Monday, September 14, 2009

CINEMA REVIEW 01.1 | Ashes Of Time : Redux ( 東邪西毒:終極版 ) (2008)

Wong Kar-Wai's first (and currently only) wuxiapian is the most uncompromisingly complex film
of his career. It also displays his continuing maturation as a director, as its presents the sum of his previous films' themes. This film is one of a kind: a thinking man's martial arts melodrama with very little action.
Ashes Of Time features some of the biggest stars in the Hong Kong film business giving excellent performances, Christopher Doyle's usual magnificent visuals, and William Chang's predictably sublime art direction.

Ever since his debut Romance of the Book and Sword (Shu Jian Eng Chou Lu), the king of wuxia xiaoshuo Jin Yong showed he had enough talent to become one of the greatest novelists of the modern era. His novels have been adapted for TV, film and even animated cartoons. His most important work and a landmark of the genre was The Eagle Shooting Heroes (She Diao Ing Xiung Zhuang), which has now become a favorite amongst Jin Yong and wuxia fans.

Taking inspiration from that novel is Wong Kar-Wai's epic melodrama Ashes of Time, which took two plus years to shoot, went ridiculously overbudget, and saw many different plot changes. Wong was a big fan of Jin Yong's original work, and wanted to approach the author to talk about some ideas. He was interested in the psychology behind some of the characters, like the tragic life of Venomous West/Huang Yaoshi. Unlike the book, where the character is presented as a vile and adulterous man, Wong humanizes the character, presenting him as a victim (like everyone else in the film). Ultimately, the two couldn't meet, so Wong's imagination started to run free, and created the labyrinthine results you see on screen.

Ashes of Time
represents a prequel to the novel, with two of the main characters relegated to secondary status (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's Blind Swordsman and Jacky Cheung's Hong Qi) and everyone else much younger and inexperienced. Wong's goal is focusing on the psychological and emotional reasons that brought the characters to the behavior we see in the novel. The most striking example is the principal character Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung). In the film he's still a man who trusts people, and is not completely selfish. His troubled relationship with a woman (Maggie Cheung) shapes his character, and leads to his change to an evil and treacherous man.

Wong mostly uses Jin Yong's work as a starting point for his personal vision of the wuxia world, where memories are more painful than battles against hordes of swordsmen, and men give themselves up to fate and are destroyed by their emotional distress. The Blind Swordsman embarks on an impossible battle even though he knows he's nearly blind. Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) drinks the wine that erases memory in hope of forgetting his love. Murong Yang and his identical female alter ego Murong Yin (Brigitte Lin playing both) react to rejection by becoming schizophrenic. And then there's Ouyang Feng. He hides in the desert, away from the pain of his past mistakes. Afraid of rejection, he chooses to reject first, and ignores his heart. This is a world where heroism doesn't matter, where stripping one's emotions to become "stronger" (like the traditional wuxia heroes) takes away the heroes' soul and leave them scarred forever.

The extent of Wong Kar-Wai's revisionism of the genre can be felt just by looking at the reaction by conservative wuxia fans and critics. He took a de-humanized world (where heroism was often more important than sentiments) and injected humanity into it. We're presented with allegedly invincible men who turn out to be people who crumble under the pressure and pain of rejection and memory.

It's pointless trying to write about Ashes of Time's plot, as doing so would be entirely too superficial, and leave out important facets of the story. Possessing a rudimentary knowledge of the novel would help as the film is extremely fragmented and often inaccessible. However, with a careful eye and a few repeated viewings the film's story is not so hard to grasp. What's important is the mood Wong Kar-Wai creates, and the air of sorrow we feel coming from each and every character. It may not be the wuxiapian Jin Yong and his hardcore fans (many of whom hated this film with a passion) would have wanted, but Ashes of Time is one of the most intelligent works of the genre, mixing melodrama with a deconstruction of many of the genre's formulas and clichés. (LunaSea 2002)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

TRANSITIONS 01.2 | A Salute to 5 New Maverick Directors

The recently concluded BMW Shorties (2009) short film competition has unearthed some shimmering talents. A ray of light has pierced our film industry with the emergence of these gifted young directors. Their films not only provoked the viewers cerebrally but are executed with technical brilliance unseen in many local productions. The joint-winners of this year's Shorties, Brandon Loh's 'Conversation with A Mad Man', dissects one man's distorted (depending on one's own judgement) view of society, while Shanjhey Kumar's 'Ma Chai' takes a comical look at two village goons who are forced to earn a living by selling salted-fish. Both works discretely takes potshots at a society that has been overwhelmed by capitalistic tendencies.

Two other directors, John Cho & Katak Chua showcased existentialist qualities through their honest depictions of emotional detachment within a suicidal person & how an eldest brother of three squanders his sibling's tuition money through his gambling habit, in 'Resonance' & '1:19' respectively. John's 'Resonance' obtained a Special Mention at the shorties, while Katak's '1:19' impressed us all with its raw one-take on domestic violence in the vein of Mathieu Kassovtiz's, 'La Haine'.

The non-conventional routes taken by the aforementioned directors through their diverse storytelling styles show that these new generation of filmmakers are breaking out of the mold of mundanity that has so long plagued Malaysian film industry, albeit a resurgence in the form of the late Yasmin Ahmad who has paved the way for these new talents with her own groundbreaking films.

Among the upcoming names to be on a lookout for too is Yeo Joon Han of 'Sell Out!' -A local feature film released last year which turned the tables on the viewers by making them laugh out loud at their own shorticoming as Malaysians. Its sarcastic & witty social commentaries about our nation drew loud applauses at various film festivals. Sell Out! world-premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and won the Young Cinema Award for Alternative Vision. It also won the NETPAC Award at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.

Join us in our humble salute to these 5 young mavericks. -Jon Wong

Watch their films below:

Conversation with Mad Man from brandon loh on Vimeo.

m a c h a i from shanjhey kumar on Vimeo.

Resonance from John W J Cho on Vimeo.

1:19 from Katak Chua on Vimeo.

Sell Out! Trailer by Yeo Joon Han

Saturday, August 15, 2009

WELCOME TO VERTICA 7 | Official Launch of Website

Dear Friends,

MALAYSIAN CINEMA's future is in the hands of a new breed of filmmakers. They who continue to push the creative buttons of this cultural elevator we call home. With dedicated passion to our craft & our undying love for moving pictures, we want to share this website with all young local directors, producers, writers & score composers. We are the shape of things to come. The sound of the gong will resonate with the arrival of bold new works from this prolific generation. Let us not be afraid to translate our vision into celluloid reality. To experiment and to explore new terrains that will propel our film industry from subterranean existence to the higher echelons of international cinema. Come and join us in this epic journey into the future. Here at Vertica 7, while we strive to advance filmmaking with razor sharp & evocative content, we too look forward to collaborate with anyone who shares the same foresight & tenacity!

Jon Wong.

.NOIR 01.1 | Film Poster & Synopsis

(2008) [pronounced 'dot Noir']
(Short film | Duration: 15 min 17 sec)

Director: Jon Wong | Producer: Mahen & Jon Wong
Cast: Mahen, Aaron & Rachel

Two scriptwriters embark on a homicidal act while researching the characters for their new script.
A treacherous journey unfolds, descending into the darkest recesses of man's heart. Trailer not available yet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

SYNAPSE 01.2 | Production Stills

Here are some production stills from 'Synapse'. 12 carefully selected shots to give an overall impression of the atmosphere we were trying to achieve within the film. Enjoy! -Jon Wong

Thursday, July 30, 2009

TRANSITIONS: 01.1 | Art & Photo Exhibition


A showcase of art installments, sculptures, paintings, new media and photographic works of young Malaysian artists. Malaysians who experienced the tectonic shift after the landmark general elections of March 8, 2008. Together we join them as a generation in embracing a never-before-seen, multifaceted social, political & cultural landscape -witnessing before our eyes, a whole new meaning of 'democracy'. We welcome anyone of us with artistic streaks to interpret the emergence of these new horizons through our own unique forms and vision. It's a 'brave new world' for our nation. And in this exciting state of metamorphosis, from the old archetypical mindsets to fresh new paradigms, we hope to capture the essence of these 'Transitions'. -Jon Wong

[+] All photos taken above: Copyright 2009 Mahen. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

SYNAPSE: 01.1 | Synopsis & Trailer

(Short film | Duration: 33 min 15 sec)

Director: Jon Wong | Producer: Mahen & Jon Wong
Cast: Mahen

An Interpol agent kidnaps a diplomat's 10 year-old son, only to find the boy missing from his hotel room. As he steps out the door of his room, he enters a parallel dimension and soon encounters some rather strange situations. He may not be able to fathom this mysterious realm, but beneath it all lies a truth beyond life itself. Watch the trailer below.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS: 01.1 | Aung San Suu Kyi

[+] Human Rights Watch 01: Burma

27 July 2009

On stage in Dublin tonight, Bono announced that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is to be awarded Amnesty International's most prestigious honour - the 'Ambassador of Conscience' Award for 2009.

'As powerful a voice and as strong a leader in these times, as Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were in theirs... is Aung San Suu Kyi.
'She has been under house arrest in her native Burma for most of the last 20 years. Her crime is that if she was to participate in elections she would win.
'This week, the brutal force that has her incarcerated will decide in a mock trial if she will spend the next 5 years in a prison.
'We are proud to announce tonight...on the 27th of July in Dublin...that Amnesty International have chosen Aung San Suu Kyi as the recipient of their Ambassador of Conscience Award 2009.
Thank God for Amnesty International. May God keep Aung Sang Suu Kyi safe.'

On the twentieth anniversary of her arrest, Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty, said she remained ' a symbol of hope, courage and undying defense of human rights, not only to the people of Myanamar but to people around the world.'

The leader of the Myanmar opposition party the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been detained for over 13 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. Her house detention order was set to expire on 27 May 2009, but she was arrested and placed on trial on 18 May. Over 2,100 other people are currently imprisoned in Myanmar for their political beliefs and should be freed. Every night on the 360 tour, U2 are throwing a spotlight on her plight during 'Walk On', a track written for her in 2001.

Vaclav Havel, who received the inaugural 'Ambassador of Conscience Award' in 2003, joined in the congratulations: 'I know from my own experience that international attention can, to a certain extent, protect the unjustly persecuted from punishments that would otherwise be imposed. That is why, shortly after I was elected President, I nominated Mrs Suu Kyi for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she did subsequently receive. Goodness knows what would have happened if her fate had not been highlighted as it is again today. I welcome Amnesty's decision and am delighted at the solidarity, that U2 and all of you are showing towards this courageous woman - the Ambassador of Conscience of each one of us.'

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's trial for violating the terms and conditions of her house arrest resumed on 24 July. If convicted she could face up to five years in jail. The Ambassador of Conscience Award, now in its sixth year, recognises exceptional leadership and witness in the fight to protect and promote human rights. Past winners of the award include Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela and Mary Robinson. Inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, the award aims to promote the work of the organization by association with the life, work and example of its 'Ambassadors', who have done much to inspire the world through their work and personal example.

Add your own support to the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanamar's Political Prisoners

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

i AM AFREEKA: 01.2 | Production Stills

i AM AFREEKA: 01.1 | Synopsis & Trailer

(Short film | Duration: 15 min 37 sec)

Director: Jon Wong | Producer: Mahen & Jon Wong
Cast: Ong Wui Ling & A.S. Abdul Rahaman.

A Nigerian student in Malaysia returns to his homeland, in search of his kidnapped brother, only to confront an unexpected situation. A Malaysian girl on the other hand, anticipating his return, is greeted by his sudden disappearance. A story set in two continents. Two mortal lives whose paths are headed in different directions, yet whose memories of each other are etched into immortality.
Watch the trailer below.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

INERTIA: 01.1 | Development report

INERTIA (Development stage)
(Feature film | Duration: Approx. 1 hr 45 min)

Director: Jon Wong | Producer: Jon Wong & Mahen
Cast: Vanessa Schnabel & Bryan Szager

A near-fatal car crash leaves a girl fighting for her life in the hospital. With an uncertain future and a broken past, her life flashes before her while her mother accompanies her by her bed side. A story that resonates with the realities of life for a lost generation.