(L-R) Kyo Chen, director Quek Shio Chuan, Ernest Chong, Emily Zi Ying Chan and producer Ismail Kamarul
at the press conference for "Guang".
Seven years after winning the BMW Shorties 2011 Grand Prize with "Guang", director Quek Shio Chuan is making his feature directorial debut with a full-length version of the award-winning short film, releasing in cinemas this 29 November.
Where the short film took only a month to make, the feature film took four long years, during which Quek spent some time working on the script with Reservoir Production's Ismail Kamarul and Al Kuan.
The filmmaker extended the tale of the two brothers by adding in a touching backstory and introducing new characters to the otherwise familiar story of an autistic young man who struggles to lead a normal life.
As is widely known by now, the main character Wen Guang is based on Quek's own older brother Quek Shio Gai, who is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most of what's in the film is based on Quek's personal experience growing up with his autistic brother.
While Kyo Chen returns to play Wen Guang, the younger brother's role is now played by a different actor. Quek, who previously played the character in the short film due to time constraint, planned on reprising the role if he again couldn't find an actor in time, even though he was already shouldering the responsibilities of writing, directing and editing the movie. Fortunately for the multi-faceted filmmaker, Ernest Chong auditioned for the younger brother part and proved to be the perfect Di Di.
Emily Zi Ying Chan (who was the one responsible for introducing Quek to Ernest) also joins the cast as a new character, Sue Ann, described as a "bridge" between the two brothers.
(L-R) Kyo Chen, Ernest Chong and Emily Zi Ying Chan star in "Guang" as Wen Guang, Di Di and Sue Ann, respectively.
Kyo, Ernest and Emily are no strangers to each other, though. All three have worked together in the local Chinese drama industry for a long time. This friendship gives them an advantage, as they already have the chemistry needed to make their characters work on the big screen.
Quek's faith in their professionalism is evidenced by his willingness to give them free reign on set. With a few rehearsals and loose blocking, he was already confident that his cast would be able to do their best and didn't need too much direction on set – and he was right. The cast didn't require a lot of takes during filming and impressively, even the intense fight scene between the brothers was settled with just one take.
With a good script and the right cast, "Guang" is able to shine bright on the silver screen.
We'll get to see more of Quek's work in the near future, not just in films as he will be helming a few episodes of a local TV series for the first time soon, but in the meantime, here's what he has to tell us about "Guang".
Ernest and Kyo as seen in "Guang" (2018).
Cinema Online: So when you were working on the short film "Guang", have you always known that you were going to make a full-length version of it?
Quek: Not really, when we were deciding on making a feature film, we just picked "Guang" out of the bunch of short films we already had. [Laughs].
Why did you pick "Guang", out of all your short films?
Because it's something that's really close to my heart. Anytime when I was writing the script, if there were any questions I had about how the character should act, I just had to think back of what my brother would do and how we communicated. A lot of the things that you see in the film are things that he'd done before, like running out of the house, going to the drain to swim. Angela is actually his girlfriend, the octopus dolls on the bed – those are really his.
Has it always been your plan to travel the film festival circuit before releasing the film in cinemas?
It was a proposal by our partners mm2 Entertainment, once they came into the picture they thought it should be joining film festivals. It's still premiering first in Malaysia but the festivals were already ongoing and we could already submit the film there, so we thought why not do the festival route first before showing it in November.
It must have been quite a proud moment when you guys started winning awards at the film festivals?
When we finally got an award from overseas, I felt more relieved to be honest, because it took so long for the film to be completed. Especially the one in Japan because it was an audience choice award, I was touched with all the people lining up and asking me questions about the film. I was very relieved this 4 years of effort was all worth it.
Quek and Kyo with their awards at the 13th Chinese Youth Generation Film Forum in Wu Han, China.
You mentioned that you plan on heading in a completely direction after "Guang", no more drama film, how different do you want to go?
I have two kinds of feelings that I would love to explore. One, I would love to do a Malay comedy film because I feel...doing festive commercials, and recently I've been doing humour works, I really enjoyed doing it. Especially being on set with everyone and we're shooting something funny, the general mood of it is very uplifting. That really reminds me of how I first started filmmaking in UTAR with my friends.
The other one is making a triathlon movie with a lot of different characters with different issues who all find solace in triathlon.
Because I got stuck editing "Guang" to be honest. From a lot of people working on the film to one person sitting in a room looking at your own footage. The first edit didn't really work. I didn't know how to make it better and I got into a period of depression where I left my commercial work, I left "Guang", I was just sitting at home every day.
A few things made me better. One is I'm always reminded that my entire crew has spent so much time and energy, they all believe in the film, and the only way for me to recover was to make the film better. But there's also triathlon, someone brought me for a run. Before that my hobbies were revolved around the art scene, playing piano, painting. Doing triathlon in general makes me feel that when I exert my body, I can rest my mind. I got my sanity back. And meeting the triathlon community, everyone is so positive, so many inspirational stories that I find there. So it'll be nice if I could piece it all together and present it in a film, one day.
Emily seen here playing Sue Ann, who becomes Wen Guang's friend after quite a memorable first meeting at a piano store.
Do you see yourself working with the same cast from "Guang" again but maybe in different roles?
I would love to throw them to a totally different end next. [Laughs]. It'll be very different from "Guang". Emily definitely is going to get a much more challenging role if we ever get to work together again. Because I know her capacity and she's one of the best actresses that I've worked with but Sue Ann is too easy for her.
We'll look forward to your next project together. In the meantime, tell us why should Malaysians go watch "Guang"?
I would love to think it's a unique experience for the viewers. "Guang" is an honest, unique and entertaining film that you've probably never seen before. It's a film of hope.
Cinema Online, 25 November 2018