Friday January 18, 2013
Full moon fever
By AIDIL RUSLI
As a Malaysian production with international aspirations, Paper Moon flies the flag proudly with its mix of Hong Kong stars and local talents.
Bringing Malaysian stories to an international audience is surely every film producer’s dream. But how to do so is something that not many have quite figured out yet. Aside from arthouse films like Kaki Bakar and Bunohan that have travelled the international film festival circuit, the Malay movie scene, especially, has yet to come out with a product that could successfully cross borders not only as an export, but also as a commercial success.
The Chinese language film scene, however, has seen a precedent in actor/filmmaker Aniu (real name Tan Kheng Seong)’s directorial debut Ice Kacang Puppy Love, which starred quite a few Malaysians, in the form of Aniu himself, leading lady Angelica Lee Sin Je and supporting player Fish Leong, who have found fame in Hong Kong and China. Considering the shared language, it is not so far-fetched to try and make a Malaysian film that also possesses commercial potential for the Hong Kong, China and Taiwan market.
If Ice Kacang Puppy Love starred Malaysians famous in Hong Kong and China, Paper Moon, which is a joint-venture between Astro Shaw, Double Vision and Passion Entertainment, goes one further by actually having Hong Kong stars Gordon Lam (Ip Man, Infernal Affairs, Election) and current HK sex symbol Chrissie Chau in the lead roles. Also playing a major role in the film is Malaysian singer Tedd Chan in his first film role and award-winning Malaysian singer-songwriter Rynn Lim playing a supporting role.
Being a full-fledged Malaysian production with a mixture of Hong Kong and Malaysian stars in it, the film further signals its international aspirations with the participation of director Stanley Law, one of the most successful directors in HK-TVB and also a mainstay in film and TV production in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong (for Double Vision, Indosiar and Star TV).
With such impressive pedigree, it’s a wonder why nobody thought of trying to pull off this formula much earlier. When asked about the film’s international distribution, executive producer Gayatri Su-Lin Pillai answered at a media event in Kuala Lumpur earlier on Tuesday that producer Jess Teong and her team at Double Vision have managed to secure distribution with highly-regarded Hong Kong company Distribution Workshop. It will represent the film worldwide.
And judging from the fact that the titles that they have distributed include major hits like Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, The Last Tycoon and Monga, not to mention critically acclaimed titles like A Simple Life and 24 City, it’s probably safe to say that Paper Moon is in good hands.
But pedigree is nothing if the final product lacks quality, and thankfully Paper Moon is a well-executed exercise in romantic melodrama.
Furthermore, despite starring Hong Kong actors, the film’s setting and background can’t be more Malaysian.
The movie is set in a coastal village in Kelantan, and centres on a melancholic Wau-making master called Chen Tian Song (Gordon Lam giving a soulful and understated performance) who clearly has regrets haunting him from his past.
Rynn Lim plays his apprentice Xiao Ding, and we first get a glimpse of Chrissie Chau as holidaying city girl Man Hua. Their paths collide when Tian Song bumps into her while Xiao Ding helps her pick up her things from the ground.
A sweet courtship ensues between Man Hua and Xiao Ding and the movie then pulls its first surprise on us by showing flashbacks of the young Tian Song (Tedd Chan) and his old flame Shi Qin (revealed in the news to have been recently murdered), who looks just like Man Hua and is also played by Chau. The movie then teasingly plays out the uncanny similarities between Man Hua and Shi Qin, not just in their looks but also from the words they say, the things they do and the places they remember.
With such a bold display on the theme of doppelgangers, I was swiftly reminded of the dangerous yet highly romantic emotional pull of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, not to mention other romantic movies with men encountering doppelgangers of their past or lost loves like Obsession, The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp and Heaven Can Wait. While not quite arriving at the level of sophistication of the aforementioned films, it is still quite refreshing to see a Malaysian movie attempt a grand romantic gesture like this. Commenting about the film’s doppelganger theme, director Stanley Law said that he planned the editing and placement of scenes involving the two characters in advance while visually taking cues from a lot of Korean and Japanese movies in terms of the film’s look. And like similar local Chinese language films like Ice Kacang Puppy Love and Great Day, the look and production value displayed in Paper Moon is absolutely top-notch and is more than worthy of international export.
Making things even more interesting for the male audience are the numerous steamy love scenes involving the young Shi Qin and Tian Song, some of which did not manage to survive local censorship. Well, the Malaysian movie industry is not exactly famous for its permissibility.
Hiring a sex symbol (and eye candy) like Chau would probably be pointless if the movie doesn’t have any titillating scenes in it. But in this case, the juicy scenes are justified by the fact that they’re used to show young love in all its messy glory, and also by the fact that Chau has shown herself to be a quite capable actress here.
When asked about whether she had any difficulties trying to inhabit these two very different characters, Chau answered that the fact that she had different partners for each role helped immensely. It’s the fact that she gets to play these two roles in one film that led her to agree to star in the movie.
Lam also answered to almost similar effect when asked about his role and what attracted him to it.
He considers the character’s emotional torment, which involves the realisation that you are unable to take care of your loved one, as something very realistic and which could happen to anyone. It was a new challenge for him. Looking quite different physically in this role, I asked about his preparation for it, to which he answered, “When I accept a role, I never think about how the character looks physically, so it’s exciting to play someone that looks different from me. But as an actor, I always think deeply about the character’s feelings and how to convey that.”
Acting alongside two big Hong Kong stars, especially ones as technically capable as Lam and Chau, must be a daunting challenge. So I asked Chan how he feels about all this, especially since he’s a singer and has only recently started making forays into the acting world.
“Being a newbie, of course I’d jump at the chance at acting alongside Lam and Chau, but having said so, I did feel a lot of pressure and as a result, I did a lot of homework before going into the shoot so as not to cause any delays,” he answered.
Having produced a lot of Malay movies for Tayangan Unggul and Astro Shaw, the last few years have seen Astro Shaw more actively making Chinese films as well, usually as a joint venture with other companies. Are there more of these films on the way this year?
“We are definitely on the lookout for more joint ventures like this one, because I think it’s time that we try and not just tell Malaysian stories, but also tell them to the world. And I think Paper Moon is something special not only because it is very local in terms of the culture and setting in Kelantan,” said Gayatri.
“But the fact that it’s filmed by someone from the outside looking in, even if that someone’s been based here for quite a while, and the mere fact that we’re looking through fresh eyes just makes Malaysia look even more beautiful,” she added. We can’t agree more.
> Paper Moon is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.