I found myself sitting with Lin Ching Hsia.

It was at a party held to honor the cinematic achievements of Tsui Hark and Nanson Shi’s Film Workshop – the sort of occasion where, if you randomly threw a dart, it’d hit a household name. So it wasn’t so cool to behave like a bright-eyed fan boy, let alone an awestruck one.

Yet this was not some garden-variety movie star before me. This was Lin Ching Hsia. Her delicate beauty once crossed oceans and traversed mountains to touch me in small town Tawau – where I kissed and touched her lips every night and dreamed of happily ever after. I guess you could say she was my first love.

I was eight.

The problem with being eight is that you soon grow into a hairy lecherous man. Thus in subsequent years I also fell in love with other women – some beautiful and others beautiful inside – but it was never quite as pure and unadulterated as those voodoo nights when Ching Hsia rested her head on my shoulder and we slumbered to the sighs of the Sulu Sea lapping against the shores of Kalimantan.

“Thank you for being there”, I finally said.

“No, thank you. You are kind.” She smiled gently, as befitting a goddess.

Naturally, Lin Ching Hsia is no longer the elf-like beauty of my childhood. But she is no less beautiful now than all those decades ago. She is heavier, womanly, and reminds me of mother before scars of an unhappy marriage took the shine from her eyes. We chatted briefly about nothing in particular. It was awkward. She was civil but somewhat wary. I politely took my leave after a few minutes – mindful of the maxim that it is usually better not to know your heroes too well – and went outside for a smoke.

It was chilly out. Hong Kong spread out before me – energetic, ruthless and intoxicating – a city I have always admired. Since I left it in the 90s, there’d been many occasions to return, and this time, it was for the film festival. James Lee’s new movie ‘Call If You Need Me’ was in competition there – as was Yasmin Ahmad’s ‘Talentime’. I am lead actor in the former and wrote most of the music featured in the latter. There were also many friends to see. Thus I got myself an invite from kind Jacob Wong and found myself back in the cauldron. Back to where it all started.

Hong Kong can be a cruel place where cynicism seeps insidiously like mildew. It is even more so in show business, where industry sharks armed with chocolate talk stand shoulder to shoulder with young hopefuls jostling for the next big break. Even when I was there in my 20s, I never saw myself fitting into the business of trading dignity for fortune. So I left. Yet, as I stood smoking by the entrance of the W Hotel, the road was taking me back to what I had once run from. It was a weird feeling – scary, yet exciting, and oddly inevitable. It felt like I’d been there before.

So it was I spent the week meeting film industry folks. Some know my work and were intrigued with the possibility of collaborating. Others didn’t and didn’t care if they ever saw me again. I went to premieres, ate in cool restaurants, met with friends, drank at parties and even attended a casting session for a French film. It had been fun of course. But none quite matched up to my brief encounter with Lin Ching Hsia. As I write this, I am still awed by the fact that it took 30 years for me to meet her. Lucky bastard. Most people never get to meet their first love at all.

Mellowed by nicotine, I brushed past John Woo and Eric Tsang as I went back inside. The party had run its course and was breaking up now. In the distance, Andrew Lau was talking to Tsui Hark and a journalist from Screen International. A group of friends and film festival regulars took photographs of themselves by the stage. Lorna Tee bounced up and gave me a hug. Shinho Lee beamed a massive smile and waved. I looked around. But Lin Ching Hsia was nowhere to be found. Perhaps I should have waded doggedly through the awkwardness earlier and chatted with her for as long as I could.

Too late now.

30 minutes later, I found myself in a group speeding towards Tsim Sha Tsui for supper with the imperial Nanson Shi. Word had it that Lin Ching Hsia would be there too. But I did not stay long enough to find out. Like a coward, I escaped at the last minute by the entrance of the restaurant and hailed a taxi to Lan Kwai Fong instead. I didn’t mean to be rude of course. It was just time to get off the train – even if it was an exciting and fortunate train. After two tiring tours, one acting gig, one soundtrack album and two film scores within a short space of six months, I guess it was time to get off for a breather. Besides, I couldn’t possibly keep Ching Hsia waiting any longer.

Neon dreams flashed across the rearview mirror as I sped along the darkened coast in my taxi. I felt good. There was voodoo in solitude. Radio played Cantopop as the city receded like a mist. I rolled down the window and took out another cigarette. Ching Hsia’s hair danced playfully in the wind. Our eyes met momentarily. Finally she turned and nestled her head in my arms. Her perfume was salty and familiar. I’ve known it since I was a child. It was mother’s fragrance from a lifetime ago. Before I grew up and drifted away.

Ching Hsia smells like the sea.


Thanks to Jacob Wong and HKIFF for the hospitality. Special thanks to Daniel Yu for his company and support. Love to Lorna Tee, Ivy Ho, In-Ah Lee, Lee Shinho, Kato Masaya, Raymond Phathanavirangoon, Takami Kazu, Shiori Takeuchi, Saw Tiong Hin, Jeremy Segay, James Lee, Chu Chen On, Wilson Yip, Szeto Kam Yuen, Hitch, Desmond Wong, Jean Noh, Liz Shackleton, Yim Phil Sung, Wouter Barendrecht, Brian Chung, Leo Fung, Kaili Pang, Effendi Harjoh, Yasmin Ahmad and Tung Po Seafood Restaurant. [Crocodile & Unit photographs by Ken Fujimoto. Many thanks.]


KOREA BAND. [L To R: Melina William, Justin Lim & Jimmy Tan] I played a few live TV spots in Korea in August 2008. These included KBS ‘Love Letter’ and EBS ‘Space’. Rather than bringing a full band, I brought a stripped down line-up consisting of Melina William and Justin Lim. Jimmy plays drums for Tempered Mental – Melina’s progressive rock band. I got them a spot at the Busan Rock Festival a week before my Korea tour and Jimmy stayed on to help out. We had a blast.

KANG SANEH. The legendary Korean folk rock singer Kang Saneh was my guest artist on the EBS show. We’d known each other for about a year and had gotten drunk together many times in the interim. He is a hugely charismatic man and a fantastic songwriter as well as a free spirit. This photograph was taken a few days after the EBS show. We weren’t sober. You can hear his music and see his videos on Youtube. They’re really good. Just search his name.

TOKYO ASIA MUSIC MARKET. TAMM is Japan’s biggest music industry trade show. In the month of October every year, the organizers invite a handful of acts from the rest of Asia to showcase their work and I was invited last year. Other invitees in 2008 were from Thailand, China, Taiwan and Korea. The show took place in an amazingly cool venue in Tokyo by the name of Daikanyma Unit. It’s probably got the best sound system I’ve ever played through.

AFTER PARTY. The after party at TAMM was great. All the acts got over their pre-show nerves and relaxed into a pile of gooey fun. The prize for the zaniest bunch must go to the Thais – made up of a couple of winners from the Thai Idols contest and their wonderfully camp entourage. Here, I got tired of taking photos of everyone and took one of myself instead. It’s a little blur – but sometimes things are better that way – especially when you got eye bags like what I got here.

CHINA. [L To R: Tang Hafeng, Tang Yihu & Tian Yuan] China was represented at TAMM by cult electronica / folk artist and actor Tian Yuan. We’d met at the 2006 Tokyo International Film Festival. She is talented, bubbly and fun. Yihu is the filmmaker who designed the visual display for her TAMM show and Hafeng is his sister. Hafeng lives in Tokyo. We’d also met at the 2006 Tokyo International Film Festival, where she worked as an interpreter. Talk about small world.

TEMPERED MENTAL. [L To R: Jimmy Tan, Jack Lian & Melina William] A big trade show gig is no place to play acoustic and solo. So I brought along prog rock outfit Tempered Mental as my backing band [with my usual bassist Hayakawa Takeharu completing the 5 piece]. It was a lot of work re-arranging my songs and rehearsing the band. But it worked a treat in the end. Perhaps we’ll work together again in the future. This photo of the rock trio was taken at the TAMM after party.

CROCODILE. A few days after the gig at TAMM, we played at the famous Crocodile Club in Harajuku. As the gig coincided with the Tokyo International Film Festival, a few film industry friends from all over the Asia turned up. Kato Masaya dropped in to take photographs at soundcheck. Lorna Tee was supposed to come too but missed her flight in Hong Kong. We programmed Tempered Mental to play their own set after mine. They did a great job and sold a lot of CDs.

SOLO. My first set at Crocodile was a solo and stripped down set made up of songs I haven’t played for a few years. There is nothing like playing solo. I recommend it to all musicians. It’s pretty scary at first – but once you’ve conquered the nerves, it is the most addictive thing in the world. For musicians who trade on intimacy, there is no better way to play. For others who like their sound livelier, there is no better way to build tone and presence. Anyway, there is something magical about a lone voice and guitar that I will never tire. It’s rooted in something primal. Something communal and shared. Well, either that or I’m talking out of my arse. Perhaps I’m rationalizing away my dislike for rehearsing bands. Still, my dream gig is to play solo in a stadium. I’ll probably never get to do it. But it sure doesn’t hurt to dream.

TALENTIME. I completed the music for Yasmin Ahmad’s film ‘Talentime’ soon after I got back from Japan in October 2008. As the most important bits of the film’s principal songs [voice, piano and guitar] were recorded even before shooting began months ago, what remained for me to do was merely lushing them up in appropriate places now that editing had been completed and the film had taken its final shape. Still, it was already clear that music was one of the strongest elements in the film, so I’d also began talking to Universal Music about releasing a soundtrack record. This photograph was taken during my one and only visit to the shoot location in Ipoh. The pretty little girl featured here is Amelia Thripura, who played Melur’s little sister in the film. Behind her is Ciku Tan, Yasmin’s real life husband.

BANGKOK. Having completed the music and audio post production for Talentime, I then flew with my regular collaborator Nick Lee to Siam Lab in Bangkok for final audio mix in Dolby Digital. Our trip coincided with the closure of the city’s airport on account of political protest. By the time this photograph was taken, we’d been ripened by working 18 hour days for more than a week and uncertain as to when we’d be able to get home. Believe it or not, this was my first time to Bangkok.

CALL IF YOU NEED ME. [L To R: Sunny Pang, Me & Chua Thien See] I got back from Bangkok just in time to play lead in James Lee’s new film ‘Call If You Need Me’. This film represents a fairly big stylistic departure for one of Malaysia’s top indie filmmakers. Amongst the 40-strong cast of actors are Loh Bok Lai, Albert Hue, Sunny Pang and Chua Thien See. Without sounding self-serving, I think this is James’s best film to date. Catch it if you can. More information HERE.

TALENTIME ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK. A few weeks after ‘Call If You Need Me’ wrapped, Universal Music agreed to the release of an original soundtrack album for ‘Talentime’ provided that I produced and included in the album Malay version of the three principal English songs in the movie. Given that I was due to leave for the Hong Kong International Film Festival in just under 3 weeks, it was always going to be a close call. But I accepted the deal anyway and managed to beat the deadline by one hour eventually. At the time of writing, the album is about a week away from release. Please BUY when it comes out.

SIRENS. I love taking photographs of people I meet while on the road. I’m not good at it or anything – but sometimes I do get lucky and stumble into photography that’s pretty decent. I love this one, for example – taken at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The expressions of the subject and composition has something that is indescribably sensual. Hell, it may even be the best photograph I have ever fluked. May there be many thousands more.