PETALING JAYA, 27 April 2009: A Malaysian filmmaker’s debut feature will be screened at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Chris Chong’s Karaoke was selected from a host of other films to be included in the Directors’ Fortnight platform.
This the first Malaysian film in 14 years, since U-Wei Shaari’s Kaki Bakar, to be selected for this independent section of the international festival.
By virtue of this selection, Karaoke is now in the running for the Camera d’Or or Golden Camera, which is an award for the best first feature film in the festival’s selections from three different categories. Last year’s award went to Steve McQueen for Hunger.
“Cannes is overwhelming. We are all very happy and in a state of shock,” Sabah-born Chong said in an e-mail interview with The Nut Graph. Chong is currently in Bangkok, where he is overseeing post-production for the film.
Chong said he was most happy about Karaoke‘s selection because it recognised the work of people who helped him complete it.
Produced by Tanjung Aru Pictures, Karaoke was co-written by Chong and singer-songwriter, playwright and The Nut Graph editor for columns and comments Shanon Shah. It features performances by Zahiril Adzim, Mislina Mustaffa, Mohd Hariry, Amerul Affendi and Nadiya Nissa.
Mohd Hariry (left) and Zahiril Adzim (Pics by Danny Lim © Tanjung Aru Pictures 2008)
“The story is about a boy who returns home to find that home is not what he once thought it was,” Shanon explained.
“I felt that it was a commentary about one’s identity and one’s place. This is something I think a lot of Malaysians are grappling with right now,” Shanon added.
The power of karaoke
Karaoke employs an unusual device — karaoke music — to assist with its storytelling.
“I wanted to use the lyrics of the songs to contrast and compliment the actual drama that was unfolding. I can convey different layers in a single situation by doing this,” Chong said.
“The songs would express longings that could not otherwise be expressed by the characters,” Shanon said. “In some instances, they would comment on parallel possibilities for each character’s life journey.”
Shanon said the challenge in creating music for the film was in writing good, accessible songs that added to the onscreen action. “I had to make sure that the cheesiness of the karaoke arrangements was not merely an indulgence, but truly a part of the story, too,” he said.
Chong said that the idea for the film first came to him back home, in Kota Kinabalu.
“My friends and I always went to karaoke, three to four times a week,” Chong said.
“Then I started thinking that the videos were so different from my own life and the life around me. That fantasy was the reason why I wanted to merge storytelling with fantasy creation,” he explained.
Chris Chong on set
And, while Karaoke has not won an award yet, Shanon said that the film’s selection into Cannes was significant.
“It speaks of possibilities. It speaks volumes of what Malaysian artists are capable of, if we’re only given the space, chance and support to do what we do,” Shanon said.
Chong said the film’s wide release in Malaysia would depend on available support.
“I would like to have a Malaysian release, but it will depend on the support of the theatres and distribution support,” Chong said.
“I definitely want to share it with the audience, especially in Sabah,” he added.
Although Karaoke is Chong’s first feature-length film, the filmmaker has already garnered international acclaim. Chong’s Block B (2008), a short set in an apartment block in Brickfields, and Kolam (2007), a documentary about a swimming pool or water tank in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, were both Best Short Film winners at the Toronto International Film Festival.