Ebb and f low
Sneak peek of director U-wei Shaari’s epic film Hanyut.
IN a semi-darkened room somewhere in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, film editor Kate James has been working tirelessly on director U-Wei Shaari’s upcoming epic period film Hanyut.
Based on Jospeh Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly, the film began shooting in May at various locations in Pahang, and James has been working in parallel during principal photography, sorting out the footage, cutting and piecing together what would ultimately be the finished product.
“Right now we’re approaching picture lock,” said James about the status of the editing process when I visited the editing suite soon after Hari Raya.
Picture lock means that the film editing is already in an advanced stage but there is still room for changes and James noted that the visual effects is yet to be done, among other things. Also in the room was the director himself and the film’s producer Julia Fraser.
The film boasts an international cast and crew from Australia, Poland, Singapore and Indonesia, and U-Wei had lined up an impressive cast to star in the movie, including Khalid Salleh, Sofea Jane, Ady Putra, Diana Danielle, Bront Palarae, Sabri Yunus, Hasnul Rahmat and Normah Damanhuri.
The director also roped in Indonesian actors Alex Komang and El Manik as well as Australian Peter O’Brien ( X-Men Origins: Wolverine) who plays Almayer.
I am still surprised, as I write this, at how U-Wei agreed to allow me to have a peek at the film in progress as he is usually quite protective of his work.
I thought I’d just try my luck by asking him and he said: “Sure.” And so there I was in the suite and UWei was giving instructions to James about the scenes he wanted to show me.
“I’m not going to tell you what’s happening or what scene this is. I just want you to have a feel of it,” U-Wei said.
I was instantly mesmerised by the stunning imagery being played on the flatscreen television. It was like a window to the past.
The story takes place in a remote trading post in 1830s Malaya and the wide shot of the dense forest with the river snaking through it was breathtaking and surreal.
I couldn’t help thinking about Conrad’s description of remote trad-
Sofea Jane, who portrays Almayer’s Malay wife, is part of an impressive cast to star in the movie. ing posts in the jungle in the 19th century and how it would look something like this.
Everything looked glorious, rich and authentic. From the trading post, Almayer’s colonial house on top of the hill, the costumes to the characters that inhabited the screen, it all looked unbelievably impressive.
Try imagining, if you will, a sultan wearing a top hat, walking tall and proud, his attire a mix of local and western influences with an aide by his side holding a frilly umbrella.
Arab traders were plying their trade and some spoke Malay while trying to cosy up to the powers that be.
There were Malay women who were wrapped in sarong preparing dinner underneath wooden houses on stilts.
Another scene featured Almayer (O’Brien) and the sultan, meeting at the former’s house, trading muskets and gunpowder.
And in another, British officers pay Almayer a visit and accuse him of supplying arms to local pirates.
There were also tense moments between Almayer, his Malay wife – played by Sofea Jane – and their daughter Nina (Diana Danielle).
I couldn’t even express how exciting it was to see a local period film look so beautiful, honest and indeed, rare.
This was nothing like the golden age of Malaysian cinema or even contemporary period films be they local or international.
This is something completely new and even though I had only seen fragments of the film, I still couldn’t help feeling U-Wei had captured something special on film, and being enraptured by the discovery.
“All the money I have spent on this production has gone towards making the movie,” U-Wei pointed to the flatscreen and continued, “I haven’t bought myself a new car or anything like that.”
Making Hanyut has so far cost almost RM11mil but U-Wei added that he “needs RM7mil more” to finish the film.
“This isn’t about spending money wilfully. If you want to make a film of international standards, then you need a big budget to do it.
“If Malaysia wants its films to go to the next level, then this involves spending more,” U-Wei explained.
Producer Fraser added that while it costs money to hire an international crew, the experience that the local crews get from working with them is priceless.
“We hired crews from Australia and Poland and you have to pay them according to their currency, naturally.
“By working with such film crews who have very high standards, local filmmakers – be it the director, producer or local crew – learn an incredible amount from them.
“They will also be able to grasp how these crews operate and as such, will be better prepared to work for international productions.
“Not only that, they will also be able to apply what they learnt to local productions, thus raising the standards of these productions,” Fraser said.
Interestingly, U-Wei wanted to work with crews from Australia and Poland and it was not based on availability, budget or even a whim.
In his research for adapting Almayer’s Folly, U-Wei read up on the author of the book and used that as a guide.
“I’ve read notes from Conrad who always thanked the Australian crew when he went travelling by sea and Conrad himself is Polish and that is why I chose a director of photography from Poland. I wanted a Polish point-of-view,” he said.
Post production on Hanyut is expected to wrap by December and the film is due out next year.
‘This isn’t about spending money wilfully. If you want to make a film of international standards, then you need a big budget to do it,’ says U-Wei Shaari of Hanyut.