I don’t particularly like having my photograph taken. But it’s not everyday that a Japanese superstar offers to shoot my portrait. Thus I found myself on a deserted pier in the middle of Tokyo Bay, being photographed by Kato Masaya – who I’d only recently seen in a Beat Takeshi film.

“Tell me about Malaysian New Wave Cinema”, he began snapping.

So I told him how filmmakers like Ho Yuhang, Tan Chui Mui, Amir Muhammad and James Lee are ignored at home while celebrated overseas; how non-Malay language films are not regarded as ‘Malaysian’ by FINAS [National Film Board]; how ‘Malaysian New Wave Cinema’ has grown to be a minor international art house cinema buzzword despite such myopia from our film authorities; and how FINAS refused to pay for the Malaysian reception at Pusan International Film Festival this year even though the festival held a special program on Malaysian films.

“So who funded the reception in the end?”, Masaya scoffed, momentarily taking his eye off the viewfinder.

“It was only about US$3000. So a few of us indie guys contributed.” I replied.

“That’s shameful”.

“Yes it was.”

Masaya and I met at this year’s Pusan International Film Festival. We were guests of the Asia Pacific Actors Network – a new industry conference initiated by the festival to encourage international collaboration in filmmaking. Other than Masaya and myself, other invited actors included Jason Scott Lee, Fann Wong, Daniel Dae Kim, Jang Hyuk and Grace Park. It felt odd for an obscure indie grunt like me to be mixed up in that company – but as it turned out, all of us got along real well. Masaya and I especially became fast friends. We were scheduled interviews together, partied together, walked the red carpet together – and when he found out that I would be in Tokyo after Pusan – insisted that we set aside a day in Tokyo for this shoot.

“The camera likes you. We should be in a movie together”, he looked up shortly.

“Stop taking the piss”, I sneered.

“Serious. I want to be in a film with you. May be even directed by one of the your new wave filmmakers. Let’s try and make it happen…”

Now, it is important that when a superstar says something as crazy as this that one stays absolutely calm. So I explained to him that the aggregate budget of the entire Malaysian New Wave scene for the last 5 years would not cover his fees for one film. I also opined that, though some of our new wave directors are hugely gifted, their work is currently raw and non-commercial. It may be years before they are able to attract investment at the sort of scale that could afford his services.

“Let’s just try and make it happen anyway”, he repeated.

I could only smile.

In the week that followed, I played a small gig at ‘Saikai’ [my regular bar in Tokyo] and hung out more with Masaya. We watched a midnight show of ‘The Kingdom’, met a couple of young filmmakers whom he is nurturing, went to a noisy club in Roppongi and continued to chat intermittently about the possibility of us working together. In an industry where bullshit often passes for substance, it would be easy to dismiss such an aspiration as delusional. But that would be harsh – and not just on Masaya’s good intentions – but also on anyone who has ever had an urge to realise a dream, however modest or grandiose. For sure, it would not be the easiest thing to pull off – but then it wouldn’t be worth doing if it was easy. So I promised Masaya that I will try my best – and hope that he would do the same. That was how we left it.

I got back to Kuala Lumpur just in time to attend Da Huang Picture’s celebration party at Coconut House in honor of Liew Seng Tatt, whose first feature film ‘Flower In My Pocket’ had just won both the New Currents Award and the Audience Choice Award at Pusan. Everyone connected to the Malaysian New Wave scene was present and spirits were high. I hadn’t slept for 2 days but summoned enough energy to play the part. It seemed like an appropriately alcoholic end to what had been a frantic couple of weeks. Amid the carousing, Ho Yuhang pulled me aside…

“How the hell did we get here?”, he whispered.

How indeed.

It was then my thoughts returned to Tokyo and Pusan: to Mr. Kim Dong Ho – who founded a small film festival in Pusan 12 years ago and turned it into the most important festival in Asia; to the people of Pusan – whose passion for the art of cinema knows no bounds; to Kim C, Norman Wang, Christoph Terhechte, Ray Park, Oh Jungwan and the irrepressible Lorna Tee – whose friendship and support I am humbled by; to Korean investor Mr. Cho Sung Woo – whose generosity led him to fund a gifted young Malaysian filmmaker by the name of Ho Yuhang to the tune of US$250,000; to Liew Seng Tatt – whose child-like stories and innocence won over everyone in Pusan; and to Kato Masaya – whose imagination allowed the possibility that extraordinary things can be achieved if only we’d try…

So here’s to those with delusional dreams.

Long may they thrive.


PUSAN: Thanks to Mina Oak, Nam, Tama and Ray Park for your friendship and support. Special thanks to the organisers of APAN for inviting me. Apologies to Stanley Kwan for getting hopelessly befuddled and not making it to the birthday party.

TOKYO: Thanks to Shiori Takeuchi, Oguri-san, Kazu-san, Yutaka-san for that wonderful night in Saikai. Apologies to Tang for not saying goodbye properly. Arigato to Kato Masaya for the photos and good times.

PHOTOGRAPHS – [Click To Enlarge]

PIFF. The Pusan International Film Festival has grown in 12 years to become the most important film festival in Asia. It promotes Asian Cinema and provides funding mechanisms to help nurture young Asian filmmakers. Backed by a city population seemingly in love with all manner of films, it is now a ‘must attend’ event to industry insiders throughout the world. Its visionary director Kim Dong Ho is one of the most respected figures in cinema today. [PIFF Website]

NEW MALAYSIAN CINEMA. Along with Rotterdam, Pusan is a strong supporter of Malaysian New Wave cinema. Ho Yuhang, Tan Chui Mui, James Lee and now Liew Seng Tatt all got their first breaks here. Seng Tatt’s win this year represented back to back Malaysian winners on consecutive years in the New Currents section. Tan Chui Mui’s ‘Love Conquers All’ won it last year. In fact, Seng Tatt’s film was part-funded by Mui’s prize money. [Da Huang Website]

APAN. [L to R: Jessica Lee, Me and Daniel Dae Kim] Asian Pacific Actors Network is a new initiative by PIFF to aid cross border casting of Asian actors. Typical of Kim Dong Ho’s vision, the program is international in scope and far-reaching in potential. Non-Korean actors invited to attend included Jason Scott Lee [USA], Fann Wong [Singapore], Kato Masaya [Japan], Grace Park [Canada], Daniel Dae Kim [USA] and myself [Tawau]. Haw. [Daniel’s Website]

KATO MASAYA. Pictured here with Korean actress Kim Tae Hee, Masaya is a superstar in Japan. Although famous for his screen portrayal of Yakuza hitmen and other denizens of the underworld in Beat Takeshi and Miike Takashi movies, he is intelligent and friendly in real life. Unlike many Japanese actors, he is fluent in English and isn’t averse to taking on risky projects. He also has a fantastic photogrpaher’s eye. Seriously. [Masaya’s Website]

JASON SCOTT LEE. Just as with Masaya, Jason and I got on from the moment we met. Despite being a regular Hollywood actor, he lives in Hawaii, where he goes surfing, fishing and lives on subsistence farming. He is also a kung fu expert, eco activist and a supporter of Hawaiian grass roots theatre. Jason went to Sabah to shoot a documentary for National Geographic after Pusan then turned up in Kuala Lumpur when I got back from Tokyo. We spent a few days hanging out on Bukit Ceylon. He too wants to be in on that movie Masaya and I talked about. A free spirit, Jason is happiest when hauled for miles by a 14 foot hammerhead shark in his 10 foot kayak. It would be a blast to visit him in Hawaii someday [Jason’s Website].

UGLY PHOTOS. [L to R: Julie Kim & Jessica Lee] I love taking pictures of people making ugly faces. I have a whole collection of them dating back years. These two made the cutest ugly faces I’ve seen for some time. Julie is a producer who’d just wrapped a film in Singapore with Jason Scott Lee in it, and Jessica [cousin of Daniel Dae Kim] is an aspiring costume designer. Believe me, they are both gorgeous when not contorting their faces for my silly indulgence.

HOME BOYS. [L To R: Wong Tuck Cheong, Liew Seng Tatt, Ho Yuhang & Tama] Part of what makes PIFF fun is the presence of other Malaysians every year. We’d do whatever we have to do in the day, then meet up for dinner and drinks at night. This picture was taken during a dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant. We were looked after by my friend Tama. We met when I played the Pusan rock festival in August. His band will be playing at NBT next month [Gig Alert].

LIMELIGHT. [L T R: Brian Shin & Steve Jung] These two gentlemen work for an outfit called ‘Limelight’. The company is the biggest player in the music synchronisation business in Korea. It also has a label offshoot by the name of ‘Triangle’, which licenses music. Both came from Seoul to meet and discuss the possibility of releasing ‘Television’ in Korea. They’re cool guys. Nasty surprises aside, my album should be in Korean stores by X’mas. Woo. [Triangle Website]

PARTIES. [L To R: Kato Masaya, Grace Park & Me]. PIFF is justly famous for its parties. At any one night, there could be as many as 6-7 industry parties happening at the same time. Some were by invite only and others open to any festival delegates. Masaya and I went to quite a few together. I believe this one was the APAN party. We were hanging out with Korean Canadian actress Grace Park. She is very beautiful. She is also very married. Sigh. [Grace’s Wikki]

EDWARD YANG. Twenty-five years ago, Taiwanese New Wave Cinema introduced the world to two unique filmmakers: Hou Hsiao Hsien and Edward Yang. Sadly, the latter died from cancer earlier this year. In honor of his contribution to cinema, Pusan presented an ‘Edward Yang Special Focus’ program this year and invited his widow Kaili and young son Sean to attend [see pic]. I was lucky to be introduced to both by mutual friends Norman Wang and Oh Jungwan. Kaili was fascinated by the story of the Malaysian New Wave and said it reminded her of early period Taiwanese New Wave. She has since requested [sent] DVDs of our best work. I’ve also been told that Sean is liking ‘Television’ very much. It helps him sleep. Hm. [Edward’s Wikki]

SENG TATT. I was already in Tokyo when news came that ‘Flower In My Pocket’ won the New Currents section back in Pusan. The win vindicated belief that Seng Tatt is amongst the best young Malaysian filmmakers to emerge in the last couple of years. Long time Malaysian New Wave supporters Tony Rayns [respected critic] and Gertjan Zuilhof [Rotterdam film festival programmer] hosted a dinner party to celebrate the occasion. A paralytic Seng Tatt [pic] resulted. ‘Flowers’ will screen at GSC this month. [Bangkok Post Review]

SAIKAI. I like to hang out with local folks when I travel. Saikai is perfect for this. The ambience in this tiny Tokyo pub is organic, the food is great and the owner Kazu speaks English. So when Shiori suggested that we organised a low-key ‘meet the fans’ gig / gathering here after Pusan was done, I quickly agreed. I can’t tell you how much fun I had. Suffice to say I didn’t want to leave afterwards. Anyway, we hope to do more of this in the future. Please come [again]!

PORTRAIT. Masaya is extremely serious about his photography. He brought along his own stepladder [to elevate his view point], water spray [to simulate perspiration on the subject, or rain], private investigator hat [to make the subject look cooler than he is], and a massive backpack full of expensive lenses and contraptions. But top end camera gear alone is worth naught if the photographer has no ‘eye’. Luckily, Masaya has plenty of that to spare. He took many great shots that day – some of which I will used as publicity photographs in the future [this is one of them]. Anyway, now he wants to take my gig photos as well. Great idea. Except for one problem. The audience would come to see him rather than me. Bugger.