"The Kid from the Big Apple", a heart-warming Malaysian film
Writer: Erny Suzira
All the main cast and director of the film, (L-R) Jason Tan, Tommy Tam (Ti Lung), Sarah Tan, Jess Teong and Jessica Hsuan.
After gaining international recognition at various film festivals, Malaysian movie "The Kid from the Big Apple" is set to hit the big screen in its home country as well as neighbouring country Singapore this 10 March 2016.
Directed by debutant local director Jess Teong, the film tells the story of a New York-born Malaysian, Sarah, who has to stay in Malaysia with her conservative grandfather and learn about her origins and culture, and ultimately, the true meaning of family.
The film won four awards at the Macau International Movie Awards including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Writing and Best Newcomers.
The film also won Best Actor for Tommy Tam better known as Ti Lung, at the recent Golden Horse Awards. With so many successes and many more to come, the director and the cast talked about the film's achievements and production process at a recent press conference held at DoubleTree by Hilton.
Let's start with Jessica. What was your experience shooting this film?
Jessica: This is my first time ever to shoot a film in Malaysia. I never even shot a series here before. So I'm very surprised when I got here. Everyone is so professional; all of the crew get their work done properly. They're very cooperative and united. That's why the film is so successful. We couldn't have done it without them!
Why did you decide to accept this role?
Jessica: When I found out that Ti Lung would be on board, I thought that maybe I should accept this job because it is a good opportunity for me to work with Jess. I never regretted my decision. Although I don't have a lot of scenes, the ones that I have, have given me the chance to shine and grow myself, it is very meaningful to me.
Jess: The scenes that Jessica had in the film are a few, but every time she comes out, the impact is strong. Her performance was great, it was worth it to wait for her.
Jessica: I am thankful to be given the chance to act in this role. It must be fate.
Director Jess Teong and Jessica Hsuan talk about working together.
Then, how do you feel working with the legendary Ti Lung?
Jess: Ti Lung always makes me feel nervous. His presence, the aura that he gives off is so strong and solid. He has a certain charm that would attract people. No wonder he's such a legend!
Also, what's wonderful about him is his humble personality. Despite his fame, he's not the type that says, "Oh, I should be in every scene" or "I have to be the centre of the attention." No, if possible, he would let Jessica or the kids take the centre of the scene instead.
What about Jessica? Did you learn anything else after acting with Ti Lung?
Jessica: At first I was kind of afraid when I found out that Ti Lung will be in the movie, because he is so professional and strict when it comes to doing his job. So I thought that I need to do a good job too if I'm going to accept this role!
Ti Lung may look like a gentle father, but he also gives off that dignified aura that we see in heroes.
Also, I love listening to Ti Lung's meaningful proverbs, sayings and idioms which he always tells us as advice, we learned a lot from them and it feels very refreshing.
Jessica Hsuan listening closely to the question.
The film won a number of awards in Macau, and recently at the Golden Horse awards too, how do you feel about that?
Jess: When I made this film, I never aimed for it become a box office success or to win any award. I never thought of any of that when writing the script. I just used my heart and my life experiences as knowledge to make this film.
Do you feel pressured that you have to match the same achievement for your next film now that you've won so many awards?
Jess: Not at all. Writing the script and directing the film, I believe that these are my responsibilities. Just because I won an award or two for it, doesn't mean that it will affect me in anyway. I will keep doing what I'm doing and not just stop there.
I don't think it's going to be a pressure for me, but instead an encouragement to work harder for my next film.
This is Jess Teong first-directed and scripted film.
Any particular reason why you decided that the kid has to be from New York?
Jess: Because New York is Big Apple. And I think that the word "big apple" is very catchy, so that's why!
It also takes into consideration that the weather, the lifestyle, the culture and the transportation system between New York and Malaysia are very different. So, Sarah who grew up in New York, will find the differences between all these aspects when she comes to Malaysia.
Is there any particular scene that you like the most?
Jess: When I wrote the script, I think that there's this one part which would leave everyone in tears. Because even I cried as I wrote it, and a lot of people told me that they've cried a lot after watching it. But some told me that they laughed. So I guess everyone has different opinions.
What is your thought on the film's box office performance?
Jess: So far, I have no thoughts on it at all.
You mean you have no target whatsoever?
Jess: As a director, I won't set a target. My target is only to shoot a good film. Even though now I sort of got some extra bonuses through the awards that the film won, but of course, I want to at least be able to cover back the investors' money. However, at the end of the day, this kind of thing is not up to me.
The cast, director and producer of "The Kid from the Big Apple".
Will this film compete in this year's Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA)?
Jess: The film will automatically enter next year's Hong Kong Film Awards because it will only be released in Hong Kong this April. That's why we can only enter the award ceremony next year since the ceremony itself takes place in April. We couldn't make it this year.
Will the film be submitted to any other festivals aside from HKFA?
Jess: On 8 March, I will fly to Osaka to submit the film. Hopefully it will be selected as one of the finalists of the Osaka Film Festival.
The cast and crew of the film
Ti Lung, do you have any hope of winning yet another award at other upcoming festivals, particularly at the Hong Kong Film Awards?
Ti Lung: I won't put too much hope on it. My biggest wish is to introduce the film to everyone in the world, because the film is filled with love, care and peace among family and friends. It should be shared with everyone out there.
But I don't want the film to make too much money! [laughs] If not, everyone would be fighting for it!
However, I think that it's great that the film has such wonderful achievements.
Jess: I think the awards that we won in Macau is truly a great blessing for us. After achieving success overseas, I think I have gained more confidence now!
Tommy Tam won Best Actor award at the recent Golden Horse awards.
Is there anything interesting that happened while shooting the film?
Jason: There's this one scene where I need to walk at the pavement for a while, and then stop for a rest. In that scene, I had to fart, of course it's just pretend. But while pretending, I accidentally let out a real gas! [laughs]
Jessica: I didn't even know it was real!
Jess: Because as a director, we need to listen closely to the scene through headphones. So when I heard it, I thought "what a realistic sound effect!" [laughs]
Jessica: I guess he's very into his scene!
Jason Tan is a Judo martial artist.
What about Sarah?
Sarah: During the shooting of the film, one of my tooth had gotten loose, so my mom helped me pull it off. But the director feels that it doesn't look nice, so she asked me to wear a false tooth.
Jess: Yeah, so throughout the rest of the film, she was wearing false tooth the whole time!
Ti Lung, as an experienced actor who have worked with many renowned Hong Kong actors, how do you feel working with these two new young actors?
Ti Lung: The two young cast are very innocent, so while working with them, we can't rely on our experience, we actually have to go along with whatever they do instead, then only the film would look more realistic. They're the ones who have to guide us.
Jess: Also, the two kids here, they actually know how real martial arts. Sarah can do Kuoshu (Chinese martial art), and Jason can do Judo!
The film is Sarah Tan first feature film.
As a director, would you still continue your style of scripting and directing even for your future works?
Cinema Online, 08 March 2016
Jess: I think I will stick to the style that I am most comfortable with. I will keep trying my method of scripting and directing until I discover other methods that best suits me.
I think it's because I never took any filming course. I always do it according to my senses, experiences and lifestyle – all the things that I've been through and seen before, I will use those as my inspiration and put them in the script.
I think for now, this method suits me the most. Also, I feel that this kind of film genre is dying, so we need more of these.
Last question, Jessica, do you have any plans on returning to TVB at all?
Jessica: Depends on fate I guess. We'll see!
Jess: She's actually waiting for my next film, so that one has to be put on hold! [laughs]
Jessica: Yeah, her next film will be "New York, here I come"! [laughs]
"The Kid from the Big Apple" will be showing in Malaysia and Singapore this 10 March 2016.