Son of the soil
Leading a self-sustainable lifestyle on his farm in Hawaii for the past 15 years ensures actor Jason Scott Lee is kept busy working the land all year long. But once in a while, – when a worthy project turns up, Lee still takes time to get back into showbiz. in 2007, he took viewers on a cultural experience on the Malaysian way of life in the first instalment of Malaysian Journey. in that one-hour national geographic documentary, he went hunting with the people of Semelai in Pahang, lived with fishermen on the Langkawi archipelago and shared good times with the Rungus tribe in Sabah.
He followed that up with another documentary titled Living Pono With Jason Scott
Lee, which showcased his farm in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The most recent gig that captured his attention was hosting a second instalment of the documentary Malaysian Journey, this time titled Hutan. For this one-hour documentary – tentatively scheduled for airing in the first quarter of 2012 – Lee visited Malaysia’s rainforest regions including Kuala gandah elephant Sanctuary, Taman negara national Park, Tasik Kenyir, gunung Mulu national Park and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
When we met at Putrajaya in September, he had just completed a non-stop 15-day shoot to cover the abovementioned areas.
“i had no idea about the rainforests in Malaysia when i said yes,” says Lee. “all i knew was Borneo because i have a friend in the film business from Malaysia (a dancer by the name of GTO), and i was like where is that? So i finally got introduced to his country.”
The first time he landed the hosting gig, it happened by chance. He was in Singapore filming Dance Of The Dragon when a producer friend asked if he’d be interested in doing it.
“i hadn’t been to Malaysia at that point and i was excited to see a place i’ve never seen before.”
The first documentary was a big hit not only with Malaysians but also internationally. “They told me it did well and they wanted to do one more. So it started as a fluke of an opportunity, now i have to talk to the press about it,” he explains with a smile.
going out in a small crew, everything is kept on a flexible schedule with no script.
“i really try to reserve my reaction on camera so it can be a narrative on camera. i think that helps to bring the viewers into what i am feeling while it’s happening. it’s a good format for storytelling.”
in this journey, Lee may not have learned anything that he can use on the farm except for the little trick of which tapioca leaf to eat from the Orang Batek. But he took note of the kind of tools the people he met in this trip use – learning about the wood they use to make boats and how the resources they use are connected to the culture of the people.
“When you maintain the forest, you maintain the culture. That’s the philosophy we have where i come from ... take care of the land and the land will take care of you, not only your health and well-being, but also the culture.”
Lee eating rice off a banana leaf during a lunch break while making Hutan.
Jason Scott Lee and a Sarawakian tattoo artist featured in Malaysianjourney for the National Geographic channel.