Thursday, August 16, 2012

Short Films, Lifelong Memories

My Youtube channel pic since 2006, taken in 2002.
Not sure if things have changed since then.
I love creating and telling stories. Always have, always will.

However, stories are mere souls. They need a body to reside in - the medium.

Recently, I have been very engrossed in analysing the intricacies of different storytelling mediums (media?). All my life, I chose to bring stories to life through writing. However, I am becoming aware that I am not a very good writer. A good writer needs to be an ardent reader or traveller, possess tremendous patience, passion, honesty and a certain degree of eccentricity. I am extremely average in all of these aspects; hence, a propensity only for short stories.

Over the years, I also dabbled in a little film-making. But these were always more out of necessity than interest. Now as I watch more short films on Youtube, this particular medium is starting to grow on me.

I love how little visual hints can be used to convey subtle character traits, suggest plot points or even beautify a scene. Compared to writing, where I often find it a chore to describe scenes without venturing into English Essay mode e.g. 'It was a bright and breezy day at the beach, with waving coconut trees and cheerful families framing the idyllic scene.' A+ for school, Big C for Cheesy for me. Unfortunately for writers, we are always fighting against the universal truth that a picture speaks a thousand words.

Also, I enjoy the camaraderie that the film-making process brings. Unlike writing which is almost always a lonesome affair, film-making gives everyone a chance to shine. The actors! The cameraman! The scriptwriter! The props and costume person (low budget, need to multitask)! Et cetera. It's one of the awesomest feelings to see everyone come together, passionate about the same cause and give their all! Adds a whole lot more dynamism to the project. Of course, working in a team isn't all fun and games. You win some, you lose some.

Ah...I love and miss making short films!

Just so that this post doesn't end too abruptly, here are some of my past short films that I love the most. Okay, so they're actually not short films. They're ads for a yearly youth Gospel Camp my church conducts.

2008: No Apologies: The Truth About Love, Life & Sex

Ep 1: Shot and dubbed in Zhi Yong's house in two hours. Extremely amateurish work, as we were totally new to this at the time. Evidence: hilariously inconsistent lighting and camera angle changes, on-the-spot and unwilling actors (especially Zhi Zheng), unsynchronised voice-overs. Fortunately, the sentimental Yiruma music (which was added because Zhi Yong SO HAPPENED to have it in his laptop) and Jhow Weh's voice saved it. The church people loved it.

Ep 2: To underscore how unprofessional we were back then, we weren't even able to retain the same actors for the next installment. They were too embarrassed. Well, at least we still had the original voice actors. I recall Zhi Yong having to work some editing gymnastics as we left out several lines during voice recording. In retrospect it was still very amateurish but the allegedly stirring storyline tugged many a heartstring. And the music.

Ep 3: Yay! The original actors returned. But it didn't make much a difference, as they were randomly cast and not believable as a couple from the start. Yeah, a six-year age gap is easy to tell once you're out of bed. All in all, a less-than-epic conclusion that contained too many flashbacks and a rather 'huh?' ending. We wanted to keep the ending ambiguous - it wasn't clear whether Alice was leaving for another place, or committing suicide. Nope, didn't work.

Ep 4: A joke epilogue that aired at the end of the camp Talent Night. I especially remember the thrill of creating overlapping voices for the first time. Funny to think how it started off as a silly conversation with Chi Yuan, and ended up being a moment for the ages! 

2009: Escape

Ep 1:
New year, new camp, entirely new direction! If last year's Ep 1 was 'controversial' for its suggested nudity, this was bordering on being too scary. We gathered in Ju Yuan's house to discuss script ideas, and started fooling around with masks and coats (The Dark Knight and Joker were still very much in fashion then). Several test shots later, a cool new video came into being.

Okay, not really. The initial video, which had Ju Yuan acting as the 'devil' and was supposedly set to the theme of Ghostbusters, was just too hard to take seriously. So I quickly organised a re-shoot. Unfortunately, Ju Yuan wasn't around on the day of the reshoot and we had to settle for...who else? Jhow Weh. Surprisingly, he delivered an inspired performance (both acting and voice-over!). Couple that with the chilling theme from Jaws, and a classic was born.

The campy first cut was eventually seen again in the bloopers video. 

Ep 2:
Once again, the curse of the sequel loomed large. After the well-received part 1, there were only two ways we could go. One, rehash the 'porn struggle' which was an appealing subject. Two, go for something new. The latter was clearly a logical choice. Unfortunately, other sins were just less 'captivating' than the subject of porn. The end result - a much weaker Part 2 that pushed a grand total of zero envelopes.

And would never have guessed it, but the mother-daughter-boyfriend phone conversations were INSANELY tough to shoot and edit. Mostly due to my lack of proper planning and equipment.

And, and, also...this would be my first collaboration with the talented actress/future director Evie Wong. In case you don't notice, her lines are all voice-overs! Yes, that means she had to recite her lines once during shooting, and repeat the exact words during voice-over recording. Not easy when you consider that most of our dialogue was ad-libbed.

Ep 3: Wiser from my mistake in No Apologies Part 3, I quickly established that this finale needed a bang. We started with 'Temptation is powerful', followed by 'Temptation is alluring'. It made sense then that the conclusion should be a positive one: 'Temptation is defeatable'.

Interestingly, Evie's dialogue was recorded 100% from Taiwan (she had left to further her studies), based only on my English script. Plus, Lian Juang was very very reluctant to act. And check out Jhow Weh's epic sukan pants.

Bloopers: The aforementioned fiasco and more that followed. It's actually not that funny.

2010: The Pursuit Of Happiness

Ep 1: My personal favourite series! This time, the world was introduced to a gifted actor by the name of Clement Choo. We went to Benjamin's house and brainstormed for ideas before Clement and/or Benjamin stumbled upon the idea of doing something District 9-esque. If memory serves me right, we shot his interview scene there, and then drove straight to Peter's house for the second scene. As always, almost everything was ad-libbed.

Musically-wise, I love the surrealism and youthfulness 'Dreams' brings, reminiscent of one pursuing happiness. Perhaps some felt that it was too pop, but to me it perfectly captures the storyline's essence. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ep 2: Ah yes, the video that required two nights' worth of retakes. While it was unique for using only one continuous shot, this was a nightmare to shoot because of two words: Jhow Weh. Acting as the interviewer, he messed up his lines over and over and over and over while poor Li Yin endured laughing playfully with her 'dad' 68 million times. At the end of the night, we were finally closing in on a successful take. And...Jhow Weh's phone, which was also our camera, died. Seriously.

Utterly demotivated, everyone agreed to come back the next night. And Li Yin had to wear the same clothes, which is embarrassing if you're a girl. If you believe that the first take is the best, this would be one of the worst videos ever.

Compared to the previous years though, I feel that this didn't do too bad for an Episode 2. Furthered the plot quite nicely with some snippets of drama.

Ep 3: If I thought Ep 2 was hard to shoot, I was so so wrong. THIS WAS HARDER TO SHOOT THAN THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY.

Explanation: It was Chinese New Year, and both Brandon and Li Yin would be out of KL at varying times. Scheduling conflicts, if you will. Plus, we had to do some site recce as the first scene would be shot in Endah Parade.

After much hassle, yay! We finally got our shot. And the Curse of Jhow Weh's Phone struck again.

Without any reason, the file became CORRUPTED. ROSAK. KAPUT. Like...what??!

To cut a long story short, we had to reshoot one week later by when Brandon's hair had grown comically long and Li Yin had cut hers. At least we got a random shopper which Li Yin rather realistically bumped into as she stormed off.

As an aside, this was a rather emotional video for me. I was then being admitted to hospital for my knee operation, and would spend entire days editing it there. A lot of life pondering took place too, given the subject of the video. Till today, the song 'Maybe' by Yiruma takes me to a special place. :)

Once I finished this episode, I wept a little inside as I knew that it was the completion of a very special trilogy. No matter what was to come, they would always be irreplaceable to me.

2011: Unplug

Evie Wong returned to lend me a hand for this one. As much as I hate to admit it, my heart just wasn't very much into it then. I was also Camp Director that year, and thus didn't want to devote too much time into shooting videos.

From a technical aspect, it was a breakthrough as we started using Evie's canggih Sony Handycam (okay, still quite un-canggih actually), multiple camera angles and Adobe Premiere Pro editing (compared to Windows Movie Maker previously...don't you dare laugh!). It took some effort to coax a performance out of Joel, but he did considerably well.

Fun fact: This is the only Gospel Camp promo video where Jhow Weh does not appear in some capacity. He had a cameo appearance as a shopper in Pursuit Of Happiness Ep 3.

And...that's all, folks! More new memories soon, I hope?

To me, every single bump, bruise, cut, everything has been worth it. The sacrifices as you call them, I wouldn’t give any of ‘em back to you, because I loved ‘em all.” - Steve Austin

Monday, August 06, 2012

Don't Let China Win

Dedicated to Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, who gave us one of the most heart-stopping Olympic finals ever. Here's to the Batman and Joker of badminton.

March 4, 2053

Chong Wei stepped into the hospital room, somewhat hesitant.

He made his way towards the solitary bed, taking care not to put too much weight on his perpetually aching right foot. Each step taking him closer to a man he had not seen for over 20 years.

And there he was. A feeble man on the bed stuck with pitiful tubes and apparatuses all over. His body had long failed him, but in his eyes Chong Wei still recognised the defiant pride of a man they once called Super Dan.

With much effort, Lin Dan turned his face to Chong Wei and smiled.

My greatest adversary, Chong Wei thought as he smiled back and nodded. This man, who gave him countless sleepless nights, heartbreaks and tears. In the course of their careers they faced off close to 60 times, though many of the later matches were for charity events.

The Thomas Cups. The World Championships. The Super Series. The Opens.

The Olympics.

To be more precise, the 2016 Rio Olympics. The defining moment when Chong Wei etched his place in sporting folklore for eternity.

Then 33 years of age, he staged a spectacular comeback into the Olympics and battled all the way into a historic third consecutive Olympics badminton final against - you guessed it, Lin Dan. At that time though, it wasn't a foregone conclusion as Lin himself was already 32 years old and past his prime. But both competitors showed tremendous resilience to skip past the field of younger players, silencing critics who predicted embarrassing early-round exits for the two.

The highly-anticipated final, touted by the media as 'Eight Years In The Making', would be either one of two things. Lin could take another unconquerable step into greatness, or Chong Wei could seize his one last chance at redemption. The stakes were just too high – especially for Chong Wei, for whom a third straight final defeat could prove to be too crushing. The Chinese press especially had a field day, speculating that Chong Wei might even fall into depression should he lose again.

It was the game of Chong Wei's life. He played like a man possessed; chasing after shuttles beyond reach, returning strikes that were too powerful, outmaneuvering the master at every turn. If it was even possible, the commentators noted, both men were playing at a level higher than four years ago.

An all-too-familiar story ensued: Chong Wei won the first set, Lin snatched the second, and both went neck-to-neck in the rubber. Just like in London, leads were traded back and forth and neither man could establish an advantage. At 15-15, the stadium hushed as Lin started his serve.

Mistake. It went short. The Malaysian supporters went wild, begging Chong Wei to not let history repeat.

Much wiser this time, Chong Wei remained calm and took his time to read and counter Lin's moves. 17, 18, 19, 20! Game point. If Lin could somehow come back from this, Chong Wei would never, ever forgive himself.

He steadied himself and served. After a brief flurry of exchanges, an opportunity presented itself at the net for Chong Wei. The deftest of flicks was enough to lift it over into Lin's half, just slightly past Dan's outstretched arm.

And that was it. Chong Wei, at third time trying, had finally delivered Malaysia's first Olympics gold medal.

In a cheeky move, he peeled off his shirt and posed with a less impressive body.

Soon after that legendary game, both announced their retirements. As years went by and newer stars rose, they gradually stopped meeting. That was, till Chong Wei received news that Lin was severely ill.

Now here he lay, old and dying. It was very strange and scary all at once.

Lin tugged at Chong Wei, motioning for him to come closer.

"My friend." Chong Wei tried not to let his voice break.

Lin pulled Chong Wei even closer, trying to speak into his ear.


" beat me. At the Olympics." came the hoarse whisper.

"It was a good game, my friend."

Lin nodded, his breathing growing more laboured by the second.

"You beat me...because I let you."


"I didn't...want be sad."

And Lin Dan breathed his last. Still smiling. Still defiant. Still brutally truthful.