Thursday, October 30, 2008


"How do you make a choice?" questioned 1900. The musician had made his way into the belly of the ship, and confronted 1900 about his decision not to leave the ship, the ship on which he had spent almost his entire life on. "I looked out, and there were rows upon rows of houses. There were hundreds and hundreds of people. How do you pick one one house to live, one place to call your own, one person to spend the rest of your life with?"

It is a question that resonates with me every once in a while. Though at times it touches upon the subject of relationships, in this particular case, it applies to...films.

There are so many films out there in the world that it is impossible to watch them all. Not that all are desirable in their own relative artistic or commercial merits. Nevertheless, even for the canonised films, who deserves the right to be called a visionary director? Who has the right to claim that one film is a 'classic'?

What is a classic, anyway? In simple terms, it is a film that you should know about. One that you should preferably have seen, but at least know about.

This question has been at the forefront of my thoughts recently, due to what can be politely termed as an awakening of sorts. In watching some of the older films in my classes, I have been introduced to some of the most interesting films I have seen in my life. One that particularly caught my eye was 'Throw Out Your Books, Go Into The Streets', a 1960s Japanese film (if I am not mistaken) that took the rulebooks of conventional cinema, tear it to pieces, have those pieces laced with dog food and then fed to various stray dogs of the neighbourhood.

Of course, that may strike you as a little over-dramatic. In the mood of a burst of creativity at the present time (working on two or three projects somehow revitalises the creative side of things, somewhat), those are the words that comes out. I have been filled with feelings of inadequacy whenever someone mentions the name of a film that sounds familiar, but more importantly, sounds like I should have seen it.

"It's not quite fair," I discussed this with a friend some time ago. "Europeans are fed on the things that are supposed to be seen as classic. I mean, I bet a lot of them grow up with these things available on late-night TV or something." Though flawed, it does have its merits, the argument; a person growing up in Paris might have seen all of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard's works. A KLite, on the other hand, might have been fed spoonfuls of 'Mekanik' instead. An exagerrated example, but one that highlights the big gulf that remains between nations even in the simple things like film appreciation. The availability of such films directly affects this; even with the rise of piracy in Malaysia, the kind of films that tends to be pirated are still American-centric. You're still more likely to find 'Kings of California' (look it up) than 'Madame Freedom' (look this up, too).

Lest this be seen as a willingness to embrace foreign culture and have bagels for breakfast, it is not that I want to watch these films just because they're foreign. Of course, they're French (or Japanese, or Swedish, or whatever), but they are important films that marks film history. Films that a filmmaker should know about. Preferably, should have seen.

Which is why I have been spending a lot of time watching movies, recently. My university library has an immense collection of the most interesting movies. I find myself reading of these movies on the third floor, and then watching them on the second floor. It is amazing.

Once again, however, the question asked at the beginning of this post remains as pertinent as ever.

In a world where canonised films are being released almost monthly, how does one watch it all? How does one even remotely cover the past century of cinematic magic?

Maybe it's not quite possible. But that's OK.

I realise that unlike 1900, I'm going to start somewhere. Somehow. I'm going to try.

God help me.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I clicked open a few windows on Youtube, preparing for some background noise as I work. I work better that way, somehow; not for me a truly isolated room, but an amalgamation of windows, inspirations, songs, videos...distractions, in a lot of ways.

I came across this video by Bruno Sammartino, a professional wrestling legend interviewed about a modern-day legend, Kurt Angle. I had known of Bruno through the various books and sources that I have read, and though I respect him as much as the next champion in wrestling history, I never really did make the extra effort to find out more about him. So I played it, and minimised the window, continuing to type away with my script.

Some moments later, I opened the Youtube window again. For some reason, I found myself being mesmerised by his voice, and also by his story. It's probably not for everyone, though. But if you're into professional wrestling, it's worth checking out.

A distraction, certainly. But a pleasant one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Bagaikan sinaran matahari di senja,

Hidup sukar dirangkupi tangan,

Kita semua tidak sempurna.

Jikalau dinafi, padah derita,

Kerana inilah jiwa, inilah kita.

*A translation for Sam Chew. Nihao :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Diaspora II

In the not-too distant future, I would be migrating from Malaysia to Perth, Australia, with my brother and his wife. A lot of people has being asking me why, although I suspect that they already knew the answers, if they are non-Malays Malaysians.

“It's gotta be the biased and unfair treatment that has long being practiced by the ruling coalition to rein in and control the minorities.” “I reckon it has to do with the bad economic conditions?” “The legendarily lame-duck government of the current PM, that must be it..” “He must be sick of playing second fiddle to a race which has being “spoiled” by the government to become weak and incompetent.”

That's all true. These factors, and more, are the major contributors to collective decisions to leave the country. However, there is also a factor of us, the migrant Chinese, the descendant of the Chinese Diaspora, being bred into believing that we are not in anyway part of the host countries' population. We are just there to work, be prosperous (usually by shady means) and hopefully, have a better life than back in China. It is not in our nature in integrate with the native population. In fact, it's often that our elders are against any such integration, which they believe will bring more woe than good. I do not know much of the opinions of the Malays about us, but I would not be surprised if they see us as intruders, often cheating them of land and business (this is often true, but in business, one has to be cruel to succeed sometimes). Therefore, we never had the feeling of being welcomed, and thus, it is often cited by our people not to have too much affinity to this country (or any country where the Chinese are the minorities).

Is there anyway that we'll be staying back? What if (I pray to God this would happen) a liberal, who had being blessed with a abundance of charisma, ideas, fairness and justice, comes into power? If this happens, I would be glad for my friends and other family members who remained behind. I would be happy for Malaysia, as she had provided me and enabled me to grow into this big,chubby, ungrateful fellow. However...we are still constantly driven by the need to shift, to move, to be nomads in our unending quest for a better place. So in classic Chinese diaspora-style, we will pack our bags and leave for that better (or...God-forbid, worse) place. To us, it's just being part of a larger sequence, that's mainly driven by economic and social means, but also by the fact that we can't find a stick strong enough to scratch the itch in the arses that had prevented us from “sitting” at one place for too long.

Ciao. May common-sense prevail.


*Read Diaspora I.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Give and Take

A breakthrough, then. A triumph, of sorts.You claw at the wall, scratching it bitterly. You fight, tooth and nail. Sometimes, you feel as if you might be able to climb the wall. To clamber over, swing your legs above the top of the hurdle and get down safely on the other side. You feel as if, in some ways, you are making progress.

"Fikri," my teacher called out to me as soon as he announced the end of the class. With the sounds of "Thank you, sir" still ringing clearly in my ears, I made my way over to him. "The film you presented," he continued, as he put his folders inside his bag, "where can I get it?"

Two weeks ago, he had told me that we'll be looking at the short films that we like. Having somewhat exhausted his and our own options, our job, then, was to get the short films, of whichever kind and type, and make a presentation about it in class. Not entirely difficult, mind you, and on paper; it's the sort of thing I could do in my sleep.

If that particular paper was written in English. I am lucky enough to be studying here in Korea, and until the day I day, I will be indebted to a lot of other people who had decided my course and fate to occur here. A side effect of that, however, is that I have to work on my Korean. Pronto.

There is, of course, learning the language, and then there is actually using it. Like almost any other language, I'm willing to bet that what we learn and what we learn is as different as night and day. Slangs, acronyms, speed, dialects, enunciation, and other such barriers also stand in the way. And then there's the jargon that's specific to the field I'm in. Final Cut Pro? With the interface in Korean, it's more like Final Cut Amateur.

There is learning, and then there is using what we learn.

Quite frankly, my Korean is not that great. I had learned aplenty, but there is still a big gap from where I am and where I, need to be. My first semester almost literally passed me over, and I had to fight incredibly hard to ignore the feelings of irrelevance, of not being able to contribute and take on board the experience, knowledge, and skill as much as I had wanted. I pushed deep down the sense that when others talk, they're talking at me; when they laugh, I'm the butt of their jokes; when their voices lower as I walk past, it is my name that's engraved underneath the word 'SUBJECT'. Of course, this isn't the actual case. Most probably not. But it is the feeling here that I am trying to get explain. For the longest time, it was (and still can be) an uncomfortable one.

For the shortest time, I considered throwing the towel in.

But today was different. When my teacher suggested that I do the presentation, I didn't hesitate even for a moment to select Ahmed Imamovic's '10 Minutes'.

I discussed what the film meant to me, how I came across it as I sought inspiration by typing 'short film' on Youtube. I talked about the style, and how the short film, along with Song Il-gon's 'The Magicians', had a direct influence on my directorial vision. I spoke of how it is a film that perfectly embodies the world as it is; as I am writing this now, safe in my bed, a family is being bombed somewhere in the world. It is a fact that we all know, but the film hits home an emotional reminder squarely between the eyes.

"Sure," I rushed back to my desk, took the DVD, and gave it to him. "You can have this one, sir."

Almost immediately after that, another of my classmate asked the same question.

And then another.

The gap is still there, mind you. However, it's getting smaller and smaller. Finally, I have contributed something.

I just wanted to share the wonderful feeling it was.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On The ReBound

*Pictures taken by Chungpo Tsering and Liang Huei from the Studio 904 production, "Bound". Starring Kim Tae-yoon and Son Sung-min. Art directed by Wong Shea Li. Sound designed by Kim Nam-young. Produced by Fikri Jermadi and Ju Bou-jeong. Photographed by Wang Yumeng. Written and directed by Fikri Jermadi.


Think not of the times of yesteryears.

The wind from the East Sea grazed our skin, chilling us slightly as I sat cross-legged. Well, almost; the newspapers spread out did not provide for much space for us to begin with. I had found more comfort initially pulling my knees up to my chest. Alas, the passage of time eventually wore me down. My legs ached, I sought a new position instead.

Think not of those who are past.

The antics of the Koreans are interesting, to note. To the left, a group of rowdy filmmakers were shouting loudly. Clearly drunk from their endeavours, the flames are further fanned by their egos: "I am a FILMMAKER! I am a PRODUCER! I can make BIG THINGS!"

Think not even of the ones who no longer remain relevant.

The ajumma walked closely to us, having inspected us from afar. Inspected us for what? Why, to sell items to us, of course. Fireworks, beer, rice cakes, even folding mats to sit on. Not that many people had the tendency to plan ahead. But then again, this is the beach; you don't plan anything. There is no plan, really. There is, however, going. And there is the beach. There is going to the beach.

Beyond that?

Think, instead, of the future.

Beyond that, there is swimming, perhaps. You'd have to be a bit mad to even dip your toes in at this time of night at this time of the year. Not the coldest, certainly. A certain amount of shrinkage, however, would definitely ensure.

There is also the young blooms of love, of the starting point of an exciting affair. The first time the eyes crosses their path, the first time the heart flutters momentarily, the first words spoken in an almost nervous whisper...

...or just the first time a white guy tries to grab a Korean girl's boobs.

Think of the possibilities of a world without boundaries. Of a world where we do not change the past, do not modify the remnants of what have been, but instead...

Later on, I spotted the two of them kissing. "DOGGY!!" we shouted at them.

...instead, think of you, me, we...not change the world as it is now into something better.

Instead, think of how we can start a whole new world. Together.

And talking. Lots and lots of talking. Of life, of love, of the little things that makes things unbearable at times, and yet how such surprises keeps us guessing right to the very end. Endless, mindless, boundless talks.

Change nothing. Let it all go. And then start again. Right here.

Right now.

That is what happens at the beach.