'The Garden of Evening Mists’: From novel to film

'The Garden of Evening Mists' cast (clockwise from top left) Tan Kheng Hua, Wan Hanafi Su, Ho Yuhang, Wong Mun Kong, Feon Lai, Serene Lim, David Oakes, Hiroshi Abe, Lee Sinje, director Tom Shu-Yu Lin and John Hannah at a press conference.
'The Garden of Evening Mists' cast (clockwise from top left) Tan Kheng Hua, Wan Hanafi Su, Ho Yuhang, Wong Mun Kong, Feon Lai, Serene Lim, David Oakes, Hiroshi Abe, Lee Sinje, director Tom Shu-Yu Lin and John Hannah at a press conference.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — Astro Shaw together with HBO Asia and  the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) announced yesterday their new film based on award-winning Malaysian novel The Garden of Evening Mists.

It is a dream come true for Penang-born writer Tan Twan Eng, 45, to have his second book, which is set in Cameron Highlands, made into a film.

“Writers dream, hope and pray fervently (that their novel would be made into a film or TV shows) but when it does happen, they also dread it,” said Tan.

“It’s very hard for a writer to surrender his book to someone else who would inadvertently have to make changes as film is a completely different medium from a novel.

“Nevertheless, I am extremely thrilled for The Garden of Evening Mists to be made into a film and that it is a Malaysian production with a multinational and highly regarded cast and crew,” said the former intellectual property lawyer.

The novel was awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize the same year.

Tan was the first writer from outside the United Kingdom to win one of its highest literary awards, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the following year.

Astro Shaw head Najwa Abu Bakar thanked the author for “the elegant and nuanced narrative and for making the new Malaysia proud”.

Also present at the media conference were the film’s Taiwanese director Tom Shu-Yu Lin and leading cast members Lee Sinje, Hiroshi Abe, John Hannah, David Oakes and Tan Kheng Hua.

The Garden of Evening Mists which spans three time periods -- the 1980s, 1950s and World War II -- is a powerful, emotional story about self-discovery and forgiveness.

The main cast in the film will be supported by veteran Asian actress-director-producer Sylvia Chang.

The film has already begun production in several locations around Malaysia including Cameron Highlands and they hope to wrap it up next month.

Najwa told Malay Mail: “We are always looking for a unique Malaysian story and about five years ago, we came across this beautiful novel. It features the Malaysian culture and it has tragedy, mystery and romance.”

On how far the script deviated from the novel, she said: “While the core story remains, as we wanted to be very respectful of Twan Eng’s vision, our focus is on the romance between the two beautiful people.”

'The Garden of Evening Mists' director Tom Shu-Yu Lin (left) with writer Tan Twan Eng.
'The Garden of Evening Mists' director Tom Shu-Yu Lin (left) with writer Tan Twan Eng.

Tan, who had read the second last version of the script and made some comments said: “The only thing I would not have compromised on was changing the title because that would have transformed the focus and the soul of the book itself.

“I have not read the final script as I have put my faith in the director, the cast and the production house. I want to be surprised as the rest of the audience when the movie comes out,” said the jovial writer who now lives in Subang Jaya.

While Tan was dead set against making an appearance in the movie, his 69-year-old mother, Sally Seow, will be making a cameo.

She had previously played a minor role in Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians.

In addition to Malaysian box office hits like The Journey, Polis Evo and Ola Bola, Astro Shaw has also produced award-winning international movies like the 2015 Thai drama Cemetery of Splendour by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and last year’s Indonesian movie Marlina: The Murder in Four Acts by Mouly Surya.

They will present The Garden of Evening Mists at major film festivals next year before a theatrical release followed by its premiere on the HBO Asia channel.

Related Articles