First Penang Hokkien film to make silver screen debut next year

Saw Teong Hin's ‘Hai Ki Xin Lor’ will feature the magical touch of award winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle (right). — Picture by K.E.Ooi
Saw Teong Hin's ‘Hai Ki Xin Lor’ will feature the magical touch of award winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle (right). — Picture by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 4 — The overwhelming positive response to Saw Teong Hin’s first Hokkien production — Hai Ki Xin Lor (You Mean The World To Me) — at the George Town Festival in August has led to the decision to bring it to the big screen.

After letting the script for the film languish for many years, the award-winning director of films like Puteri Gunung Ledang and Hoore! Hoore! first introduced it to the public as a stage performance at the annual heritage, arts and culture festival in Penang this year.

“The response was so encouraging during the four-day performance and after that, suddenly there was so much interest in the play so we decided to bring the stage play to the big screen,” Saw said.

Hai Ki Xin Lor, when translated, means “new road by the seafront” which was the nickname used for Victoria Street in the old days. Saw grew up on that street and the film is semi-autobiographical.

Even more exciting, award-winning cinematographer Christopher Doyle who has worked with directors like Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar Wai will be part of the production team at Real Films, Astro Shaw and MM2 Entertainment.

“The whole movie will be shot entirely in Penang as it is a story of a family and love spanning two generations using the dominantly spoken Penang Hokkien dialect that is unlike Hokkien in other states or elsewhere,” Saw said.

The film production is expected to cost up to RM1.8 million and Saw said they are still in the midst of raising funds and getting more sponsors.

The team will be starting preparatory work in early March. “We thought it would be easy to find locations at first. After all, this is a heritage city but it is hard to find places like a street, an old cinema or a warehouse that looked like they did back in the 1970s, the period the first part of the film is set in,” he said.

Changing the modern landscape of the streets today to make it look like it was 40 years ago also meant a higher budget was needed to paint, camouflage and cover up modern infrastructure along public roads such as street lamps and sign boards.

“We always take for granted that these kind of things and places will always be there until we really look for it... it’s gone,” he said.

The stage production of Hai Ki Xin Lor was brought to life by a mix of Singaporean and Malaysian actors and for the film, it will also be a cast from Singapore and Malaysia.

Not all the actors in the theatre production will be cast for the film production though and casting is yet to be fully finalised, Saw said.

The filming is expected to be completed by June next year and they hope that it would be released within the same year.

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