James Lee is well touted as one of the pioneers of digital filmmaking in Malaysia. Trained as a graphic designer before he became a self-taught filmmaker, Lee began acting and directing theatre plays before venturing into feature filmmaking. His experience in directing includes the theatre plays; "Love Poems" and "The Dumb Waiter", which was part of the Director's Workshop conducted by Five Arts Centre, as well as the Actors Studio Theatre plays, "Changi" and "Betrayal", in 2007.
Lee's 2004 feature film, "My Beautiful Washing Machine", won him the Best Asean Feature Award and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize at the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2005. "Histeria"; Lee's first mainstream Malay horror movie which was released in 2008, has been reported by local distributors to have met with box office success. In 2009, his latest independent film "Call If You Need Me" won the Digital Silver Award in the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival.
With the many accolades and experience under his belt, we talk to the director on his latest effort for the upcoming Kung Fu comedy film "Petaling Street Warrior".
Interview conducted recently at "Petaling Street Warrior" shooting site in Siputeh, Ipoh.
Hi, James Lee. What inspired you to make "Petaling Street Warrior"?
Good question. I don't know how to express it, but it was a sudden idea. I was always planning to make a modern Kung Fu film in Malaysia, as I wanted to make a film with a complete different genre from my previous films. After a long span of brainstorming, I chose Petaling Street as the best choice to serve as the setting of this film.
Why is the shooting location of Petaling Street not set in Petaling Street, KL itself, but in Siputeh, Ipoh?
As we all know, Petaling Street is a hectic place, therefore it's difficult for us to conduct our shoot at the actual Petaling Street in KL. Thanks to our Producer Sampson Yuen, his suggestion to change the timeline of the film back to 100 years ago helped me to solve the problem of setting. When the timeline got changed, I widened my search to places that had old buildings. In the end, I chose Siputeh, Ipoh.
It is known that your budget for this film is RM3 million, how does this budget compare to your previous films?
Well, it can be said that it is the largest budget I had ever received to work with. "Histeria", which I had directed, had only a budget of RM1.4 million.
Have you met with any problems during the shoot?
As of yet, no problems were encountered with the actors. Everyone here is enjoying their time on the set. All of them are very professional and perform in their roles very well. The biggest problem we have met so far is the weather here. The weather conditions for Ipoh is totally unexpected and scorching hot. The bad weather will cause us to delay our shooting session for a few days.
Who is the person that you have learned from the most while directing "Petaling Street Warrior"?
I've learned a lot from the action director Ma Yuk-Sing. He has contributed a lot to this film by giving his thoughts on the characters. It's hard to make a Kung Fu film with comedic elements, but he can make it happen. Without his help, this film will not be as perfect as I would want it to be. I'm in awe with his spontaneous ideas and I wish to have that kind of ability too.
Is Siputeh, Ipoh going to be the only shooting location for this film? Actually, no. This is only one of the shooting sites for this film. We will continue scouting for houses and temples around Ipoh as well. Overall, we will have most of our shooting sites to be based in Perak.
Last question, did you ever think of making a 3D film?
No, I don't think so. Audiences will be tired after watching a 3D film by wearing the 3D glasses, especially their eyes. I have not yet considered making a 3D film before because it just doesn't fit with my style of directing.
Okay, that's all for today and thank you for your time. All the best with the shooting!
"Petaling Street Warrior" is currently in production and is scheduled for Malaysian & Singaporean release next year!