Malaysian film-maker Ho Yuhang makes 'sambal' a supporting actor in his episode of HBO's 'Food Lore'

Film-maker Ho Yuhang (centre) with actors Wilson Tin (left) and Fabian Loo. –
Film-maker Ho Yuhang (centre) with actors Wilson Tin (left) and Fabian Loo. –

PETALING JAYA, NOV 2 — It's an eight-part anthology featuring different Asian film-makers telling stories that explore the human condition with narratives inspired by food... Asian food.

HBO's Food Lore, which debuts this Sunday, November 3, covers stories from India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and of course, Malaysia.

Interestingly, the Vietnam and Philippines episodes made their world debut at the Tokyo International Film Festival. And the India episode will debut at the Singapore International Film Festival later this month.

Malaysian film-maker Ho Yuhang not only directed the Malaysian episode but wrote it as well.

In fact, fans of Ho's work which he often describes as "bleak" will be in for a surprise. While his usual genre involves a tragedy or a major conflict, that's not how he plays it for Stray Dogs.

"I just wanted to write a simple story about two people, their relationship and how they slowly affect one another."

It's a theme he believes will resonate with many, since it's a common situation. In writing this story, Ho admits he enjoyed working out how to write such an understated and subtle story with food.

Ho explained that the anthology is "not a food show as there are so many of that out there. It's most importantly stories with a food element."

Food Lore is a project by Singaporean film-maker Eric Khoo with whom Ho worked previously in another HBO anthology — the horror themed Folklore.

Ho's Stray Dogs centres around two characters who enter into an unlikely friendship; one is a young, ambitious multi-level marketer called Tim, played by Fabian Loo while the other is a gangster turned chef called Maki, played by Wilson Tin.

For a broader point of view, Ho decided to feature an array of dishes cooked in a dai chow rather than a single dish. Central to the story, however, is sambal which Maki uses to cook up various dishes like sambal petai.

'Food Lore' is a project by Singaporean film-maker Eric Khoo who also produced 'Folklore' for HBO.
'Food Lore' is a project by Singaporean film-maker Eric Khoo who also produced 'Folklore' for HBO.

Ho explained, "Sambal is always a great supporting actor as it makes your food taste so good. I like the fact that sambal is behind the scenes, just like this is a story about supporting actors. They're not heroes but just day-to-day people."

For Tim's character, Ho had written it with Loo in mind, as a young man with a positive attitude. Previously Ho had cast him for a film but they didn't end up working together.

After Ho cast Tin as Maki, he discovered that he actually owns his own restaurant where sambal petai is a popular dish!

In Stray Dogs, one of the dishes at Maki's dai chow is chicken cooked with beer which Tin recreated at his restaurant. It has now become a permanent dish after his customers sampled it. 

As for the title of the episode, many may wonder what it has to do with food. Ho chuckled, "At first we thought what a strange title but we felt it had oomph."

While there is an actual scene where Maki feeds some stray dogs, Ho's title has a deeper meaning.

"I feel that these two people are like strays. They have a past, live alone and there is a feeling that people don't understand them."

Malaysia-born Taiwanese film-maker Tsai Ming-Liang also has a movie titled Stray Dogs which depicts people on the fringes of society, a metaphor which Ho uses here as well.

The award-winning film-maker actually became interested in movies because he enjoyed reading film books borrowed from a Buddhist temple library in Petaling Jaya!

Later, when the PJ boy went to Iowa State University to study electrical engineering, he gained a broader access to all kinds of movies. Bored with electronic circuits, he decided to pursue his love for movies.

Wilson Tin's character in 'Stray Dogs' is a gangster turned chef.
Wilson Tin's character in 'Stray Dogs' is a gangster turned chef.

Ho learned the ropes in TV production by starting at the bottom and working with directors like Dain Said and the late Yasmin Ahmad.

In 2003, his debut feature Min picked up the Special Jury Prize at the Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes, France.

His film At The End Of Daybreak not only received the NETPAC award at the Locarno Film Festival but also garnered seven Best Actress Awards for lead actress, Kara Hui.

His short film Trespassed won the Financial Times Emerging Voices film award in 2015 while his latest film was a Malaysia-Hong Kong production titled Mrs K which not also starred Kara Hui but Simon Yam as well.

Ho shot Stray Dogs in 10 days at locations around PJ's Section 17 and Seapark area.

He often features the Section 17 neighbourhood in his works since it's where his home and office are based.

Since food is an integral element in Stray Dogs, Ho shares with us his favourite eats around the area.

Wantan mee

It's not popular but Ho likes the texture of the noodles at this stall.

Location: Goodview Kopitiam, 1091, Jalan 17/27, Section 17, Petaling Jaya

Chee cheong fun

Ho likes this old woman's chee cheong fun and yong tau foo at the morning market. Previously, she would ride a bicycle around the neighbourhood. Later she upgraded to a motorcycle which she now parks at the market.

Location: Section 17 morning market, 1042, Jalan 17/27, Section 17, Petaling Jaya

Fried carrot cake

This particular stall owner also sets up stall at the pasar malam in SS2 which is where Ho originally ate his fried carrot cake about 40 years ago!

Location: Section 17 morning market, 1042, Jalan 17/27, Section 17, Petaling Jaya

Food Lore premieres on November 3, 10pm on HBO (Astro channel 411 and 431HD). Ho Yuhang's Stray Dogs will air on December 22, 10pm. Watch the trailer here: