Wednesday, December 31, 2008
One hour into the new year, I couldn't find much room in my heart for rejoicing. I kept retrieving and reading a text message I received from Dr. Jemilah of Mercy Malaysia, early yesterday afternoon. It read...
"Salaam. I am leaving tonight for Egypt and onto Rafah, to set up a pipeline for aid into Gaza. Don't worry, it is safe there. Pray for us and the people who are suffering there. Happy new year, I love all of you."
Please... please pray for my friend and all the broken bodies she is going to try and mend there.
And sweet, sweet Allah, please keep her safe and give her strength. Ameen, ya rabbal aalameen.
( For more information on Mercy Malaysia, please contact 03-2273 3999 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org )
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Not since our disovery of Sharifah Amani when she was only 16, back in 2003, had I ever met such talented young Malaysians as the people you see here.
Starting with Mahesh Jugal Kishore, allow me to introduce you to this diabolically good-looking 18-year old who could command a new language in less than a week!
Then there is Mohd. Syafie Naswip, winner of the Best Child Actor award at the FFM two years ago, and, at the tender age of 15, beat veterans like Rosyam Nor, Nasir Bilal Khan, and Rusdi Ramli, for the Best Actor award at last year's Anugerah Skrin. His heartfelt debut performance as Mukhsin stole hearts in Berlin, Tokyo, Paris and New York. In "Talentime", he plays the extremely demanding role of a schoolboy who tries to put on a brave face for his cancer-stricken mother, played by Azean Irdawaty.
Swiftly moving on, next in line is Pamela Chong, one of a two-sister team which got second prize at last year's Amazing Race Asia. She took to acting like fish to water, and had memorised her lines, way before most other actors at reharsals, two months before principal shooting began.
Obviously, Jaclyn Victor needs no introduction here. The first ever winner of Malaysian Idol, and arguably the finest singer in South-East Asia, Jac stunned the crew with her powerfully nuanced debut as an actor.
Finally, the drop-dead gorgeous Howard Hon Kahoe, barely 17, became the instant hearthrob on set, with his winsome smile and sultry pout. He played the domestically pressured teenager to perfection, and will most likely have a part in my upcoming Japanese film project, "Wasurenagusa".
These fine young performers, along with the amazingly gifted and versatile Elza (sorry babe, they never gave me a good-sized photo of you!), daughter of Azean Irdawaty, make for worthwhile viewing of our new film "Talentime".
Allah has been so generous. Rabbana wa lakalhamdu.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
What can I say? I'm just about the most sentimental person I know.
And those among you who have seen "Talentime", or indeed any of my films or even my Petronas commercials, will click their tongues, cast their eyes skyward, and say, "Well, no shit, Sherlock!"
Mister Thomas Chia of Lighthouse Pictures, I cannot thank you enough for having faith in my work, even way back then, when most people did not. You are God-sent, of that I'm certain.
And all those Singaporeans who watched "Muallaf" once, twice, even three times, many of whom opened up the Holy Quran afterwards, Muslims AND non-Muslims, seeking to find out what Rohana's numbers meant! It was you who led our little film to earn a nett box office taking that's TWICE as much as "Sepet". Thank you so much. You too are a blessing from above.
(I just found out that the very last screening of "Muallaf" at 10:15pm has only two front rows left unfilled. Alhamdulillah.)
And now our film must leave your shores and face the censorship board here. Oh well. It's in God's hands now.
In the words of the last verse of al-Baqarah which Brian read to the coma patient in "Muallaf", "On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear."
Sunday, December 21, 2008
One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil - It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, and arrogance. The other is Good - It is peace, love, hope, humility, compassion, and faith."
The grandson thought about this for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"
To which the old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
1) A Dogme film with an Altmanesque soul, "Rachel Getting Married" is a richly eccentric and instinctive look at addiction and the toils, troubles, and joys of blood relations, in which a young girl struggles to save herself using a language no one either speaks or cares to, set by Jonathan Demme during a wedding whose pretense to multiculturalism reveals itself as a narcissistic clan's way of disguising from the world that they're hurting just as badly as the next family.
2) Built on sensuous interplays between people and objects, reality and representation, José Luis Guerín's rapturously alfresco "In the City of Sylvia" uses a voluptuous language of spatial-temporal equations to conflate one's love of people with one's love of movies.
3) A sterling follow-up to his similarly themed "Changing Times", "The Witnesses" is another triumph for the criminally underrated André Téchiné, who uses his sensual humanist verve to hone in on the desires and insecurities of a group of friends and lovers when AIDS rattles their sense of complacency.
4) Errol Morris's dramatic recreations are his aesthetic signature, and they're sometimes sore spots in his work, but in his heady Abu Ghraib exposé "Standard Operating Procedure" they are as purposeful as they were in "The Thin Blue Line", cannily dialoguing with his thesis about the veracity of image-making.
5) "Summer Palace" teems with sex scenes more meaningful than anything in "Lust, Caution", hinging on more than just a feeling of duplicity; in them, Ye Lou locates the soul of his young people, a woman's areola and the hairs on a man's chin popping off the screen as vividly and urgently as placards of political protest.
6) Filmmaker and explorer, Werner Herzog is a man obsessed with the secrets and wonders of uncharted terrains and their inhabitants, and with his sly, poetic, and melancholic "Encounters at the End of the World" he reflects on the eccentricity, compassion, and possible madness of people like himself united in their committment to looking beyond themselves.
7) A sweet and mellow Malaysia-set love story between a young boy and girl, "Mukhsin" is chockablock with bittersweet cultural observations, with Yasmin Ahmad peering at the ecstasies and haunts of her young characters with a mixture of lovingness and randiness that brings to mind Yasujiro Ozu's "Good Morning".
8) Lush with longing and history, "My Father My Lord" suggests an ancient vase with small precarious cracks spread across its surface. Writer-director David Volach's subjective use of video technology toys with space and distance, affecting the curiosity of his cherubic main character, whose love for his father is as powerful and incandescent as lightning.
9) An unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre, "Let the Right One In" is the story of one child's painful coming of age and another's insatiable bloodlust. Do not avert your eyes from Tomas Alfredson's gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck.
10) With "Happy-Go-Lucky", Mike Leigh engages silent-movie idiom for a study of human behavior that appears out of sync with the times but shouldn't really, and as memorably performed by Sally Hawkins using an arsenal of unbelievably orchestrated sniggers and jostles and punctuating guffaws, her wild child emerges as an example of humane perseverance.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: "Man on Wire", "Chris & Don", "Reprise", "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl", "The Strangers", "Redbelt", "Still Life", "Gran Torino", "Trouble the Water", and "Up the Yangtze".
Monday, December 8, 2008
His name is Adrien Tache. He turns 18 on December 30th.
But don't get too excited, girls. He already has a girlfriend by the name of Olivia Nouvel.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Some Singaporeans on facebook have been discussing "Muallaf" and the numbers Rohana cited, every time the poor girl got a little upset. This, to me, is exciting beyond belief.
Just a month ago, a lovely Japanese young lady named Sawaka watched "Muallaf" in Tokyo. Soon after, she emailed me and said, "I myself am a pseudo Catholic, but watching the movie made me want to read the Koran." I told her to look up quranexplorer.com and she thanked me for the website address.
Much as I would prefer that viewers who are curious about Rohani's numbers would actually pick up a copy of the Holy Quran with translations to find out what the verses were saying, I do realise that it is hard to remember the numbers and the scenes they appeared in.
So here then are two scenes where Rohani cited some numbers, which chapters those numbers came from, and the verses themselves translated into English.
After Mrs. Siva's caning episode, Brian drove Rohana home. Along the way, he said to Rohana, “You won’t have to worry about Mrs. Siva for a while. I think she’ll probably get suspended. And if your sister decides to press charges, she’ll be out for good.” To which Rohana replied, “One hundred and eight, three.”
In the Holy Quran, chapter 108 is entitled “Al-Kauthar”, and line 3 translates to “For he who hateth thee, he will be cut off from future hope.”
In the scene where Brian and Brother Anthony visited the girls in their hideout home, Brian confronted the girls by saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t let on, but you girls ran away from home, didn’t you?” To which Rohani replied, “I wouldn’t call it running away… just running to safety.” Then, Rohana interrupted the conversation by muttering “Sixteen, Forty-one” under her breath.
Chapter 16 is entitled “An-Nahl”, and verse 41 reads, “To those who leave their homes in the cause of Allah, after suffering oppression, We will assuredly give a goodly home in this world: but truly the reward of the Hereafter will be greater. If they only knew!”
For those who have plans to watch the film soon, it might be fun to bring along a little note book, or maybe even just a pen and a piece of paper, on which to jot down Rohani's mysterious numbers. Then when you get home, you can look up their meaning at quranexplorer.com to check their relevance to the scenes in which they appeared.
One movie reviewer in Singapore told me that after watching "Muallaf", he went home to his mother, gave her a hug, and asked her to forgive him for all the times he had hurt her feelings. I remember thinking to myself, "Even if the whole world now hates this film, I shall be eternally grateful, just for that one act of love and reconciliation."
How perfect God is.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Someone in France made this. Don't ask me who it was, or why he did it, because I haven't the faintest.
But here it is. I found it on youtube.
And if that French person can prove to me that he did it, I shall send to him the best existing copy of "Mukhsin" dvd which was printed in the Netherlands.
The Dutch being the Dutch, there's even a 24-page booklet in the box.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Like the wind, like sunlight, like moonbeam. You cannot capture it between two fingers, you can barely touch it, but it can touch you. And you can see the effect it has on its surroundings.
The pictures you see above are various people who have achieved some measure of fame and admiration around the world. This is not to say that they are all equally accomplished at what they do. Obviously, the great Charlie Chaplin and my beloved Dr.M tower over the rest, in terms of the impact they've had on the world. And the young, fledgling actress Sharifah Amani, my "anak emas", has only just begun her career.
But what they all have is this enigmatic, inexplicable power of attraction called "charisma". You can love them or hate them, but they cannot be ignored.
A few months after Sharifah Amani (Nani) got royally screwed by the Malay press and Rais Yatim for that now infamous award acceptance speech at the FFM, I was searching for an actress with enough charisma to pull off a tough character called Rohani, in what was then to be my next project called "Muallaf".
One evening, I found myself in the grand ballroom of a hotel, attending the wedding dinner of Sharifah Aleya (Leya), Nani's elder sister. One by one, the younger sisters got on stage to dedicate a few words to Leya, wishing her well, and confessing their love for her. It was all very heartwarming, and the bride was visibly moved to tears.
Yana, the youngest, came on first. When she had finished, everyone went, "Awww..."
Leysha, as always, was wise and witty beyond her years.
Finally, it was Nani's turn. Clutching the tail of her glamorous dress, she casually picked up the microphone and surveyed the audience for a few moments, with a menacing grin on her face. There, in attendance, were film luminaries, ministers, dignitaries, tan sris, puan sris, datuks and datins, everyone holding their breath, no doubt recalling that FFM speech she had made, just a few months before. Then Nani began:
"You guys have a lot of guts, letting me hold a microphone again! I bet you're thinking, what the HELL is she going to say now?" The hall rocked with laughter and thunderous applause. I smiled and recalled a judging experience I had in Greece, at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The head of the jury was a Czech named Jiri Menzel, a 70-year old master who won his first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the age of 28. My fellow judges included Fred Roos, the producer of "The Godfather", "Apocalypse Now", and "Lost In Translation". We were busy deliberating on the candidates for the Best Actress award for that year.
"That actress internalised her role well," someone said. Someone else said, "But that other actress came across like she really researched the character she was playing." Etcetera, etcetera, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Suddenly, a very bored looking Jiri, who had kept well quiet up to that point, suddenly sat up and took a deep breath. Everyone fell silent.
"When you want to award an actor," his voice boomed across the table, "look for one thing, and one thing only. Charisma!"
Now I was back again at that wedding dinner table in Kuala Lumpur. The audience laughter had just died down. I looked at that little girl on stage, that girl I cast as Orked in "Sepet", when she was barely 17. Having started her speech with a bang, she went on to express her sisterly love to Leya in a way that didn't just touch the elder sister, but the whole hall as well.
That's when I knew I had found my Rohani.
Charisma. It's rare and elusive alright. And my "anak emas" has it by the truck loads. Alhamdulillah.
Monday, November 24, 2008
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, some people wrote that this was not something worth celebrating, because it was an insignificant triumph. But I'm not one to discount or dismiss any blessing Allah bestows upon me, however small it may seem to some people.
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, I felt vindicated because those very same people once described it as my worst film to date.
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, it won in one of my favourite festivals because it was the second one to give me a prize (Best Asian Film for "Sepet" in 2005), and the first to hold a retrospective of my films in 2007.
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, it won among stiff competition. And even though it shared the Best Asian-Middle Eastern Special Mention with two other films, those two other films were made by filmmakers I have great respect for -- Jiang Wen and Ann Hui.
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, these were the films it was up against:
by Kim Tae-Kyun from Korea
by Jeon Kyu-Hwan from Korea
A TALE OF TWO DONKEYS
by Li Dawei from China
MILKY WAY LIBERATION FRONT
by Yoon Seong-Ho from Korea
THE SUN ALSO RISES
by Jiang Wen from China
by Pang Ho-Cheung from Hong Kong
THE WAY WE ARE
by Ann Hui from Hong Kong
WINDS OF SEPTEMBER
by Tom Shu-Yu Lin from Taiwan
by Lee Chi Yuarn from Taiwan
FLOWER IN THE POCKET
by Liew Seng Tat from Malaysia
by Eric Khoo from Singapore
by Aditya Assarat from Thailand
by Ronaldo M. Bertubin from The Philippines
by Shimit Amin from India
by Mohammed Ali Talebi from Iran
by Seyfi Teoman from Turkey
MY MARLON AND BRANDO
by Huseyin Karabey from Turkey
by Nadine Labaki from France/Lebanon
by M. Rashid Masharawi from Palestine/Tunisia/Netherlands
When "Muallaf" won a Special Mention in Tokyo, I jumped up and down with joy, muttered "Alhamdulillah" under my breath, and after my solat, pressed my forehead on my prayer mat and thanked God almighty for His generosity.
May I never, EVER be so arrogant as to dismiss His blessings as "small". Na'uzubillah.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Every once in a while, it is good to appreciate a film which doesn’t bombard you with explosions, car chases, silly slapstick and over the top computer generated effects. The wham bam of things numb our senses so much, we take these hustle and bustle as part of our lives. So when a film which makes us reflect on our inner selves comes along, we realize the impact it has on our well being.
Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad’s fifth feature finally makes its way to our busy city to seek audiences who are willing to make an effort to search deep within themselves to realize the true meaning of forgiveness.
After the Orked trilogy (Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin) which centers on a Malay girl’s trials and tribulations like her interracial relationships and childhood romances, Ahmad writes another provocative story about two Malay sisters staying away from their violent father.
Just when they thought that things were fine in the small town they were staying in, a Chinese teacher with a secret past comes along. He becomes drawn to the sisters’ charismatic personalities and these three troubled souls will soon find solace in each other and understand the meaning of forgiveness.
One can immediately pick out the religious undercurrents with the protagonists being Malay and Chinese. Being a film made in Malaysia, this will definitely evoke some discussions in its home country. We’ve got a Malay woman and a Chinese man being attracted to each other. We’ve got a young girl who has the strange ability to quote from holy books and ancient scriptures. We’ve got a Malay woman acting like a tomboy and working in a nightclub. If these aren’t enough to trigger controversial discussions in Malaysia’s media, we don’t know what will.
There are several themes and subject matters in the film that will set you thinking, that is, if you're prepared to.
First, because the film is set in Malaysia, there are certain contexts and situations which local audiences may not get. Nuances like cultural practices and body movements may alienate the unfamiliar viewer.
Second, the film deals with heavy handed topics which may not be the best things to think about on a difficult day at work.
But that shouldn’t deter you from making sense of this well written story to recognize that although religion cloaks this movie, it is the universal message that love for others creates opportunities for us to forgive and reconcile with ourselves that matters.
Having worked with the director on her three previous films, lead actress Sharifah Amani is evidently comfortable in her role as the protective elder sister who is determined to make a difference in her life. Her real life younger sister Sharifah Aleysha has natural chemistry with her older sister in the film. Brian Yap plays the Chinese teacher with a quiet reluctance which allows viewers to ponder about his troubled character. Also, watch out for performances by “881 Sister” Yeo Yann Yann as a nightclub girl, Malaysian singer Ning Baizura as a flamboyant stepmother, and also fellow Malaysian filmmaker Ho Yuhang.
While these characters are not glamourous and dolled up personalities, they are a true reflection of this thing we call life."
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Before the first opening credits of "Muallaf" appear, before you even hear any sound, these Chinese words fade on, on the extreme right of the screen, quietly, white characters against black.
That's the time my heart started pounding when I saw the film on big screen, for the very first time, at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea.
Almost throughout the film, my eyes stayed fixed to the screen. Occasionally, my gaze would dart around the cinema theatre, whenever there was the slightest cough or clearing of throat, at the remotest corner of that dark hall.
At the end of the screening, there was applause. I heaved a sigh of relief. (I was told that at the Tokyo International Film Festival, where "Muallaf" won a prize, the applause went on for quite a while.)
Soon, these moments will arrive in Singapore, inshaallah. And my heart starts to pound again, just thinking about it.
May Allah bless our little film. Ameen, ya rabbal aalameen.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
If you're in Singapore, please try to catch "Muallaf". But if you're in Kuala Lumpur, please watch this wonderful film below.
Ho Yuhang (my favourite new wave Malaysian film director), Lorna Tee (one of the best producers in Asia), Affandi (my editor), and Effendy (my producer) just saw this powerful sleeper hit.
"Budak Kelantan" is not going to remain on the cinema circuit much longer, so please, please, please catch it soon. It's the brightest spark in Malaysian cinema we've seen in a long time, with an energy that leaves you with a buzz, long after it's over.
Suffice to say that we left Mid-Valley feeling very happy and hopeful about the future of Malaysian cinema.
Salaam to all who come in peace.
Strange things have been happening to the original "The Storyteller" comment box. You cannot access it, let alone read it.
I have an idea what happened, and who was responsible for it, but all that is by the by. And I forgive him, from the bottom of my heart.
From now on, inshaallah, business will go on as usual in this all-new blog of mine.
Introducing "The Storyteller, Part 2". My world of film, art and poetry appreciation. Welcome to it.