Ebb and f low

Sneak peek of di­rec­tor U-wei Shaari’s epic film Hanyut.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By RIZAL JOHAN

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.

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