN, the Chris Marker work in my mind was A.K., his 1985 film essay/ documentary which chronicled the making of Akira Kurosawa's RAN. A "making-of" documentary which veered into subjects like Kurosawa's personal childhood, World War 2, the spontaneous nature of filmmaking, the bond between cast and crew, and many others. I hope when I am done with YASMIN-SAN, I can add another piece of memory for someone like the author of the above article.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Birthday and other moments in snowy Yubari International Film Festival

Last month, I suddenly made the decision to go to Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, firstly because I've never been to Yubari before, secondly because the festival coincided with my birthday, and I thought spending my birthday in the snow would be great. I will now post these to help myself remember.

And so I went. Due to my flight getting delayed, I ended up having to take the more convoluted route there. Usually there would be a direct bus to Yubari from Shin-Chitose Airport (close to Sapporo), but the bus only runs until 6pm. After that I had no choice but to take the train, which involved switching lines, and waiting in near empty stations. It was quite atmospheric.

A post shared by Edmund Yeo (@edmundyeo) on

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Photos and worm-eating misadventures from a documentary shoot

Ah yes, during the end of February, I was directing four documentary shorts for Channel News Asia, it was a one week shoot and each segment is only 2-3 minutes. The shoot took me to a few different cities and places, time for preparation was pretty short. I believed I was approached to direct them less than a week before the actual shoot. Nevertheless, I had fun.

And here are some photos (and videos) I took during the shoot.

Hello again, journal, let me tell you about my new film "Aqérat"

When was the last time I have actually posted here? Probably nearly 6 months ago, during the Tokyo International Film Festival. The truth is, ever since I figured that I can automatically post my Instagram posts here, I have gotten lazy.

But somehow, my Instagram pictures stopped appearing it, it's quite a bummer, but it means that I have to return and actually WRITE here. To my imaginary audience of one.

In that amount of time since I was gone, I have shot my new feature film, "Aqérat". That was late December. Been working on it since then.

"Aqérat", which means "life after death" in the Rohingyan language, tells the story of a desperate young woman named Hui Ling (played by regular collaborator Daphne Low) who gets involved in human trafficking. It's about the recent Rohingyan migrant crisis that had been happening the past few years, it's also a love story.

Film is shot in the Northern state of Kelantan, which is really close to the Thai-Malaysia border. Before the shoot, I've never been there before, but filmmaking is an act of constant exploration, thus it would have been a waste to not find a way to capture this beautiful, unique place onscreen.

Trusty TK the production designer and art director had once again uploaded production photos of the shoot. Great stuff, he deserved the Dongseo scholarship at last year's Asian Film Academy at the Busan International Film Festival :D