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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 20 — In these dark times, it makes sense to celebrate good news. One ray of light for our arts scene is the announcement that director Edmund Yeo’s latest outing Malu will not only be premiering at the Tokyo Film Festival but it will be shown in Japanese cinemas from November 13.
When asked why his film is called Malu, the Malay word for shame, Yeo said that it was apt as the film has a lot to do with “shame”, especially among the characters.
“Shame of their past, shame of their inability to connect/communicate, shame of their own sadness,” that was how Yeo described the central, unifying narrative of the film encapsulated in a simple one-word title that was of course, easier to remember.
The Chinese and Japanese titles came long after, he said, being respectively 无马之日 (A day without horses) and 夢路 (Road of dreams)
A serendipitous collaboration
Malu is the result of a partnership with MayJune Tan, an actress and frequent collaborator. Tan had always wanted to try her hand at producing, as she wants to have creative control over the stories she wants to tell.
Brainstorming sessions then resulted in what became Malu. While the film was mostly inspired by the Natsuo Kirino novel Grotesque, it also builds on inspiration from the duo’s own personal experiences and memories.
The story revolves around two sisters: Hong and Lan, with Tan and Sherlyn Seo playing the roles respectively. The girls are separated when their grandmother (played by Seck Fookyee) kidnaps Hong to protect her from their destructive and unstable mother (played by Lynn Lim).
Malu also features Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase (Cold Fever, Mystery Train) and actress/fashion icon Kiko Mizuhara. Legendary Japanese musician Haruomi Hosono is behind the film’s music.
Yeo also had Tina Baz as co-editor, who has worked on most of Naomi Kawase’s films as well as on some films by Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To.
“For the past decade, I always edited my own films as well as the films of Woo Ming Jin which I produced. So it was amazing to see someone else work their magic on my film,” Yeo said.
On returning to the Tokyo Film Fest after some time: “It’s always great to return to Tokyo Film Fest. It’s such a historical film fest, and I’ve been attending the fest since I was a uni student. The films I was exposed to in that film fest helped a lot in my growing as a filmmaker, absolutely.”
In a climate where many film fests had to be cancelled or gone virtual, Yeo said it was admirable and amazing to see Tokyo, along with Busan trying their best to hold physical editions of the film fest for audiences.
“In messed-up times like this, I think films play a bigger role in providing respite to people.”
Yeo found it amazing that Malu would show in some of the major Japanese theatrical chains, despite previously having had none of his own films shown in Malaysia.
“Ours is a small modest film, made with care and love. The cast and crew from both countries had given so much of themselves to this project, so it’s absolutely meaningful to have our film playing in theatres, amidst the pandemic,” Yeo said.
He joked, “Well now I have something to show to those who devalued my work as they ‘don’t show in theatres’.
As to what’s next, Yeo is currently in Japan to prepare for his next film shoot in December.
“It’s entirely a Japanese film with an all-Japanese cast and crew, except me and Kong Pahurak the Thai cinematographer who also shot Malu,” he said.
As to when Malaysian audiences can expect to see Malu, discussions are currently being held with Mubi, the global streaming platform so while Yeo hopes to eventually see it in local cinemas, at least we won’t have to wait too long for it to arrive on our screens at home (hopefully).
You can watch the trailer here: