Fam­ily ties

The award-win­ning The Kid From The Big Ap­ple is a heart­warm­ing tale of overcoming the gen­er­a­tion and cul­tural gap.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by MICHAEL CHEANG en­ter­tain­ment@ thes­tar. com. my

THE Kid From The Big Ap­ple is a movie born from anger. More specif­i­cally, di­rec­tor Jess Teong’s rage against smart­phone cul­ture in Malaysia.

“I had just come home af­ter work­ing over­seas, and I was shocked at just how ram­pant the smart­phone cul­ture was,” she re­called.

“Ev­ery­where I went, peo­ple were just look­ing at their phones. Even in restau­rants, the par­ents would just let their chil­dren watch car­toons on their tablets while they fed them. I don’t think the kids even knew what they were eat­ing!”

An­other thing that up­set Teong was how a lot of cul­ture and tra­di­tions were be­ing ex­ploited for com­mer­cial rea­sons. She re­called be­ing at a restau­rant not long af­ter the Duan Wu Fes­ti­val ( Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val), and the restau­rant was al­ready hawk­ing their moon­cakes, which was al­most two months away.

“The Duan Wu Fes­ti­val was just over, and the moon­cakes were al­ready be­ing sold! The ac­tual cul­ture and tra­di­tion is be­ing for­got­ten and ig­nored, just for the sake of mak­ing profit,” she lamented dur­ing an in­ter­view last week.

“I grew up in a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fam­ily, and we cel­e­brated all the fes­ti­vals like Win­ter Sol­stice, and the Moon­cake Fes­ti­val ... so I was an­gry that all th­ese tra­di­tions were be­ing lost. I started writ­ing all th­ese feel­ings down, and my pro­ducer sug­gested I turned it into a movie.”

Well, one thing led to an­other, and the re­sult is The Kid From The Big Ap­ple, Teong’s first ever movie as a di­rec­tor. It is a story about a young girl named Sarah ( Tan Qin Lin) who is un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously dragged from New York to Malaysia to live with her grand­fa­ther ( Ti Lung) while her mother ( Jes­sica Hester Hsuan) goes to China for work. Sarah has to adapt to her new sur­round­ings, make new friends, and also form a bond with her strict, tra­di­tional grand­fa­ther.

Though The Kid From the Big Ap­ple is her first film as a di­rec­tor, Teong had worked on fea­ture films be­fore – she was the pro­ducer for the award- win­ning Pa­per Moon back in 2012, and has been in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try since the 1990s, in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent roles ( in­clud­ing singer, model, ac­tress, and film pro­ducer).

Be­sides be­ing filmed en­tirely in Malaysia ( most of the film is set in an apart­ment block in Ta­man Yulek, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur), Teong drew on her own child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences while draft­ing the script.

From fa­mil­iar KL land­marks and lo­cal di­alects, to some age- old fam­ily su­per­sti­tions and tra­di­tions, there is a dis­tinct Malaysian feel through­out the movie, though the di­rec­tor was care­ful not to make it TOO Malaysian.

“From the be­gin­ning, we al­ready felt the movie had a chance to make it over­seas as well, so I needed to make sure au­di­ences in other coun­tries would be able to un­der­stand it as well,” she said.

That plan seems to have worked. Last De­cem­ber, The Kid From The Big Ap­ple grabbed four awards at the 7th Ma­cau In­ter­na­tional Movie Fes­ti­val – Best Ac­tor for Ti Lung, Best Writ­ing for Teong, Best New­comer for Qin Lin, and Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress for Hsuan.

Heroic pres­ence

Hav­ing a screen leg­end like Ti Lung in the lead­ing role cer­tainly helped el­e­vate the film to an­other level.

Teong first met with Ti Lung at the 2012 Ma­cau Film Fes­ti­val while she was pro­mot­ing Pa­per Moon, but never dreamt that he would ac­tu­ally agree to ap­pear in

her movie.

The 69- year- old vet­eran Hong Kong ac­tor is best known for his heroic roles in clas­sic Shaw Brothers movies, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar The Sen­ti­men­tal Swords­man.

His best- known role, how­ever, is the clas­sic 1986 John Woo film A Bet­ter

To­mor­row, in which he played a triad mem­ber along­side Les­lie Che­ung and Chow Yun- fat. He also played Wong Fei Hong’s father in Jackie Chan’s 1994 block­buster Drunken Mas­ter II.

“In the ini­tial script, the grand­fa­ther was noth­ing like Ti Lung. To me, Ti Lung has al­ways been this screen leg­end, a wuxia hero, a great, heroic kind of per­son. But when I walked into the room and saw him sit­ting there, look­ing so dig­ni­fied, I thought, ‘ That’s what the grand­fa­ther should be like’,” Teong re­called.

With all those iconic roles be­hind him, it is a lit­tle strange to see the ac­tor in such an un­der­stated role. “It’s nice to have a role that is just an or­di­nary per­son. I don’t need to be the big hero, or the big triad leader all the time!” Ti Lung said in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view with Star2.

“I thought it was a good chal­lenge. The money may not have been much, but that wasn’t im­por­tant. The script was full of sin­cer­ity and warmth, and I liked that.”

Ti Lung also played a big part in get­ting Hsuan on board. “Look­ing for the right ac­tress for Sarah’s mother was like look­ing for a nee­dle in an ocean.

“When we de­cided ( on Hsuan), we still had to see if she had the time to do it. I called a friend in TVB and asked about her work ethics, and the feed­back I got was all good,” the vet­eran ac­tor said.

“When I heard Ti Lung was go­ing to be in the film, I was im­me­di­ately in­ter­ested!”-said Hsuan, 45. “This was a once in a life­time chance to work with him, and if I didn’t take it, I don’t know when I’ll get that chance again.”

Ti Lung and Hsuan’s main scene to­gether is a flash­back that shows how they be­came es­tranged. Hsuan re­called how Ti Lung had re­quested that the fo­cus should be on her in­stead of him.

“The di­rec­tor wanted the cam­era to fo­cus on him more, but he in­sisted that they gave me more face time in­stead. It made me feel grate­ful to be work­ing with a cast and crew that was so pro­fes­sional and sin­cere,” Hsuan said.

“I just felt the fo­cus should be on the daugh­ter,” Ti Lung added. “Af­ter all, I al­ready had so much screen­time!”

This be­ing their first time work­ing in Malaysia, both Ti Lung and Hsuan were full of praises for the pro­duc­tion crew in Malaysia. “I think there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween the qual­ity stan­dards here and in Hong Kong,” he said.

The cast of The Kid From The Big Ap­ple: ( from left) hsuan, Qin Lin, Ti Lung, and Ja­son. — Pho­tos: Gsc Movies

Ja­son as Jia Bao, who helps Ti Lung’s char­ac­ter to un­der­stand his grand­daugh­ter bet­ter.

Qin Lin won the Best New­comer award at last year’s Ma­cau Film Fes­ti­val for her role as sarah.

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