The heroes behind "Adiwira Ku".
Simplicity is sometimes the best, and that's proven when small-scale drama film, "Adiwira Ku" was named Best Film at the 29th Malaysian Film Festival (FFM 29) held recently.
The drama which was created with a humble budget of RM600 thousand, was shot in mere two weeks with no gimmicks or special effects whatsoever – just honest storytelling told from the heart.
Based on a true story, the movie features the real-life students from SMK Pinang Tunggal, the school which won a major choral speaking competition in 2015.
Directed by Eric Ong and written by Jason Chong, the movie also took home the Best Actress award via Sangeeta Krishnasamy and Best Original Story via Jason Chong.
The story follows a bunch of students from a small countryside school in Kedah where most of them are unable to speak or read in English properly, but under the guidance of their English teacher, they eventually became the champions of a choral speaking competition.
At FFM 29, Cinema Online talked to the "Adiwira Ku" duo, Eric Ong and Jason Chong, who shared their journey and inspiration of making this underdog story.
Cinema Online: What do you think is the winning factor for "Adiwira Ku"?
Eric: It is the honesty of this film. We made this film from our hearts and it is a hundred percent based on a true story. That is why Jason also won the Best Original Story award. Most importantly, our actors and actresses already gave their best performances in the film. It is an everyday story that is able to touch people's heart.
Jason: I believe we all faced a similar childhood. So I guess we managed to bring the jury members back to those times.
How did this story eventually become a film?
Jason: It almost became a drama series, but we wanted it to be a film. We sent the idea to a certain studio, but it got rejected. So we decided to fork out our own pocket money and make the film. Since the film doesn't have a huge budget, thus it has no gimmick. It's a straight-forward, back-to-basic storytelling which relies on the strength of the story's content and the honest acting from the cast.
Jason Chong who is the writer of the film, won Best Original Story at FFM 29
Would you say that this win is expected?
Eric: Not at all. Because our competitors are quite strong, and the competitors are the directors that I look up to, like U-Wei, Saw Teong Hin and Dain Said. I admire them so much.
Jason: Not to mention, this is our first attempt, and who knew that we would hit the jackpot! So I guess this means that we have to try even harder for our next project in order to maintain our reputation.
What do you have to say about Sangeeta's win for Best Actress?
Jason: I rooted for her because we know how hard it is for her to get into character. She was diagnosed with dengue fever during the shoot which we weren't aware of at that time, but she kept on acting. She only told us about it when she almost fainted, even then she wanted to finish her scene.
Eric: That shows how dedicated she is to her job and character, so I think she deserved to win the Best Actress award.
Jason: She also played the role of a leader on the set, because she was surrounded by teenage students who weren't even actors or actresses to begin with. That can be a challenge itself because if you're acting with a fellow actor, it would be easier to cope as you're both experienced, but if you're acting with amateurs, it can either be very good or very bad. Luckily, the students are very good.
What was it like working with the students?
Jason: It was fantastic. They are very enthusiastic and ready to accept a challenge. I told Sangeeta that if they are as good as how they are in the choral speaking, then they can definitely nail their role in the film.
"Adiwira Ku" is Sangeeta's first Malay film.
Will you continue making this sort of inspirational films?
Eric: We will continue to make films that inspire people and we will also try other genres.
Jason: Our next project will be about World War II, for which we are still planning for. Maybe next year.
What was it about the story that made you want to tell people about it?
Jason: It's an underdog story. I regard myself as an underdog as well, and tonight is also the perfect example, we are the underdogs. So it's a great underdog story that teaches us that nothing is impossible. We have to believe that we can be successful and that our fate won't change if we don't be the change. That's the message that the film is trying to highlight.
Eric: If we have that mind-set we can achieve success. To be honest, the whole production team reflects this. We made this film with a really small budget, but we did the best that we could, and our hard work is appreciated today.
Two of the students were nominated at FFM 29.
This year, it seems that smaller budget films with humanity themes won the major awards at FFM. What are your thoughts on this?
Jason: I think it's great that the ceremony is more diverse this time. This means that everything goes back to the basics now – just honest storytelling and a great story. Previously, big budgeted commercial films ruled FFM, but this time, it is proven that even small-scale films are given the opportunity. So I believe that this can serve as an encouragement to many local filmmakers. Because lately our industry has been quite strained and not everyone has the huge budget to produce a film. So with our win, we hope that it can be an inspiration for other filmmakers.
In "Adiwira Ku" you featured a lot of new faces. For your next film, will you be doing the same?
Jason: Yes. If you've seen my previous films, I would always try to introduce new talents. Because we need new talents for the next generation instead of using the same faces all the time.
Do you think it's a good idea that the nominees were not revealed earlier on before the awards ceremony?
Jason: In terms of creating attention, then yes. For the past two weeks, the whole industry including myself has had trouble sleeping at night because everyone keeps talking about it. Judging by the turnout tonight, it is a good move because pretty much everyone from the industry is here.
Cinema Online, 26 September 2017