Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Al Jafree & Oscar Wilde



 Al Jafree Md Yusop talks to theSun about his experience of turning the famous play The Importance Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde into a Malay film. Here is the full story  

Headline: Al Jafree on Being Earnest 
By Bissme S

The first time Al Jafree Md Yusop  read Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was at the age of 15. He was immediately attracted to the material in this Irish playwright’s play, one of Wilde’s most witty and sarcastic  works.
“That was the first time I realised that you can be critical and funny at the same time,” he says, adding that some of these great  comedies have the ability “to make us laugh about ourselves without us realising it”.
Although Wilde wrote the play over a hundred years ago and it was first staged in 1895, it’s still relevant today, Al Jafree adds.
The scriptwriter then decided to translate Wilde’s play into into Bahasa Malaysia. However, it was only in 1991 that he was able to start work on the translation.
“[Wilde’s] play has a dry sense of humour,” says the scriptwriter-director.
“Everyone kept insisting that I would not be able to capture this essence in Bahasa  Malaysia.
But I wanted to prove that Wilde’s work can be adapted into the Malay culture, in the Malay language, and in a  Malay atmosphere.”
It took another 10 years before actor-director Adlin Aman Ramlie presented Al Jafree’s Bahasa Malaysia version of The Importance of Being Earnest on stage. The 2001 play received rave reviews and standing ovations.
Now, 16 years later, Al Jafree sees another of his dream finally coming true – a film version of the Wilde play based on his translated script.
“I wanted my script to reach a bigger audience, and I thought a film would be the apt medium to do that.”
This time, Al Jafree is the one helming the film, Mencari Rahmat which will likely open in cinemas at the end of the year. The film also marks his d├ębut as a feature film director. In the past, he has only directed TV dramas. 
Mencari Rahmat centres on successful businessman Razak, the adopted son of a rich couple who died in a car crash, leaving him to look after his adoptive parents’ only granddaughter, his niece Ratna.
However, Razak is also a hard-partying ladies man, which he has kept hidden from Ratna. Whenever Razak needs to visit the big city for some wild party fun, he tells Ratna that he is going to see his troublesome younger brother Rahmat. In reality, Rahmat does not exist.
However, one lie leads to another, and Razak’s charade slowly gets exposed, culminating in a hilarious case of mistaken identity.
Playing Razak is veteran actor Namron.  Others in the cast include Amerul  Affendi, Nadia Aqilah,  Sharifah Amani, Fauziah Nawi, and  Azman Hassan.
As to the relevance of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest in these modern times, Al Jafree says: “There is a saying that a man is born free but everywhere he goes, he is in chains. The play captures this saying aptly. There are a lot of things we don’t do because we are afraid society will judge us. Society is the worst prison known to mankind.”
Al Jafree cites the example of unwed mothers who kill their infants the moment they are born.
“The mothers kill their children not because they do not love their babies,” he says.
“[They] kill them because they are afraid  society will judge them  harshly.”   
While the Bahasa  Malaysia version of this play performed on stage was a smashing success, it might not work on screen. 
Al Jafree is willing to take the risk, adding: “When a young filmmaker named George Lucas wanted to film his space opera Star Wars, not many peoplewere keen [on it].  In the end, he managed to
make the film with a modest budget. Now look at how Star Wars has grown.
“The same  scepticism was shown to Steven Spielberg when he wanted to make Jawsand to Francis Ford  Coppolla who  wanted to make The Godfather
“Their films are now iconic in Hollywood. We need a certain kind of courage if we want to make  positive changes in the  Malaysian film industry.” 
Al Jafree also points to directors like the late Akira Kurosawa who had adapted well-known plays like William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear into  Japanese films. He adds that it is about time the  Malaysian film industry follow suit

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rizal Hallim & Lurking Woods


Malaysian director Rizal Halim has just directed an Australian suspense thriller, Lurking Woods  and he speaks to theSun about his experience. The story was published in theSun today. Read the full the story here 

Headline: A Dream Come True 
By Bissme S
 

Malaysian director Rizal Halim has just  directed his first feature film, an Australian suspense thriller movie titled Lurking Woods.
Opening in cinemas here on April 6, the RM1.2 million movie follows a group of six  university students who are  seeing each other again after a year apart. They then decide to spend a weekend in a cabin in the woods. Unknown to them, a masked man has been spying on them from the moment they arrive. One by one, the friends are slowly killed off.The movie stars Daniel Berenger, Hope Devaney, Troy Coward, Dominique Shenton, Kyle James Sargon, Chloe Brown and Michael Rainone. 
Rizal promises plenty of twists and turns in the movie to keep the audience in suspense.
“I use the rustic landscape of Australia to add an air of eeriness to the scene,” says this actor-turned-director.
“The landscape is one of the attractions in the film.”    
He also believes that since the movie is in English, he has an easier access to worldwide distribution. Rizal, who was born in Batu Gajah in Perak, attributed his interests in the arts to his parents.
“My mother was a teacher and she started a theatre club in the school where she was teaching and I was a student there,” he recalls.
The theatre club went on to compete in several performing arts competitions and he believes that was where he caught the acting bug. His late father, who was also a teacher, loved photography. 
“I remembered he had many cameras,” says Rizal, adding that his father’s interest sparked a similar passion in him for photography as well as using the camera to tell stories.
Rizal went on to act in several Malaysian films and television productions. He even had a chance to appear in Hollywood movies such as Beyond Rangoon and Anna &  the King. Over the years, he started writing film scripts and taking short courses in film
directing.
In the meantime, to support his passion, he took on other jobs such as a temporary teacher, a bank employee, a deejay in shopping malls and even as a manager of two cinemas.
“I was watching a lot of movies when I was managing the cinemas,” he recalls with a laugh.
“I remember watching Jurassic Park 76 times! As time passed, I realised that I did not want to just watch movies, I wanted to make them.”   
In 2014, he co-directed with M. Jamil on the Malaysian cult movie, Dia.Then, he worked as a director of photography for the short film, Still Life,about a forced marriage.The short was shown at the Cannes Film Festival the same year.
His friend, Malaysian-born Rod Manikam who has a production house in Australia, heard of his small success at Cannes and wanted to watch the short. 
“I met Rod for the first time 10 years ago when we were acting in a Malaysian Chinese-language film called Hired Killers,” says Rizal.
“We both played policemen and became friends after that.” 
Rod was impressed with Still Life and the next thing Rizal knew, the two of them were in discussion to make a film together, which led to Lurking Woods.
Rizal is already working on his second film, again set in Australia, called Tainted Getaway.It also has an Australian cast. This romantic action film centres on a Russian girl who comes to the Australian city of Perth to suprise her boyfriend working there. She gets a rude shock when she learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. At the same time, a prison convict who is on the run after escaping from the police, takes the girl as a hostage. Slowly, a romance develops between the hostage and e kidnapper.
Things seem to be going well for Rizal but he admits: “My road to success has not been an easy one. There were a lot of disappointments, failures and obstacles. But you can’t let them break you. They are supposed to make you strong.”

In t

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bade Azmi & Sindiket



Today theSun published my interview with Bade Azmi who speaks about his film Sindiket that deals with the controversial topic of  human trafficking 

Headline: Trafficking In Pain 
By Bissme S

Director Bade Azmi daringly tackles the dark and risky topic of human trafficking in his latest film, Sindiket . 
“A lot of Malaysian police action movies feature the subject of drugs,” explains the 52-yearold. 
“I wanted to be different.” 
Opening in cinemas on April 6, the RM3 million movie centres on Inspector Rudy (played by Sharnaaz Ahmad) and Inspector Sabrina (Daphne Iking), who are trying to bring down a crime organisation under the evil Galang (Rashidi Ishak), who specialises in human trafficking. 
At the same time, the film depicts what happens to the victims of human trafficking, by following two college girls Amira (Sharifah Amani) and Noreen (Liyana Jasmay), who are kidnapped and lured into prostitution. 
Before writing the screenplay, and as a part of his research, Bade (right) watched many documentaries and read a lot of reports on human trafficking. 
“From my research, I learned that human trafficking is the second highest crime committed, after drug trafficking, in the world,” he says.  
“There is a lot of money to be made from human trafficking, and that motivates many crime organisations to get involved. I would not be surprised that in the future, human trafficking may even [overtake] drug trafficking as the most committed crime.” 
While it is a major part of his film’s plot, Bade explained that he wants to dispel the commonly-held view that human trafficking is all about kidnapping young girls and forcing them into prostitution. “Human trafficking is more than just about young girls being duped into prostitution and sex,” he says. 
“Sometimes, people of all ages, including children, get kidnapped and killed for their organs. Some are forced [into slave labour]. 
“Human trafficking is a painful subject. People are forced to do things that they do not like. The way I see it, human trafficking is modern-day slavery.” 
Despite tackling such dark themes, Bade has made sure Sindiket has enough fast-paced action scenes to keep the audience entertained. 
“I want my audience to be aware of this issue, but I also want them to enjoy the film,” he says. 
“I do not want to present a documentary. I have to balance the seriousness of the subject with the entertainment value.” 
Bade is more than familiar with what it takes to produce a good action film, having helmed acclaimed productions such as KL Menjerit (2002), Gangster (2005) and Castello (2006). 
He says: “Some people have the impression that when you make an action film, you do not 
[that] all you need are fast-paced action scenes. 
“Let me tell you that they are wrong. Good movies are all about emotions and the only way you can stir emotions in your audience is if you have a strong storyline. If you look back at my movies, you will see that I always have a strong storyline [in them].” 
Bade also talked about another one of his films, which is currently showing in cinemas – the historical biopic Kanang Anak Langkau, The Iban Warrior.  This film is based on the true story of decorated war hero and Iban warrior Sergeant Kanang Anak Langkau, who bravely fought the communists during the insurgency period from the 1960s to 1980s.  
 “All my previous films are fiction except for this one,” he says. 
“I have to make sure I do not run away from the facts. The last thing I want to do is to bastardise history.” 
Bade wishes he could have spoken to Kanang himself as part of research for his movie but unfortunately, the warrior passed away in 2013. Bade instead did the next best thing, and interviewed some of the soldiers who served under Kanang’s command. He even spoke to the late 
sergeant’s family members. 
“I wanted to get an [idea] of what this man was like,” he says. 
Bade even managed to persuade the war hero’s youngest son, Corporal Langgi Anak Kanang – himself a soldier – to play his father in the film. Others in the cast include Adi Putra, Johan Asari, Zach XFactor, Adam Shahz, Livonia Guing and Ruzana Ibrahim. 
“This movie is about people who made sacrifices so we have a safer nation,” he says. 
“Only when we have a safe nation, we can progress, and we can have development. We must never take our safety and our freedom for granted.”  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deborah Chan & Live to Last


Yesterday theSun published my interview Deborah Chan who had give up her high paying corporate job to help the needy. Read the full story below 

Headline: Giving Up For The Needy 
By Bissme S

In 2014 , Deborah Chan  and husband Terence Ooi left their high paying corporate jobs and cozy lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur and, together with their one-year-old son Seth, moved to the rural countryside of Battambang in Cambodia. 
“My husband and I wanted to take a year off from our jobs and make a commitment to philanthropy,” says Chan, 35, who was in the tourism industry, while her husband, 34, was with an IT company. 
Partnering with an international NGO in Cambodia, the couple decided to help build four literacy centres for village children who otherwise would not have a chance to be educated. The project was supposed to be for a year, but the couple extended their stay for another year.  
“What we did, did not make sense to a lot of people,” says Chan, who studied for a degree in journalism in Perth, Australia.  
 “We were making good money and climbing the corproate ladder. We had just become parents. Most people in our shoes would probably stay on with their corporate jobs and enjoy the benefits. But our need to contribute, to make society a better place, was far stronger, so we took the risk to come out from our comfort zone. You do not have to wait until your hair turns grey to do good things.” 
Chan, who has over 12 years of experience in community development projects and mission works, knew she would meet resistance from friends and family. 
“But in the end, I received more support than resistance,” she says. Adjusting to life in a foreign land – and to their roles as philanthropists – was not easy. They had to go through many lifestyle changes. For starters, they had to use motorbikes and bicycles to get around, instead of the cars they were used to driving. 
“Grocery shopping felt like a chore, and I often returned home sticky, sweaty and covered with dust,” she recalls. 
There were also issues with the house they rented in Cambodia. It was vacant a year before Chan and her family move in, and as a result, creepy crawlies had taken residence. 
“There were giant spiders the size of my palm, and snakes and scorpions in the garden,” she says. 
They could not enjoy any privacy in their own home either. They had to open their doors to visiting volunteers from overseas. In the end, they got used to sharing their home with total strangers.       “When you open your world to many people, you will have many meaningful friendships and conversations,” she says. 
In the end, all their sacrifices were worth it, when they saw their work had brought tremendous joy to the children. Now, Chan and her husband are back in Malaysia, where they were supposed to resume their professional careers. But that did not happen either. They have embarked on yet another philanthropy project. Based in Kota Kinabalu this time, they are working with NGOs to educate and mentor children and youths in rural areas.  
Chan explains that most of the children do not live near their school, and they would spend two hours to travel to school, and another two hours to get home. So they decided to raise funds to build a hostel near the schools for the children, who will only return home on weekends. 
“For those parents who cannot afford to pay [the hostel fees], we have a barter system with them,” she says. 
“Since most of them are farmers, they will give us what they plant. For those parents who are not farmers, they can offer their services to the hostel, such as cooking and cleaning.”
Chan has set down all their experiences in a memoir, Live to Last. Describing the reason for writing the book, Chan says: “My memoir describes the life lessons I have learned. I believe in the power of storytelling, and its ability to inspire people. 
“I hope my memoir will inspire readers to learn [from] my life lessons and craft their own journey with less U-turns.” 
An interesting chapter describes one experience when she was 18 and an intern with an organisation called Metro Ministries International in New York, which provides education to troubled street children. It was 2001, and she was a witness to the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. 
“I was at the World Trade Centre just a week before the tragedy, as a tourist and snapping pictures,” she recalls.  
She has not forgotten the nightmarish scene, and believe life has given her a second chance. Hence, she wants to dedicate herself to help and inspire others. 
When asked who inspired her, Chan cites her late grandmother Ruby. 
“She loved telling me the stories of her life. She was a midwife who would travel from one village to another to deliver babies. She would give her services for free to those who could not afford to pay. 
“I will always be indebted to my grandmother for her kindness, and her passion for telling stories." 

Footnote : Live to Last is available at major bookstores at RM35.90



Monday, March 6, 2017

Jins Shamsuddin Remembered

The well known Malaysian actor, director and producer Jins Shamsuddin passed away recently. As a tribute piece to the legendary Jins Shamsuddin, I have reproduce an interview I have done with him years ago where he talks about his experience making the historical epic Bukit Kepong. 

Headline:A Warrior of a Man
By Bissme S

On March 1, the Malaysian movie industry lost a talent who had beensynonymous with modern films –Tan Sri Jins Shamsuddin, who died age 81.
A veteran actor of nearly 50 films and director of 10, Jins is best 
remembered for his 1981 iconic film, Bukit Kepong, that was based on a true event that took place during the Malayan Emergency.
On Feb 23, 1950, some 180 members of the Malayan Communist Party attacked a police station in Bukit Kepong, Johor, manned by 18 policemen who defended the station and the civilians until the end.
Jins not only played the leading role of Sergeant Jamil Md Shah but also directed and produced the film, which went on to win eight awards at the third Malaysian Film Festival, including for best film, best director and best actor. The film has since been remastered into high definition in 2015.
Years ago, I managed to get Jins to share his experience on his epic
movie in an interview published in theSun on Aug 30, 1999.
To me, what he said about his experience acting, directing and producing Bukit Kepong summed up the man that he was and the legend he would become.Here is an excerpt of that interview in Jins’ own words:

“For six years, the script by the police authorities was floating around. No producer dared to take on the project. A big budget was required for the movie and there was no assurance that it would
succeed at the box office.
“The then Inspector of Royal Malaysia Police (Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar) approached me. I had been making family dramas such as Menanti Hari Esok, Tiada Esok Bagimu, Esok Masih Ada, among others whose successes led other producers to jump onto the bandwagon.
“Eager to set another trend, I agreed to make Bukit Kepong. Filming began in 1980. The cast and crew of more than 400 people spent more than six months at Bukit Kepong. I was the first to arrive and the last to leave.
“During those days, there were no hotels around the place. Everybody stayed at the mosque and in private houses. I turned the Penghulu complex into a big office where I stayed and worked.
“The budget for the film was RM1.3 million. It was a huge budget in 1980. I had to take a loan from the bank. To rebuild the whole village for the set alone cost RM80,000. I was taking a huge gamble.
“Luckily, the movie collected more than RM1.7 million at the box office. Many people returned for a second viewing. It also attracted the non-Malay crowd.
“The police were very supportive and supplied 40,000 blank ammunition and 400 varieties of guns for the filming. They even assigned 180 Chinese policemen to act in the movie [and] provided security arrangements for the film crew.
“But I had difficulty getting Bukit Kepong’s Chinese residents to act as extras.They felt the movie would be a negative portrayal of their ancestors who had helped the communities under threats of death.
“I played the part of Sergeant Jamil and suffered a scar across
my stomach from some blank bullets. My mother passed away during the filming so I had to rush back to Taiping for the funeral.
“I also had problem with the censorship board. They did not like the idea of Malay and Chinese at war and suspended the film.
“My office in Kuala Lumpur was located at Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, near the golf course where the [then] Yang DiPertuan Agong [Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang] played. The Agong used to drop by my office. I took the opportunity to mention the Bukit Kepong suspension.
“Upon his Majesty intervention, the Home Minister agreed to release the film on two conditions.The first was the inclusion in the film a preamble by a notable figure to talk about the incident. I managed to get our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to do it.
“Second, the movie must only be shown after the elections. Bukit Kepong was completed in 1980 but only hit the cinemas in 1982. After the movie was completed, three surviving policemen confirmed it was a very accurate portrayal of the event.
“I wanted it to be screened in the Asia Pacific Film Festival. But the jury thought it was unsuitable.”
Jins had intended to make another patriotic movie, Pasir Salak, based on the murder of the first British Resident J.W.W. Birch in Perak.
According to him, most of our history was written from the British
point of view and he wanted to show this incident from our local viewpoint.
“The Pasir Salak Project faced many hurdles along the way. One of the biggest was the budget. Some British producers agreed to pump in RM120 million but they wanted a change the storyline.
“They wanted to portray Birch as the hero and the Malay community as barbaric. I disagreed and even threatened to sue if they went ahead and made the movie based on my script.”
Sadly, Jins was never able to turn his Pasir Salak Project into a reality.Nevertheless, his contribution to the Malaysian Film industry will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, Jins. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

LiteraCity


Today theSun highlights my interview with Zikri Rahman, Nurul Aizam and Ridhwan Saidi on their interesting project LiteraCity: Kuala Lumpur  Literary Fragments

Headline: Turning the Pages On KL City 
By Bissme S

OUR NATION’S capital, Kuala Lumpur, takes centrestage in a unique new publication that is the brainchild of local writers Zikri Rahman, Nurul Aizam and Ridhwan Saidi. 
LiteraCity: Kuala Lumpur  Literary Fragments is their attempt to depict the city through the lens of Malaysian literature, focusing on novels, short stories, poems and plays. 
“We hope that the book will excite readers to hold open discussions about [the nature of] our city,” Zikri says. 
“We are trying to explore the connection between space and 
literature. We are looking at how imagination helps to [create] a place. We wanted to do re search [that we could] share with the masses, not just with  academics.” 
Zikri was the one who came up with the idea, and Ridhwan and Nurul joined him on the project, which took about a year to complete.  
Both Ridhwan and Zikri contributed their own essays to the book. They also interviewed about 30 local artists, writers and activists to discuss these luminaries’ favourite literary works that featured Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, they were only able to include 10 interviews in LiteraCity. 
Despite this, the book managed to reference or discuss 150 works of literature spanning 45 years, from 1970 to 2015. It is the team’s hope that LiteraCity will help shine a light on some of the more obscure titles mentioned, and perhaps even encourage readers to search these works out. 
Zikri added that the team was unable to include works in languages other than Bahasa Malaysia or English, because the team “lacked the mastery” of other languages. 
I found the interviews in the book very intriguing and eyeopening. To me, the best is the interview with national laureate A. Samad Said, in which he gives an insight into his early years as an author. 
A. Samad says: “During my time, the writer is first a journalist. Becoming a journalist makes it easier to reflect on events and meet people. From there, we shape it into drama, short stories, poems and we insert our thoughts, opinions and messages.” 
He also shares his own memories of the city, including why a certain location in Kampung Baru is known  colloquially as Jambatan Gesel, and even recalled when his own “mischievous nature” drove him to explore the notorious ‘belakang mati’ (dead-end) areas in Kuala Lumpur, where he would talk to prostitutes. 
In another interview, writer and literary critic Chuah Guat Eng points out the tendency for writers of novels set in contemporary Kuala Lumpur to touch on crime and co rruption. She adds that in her own stories, she uses the city as a metaphor. In her early writing, the city is used to illustrate the impact development has had on the environment. 
Meanwhile, award-winning author Wan Nor Azriq in his interview describes a short story that caught my attention – Dari Luar Kurungan by Razak Mamat. The plot centres on the main character who visits Zoo Negara and feels pity for the caged animals. He then opens all the cage doors to allow the animals to escape. Azriq also mentions Roslan Jomel, whose short stories focus on characters in the city who feel isolated and alienated. 
Publisher Amir Muhammad, in his interview, points out two plays by Jit Murad – Gold Rain and Hailstones, which focuses on the lives of the rich, young urban folk, as well as A Flight Delayed, which takes place at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport).   Amir adds that A Flight Delayed could very well be the first play to take place in KLIA. 
Controversial author Faisal Tehrani also appears in LiteraCity, where he discusses his short story, Perempuan Anggerik, which touches on the racial riots that took place in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. He recalls: “I relied on my mother’s stories when she [was] working at Kuala Lumpur Hospital. She would tell me about staying back to handle the emergency cases.” 
LiteraCity is an unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Kuala Lumpur. Nurul, who edited the book, points out that readers can see the changes in the landscape of Kuala Lumpur over the four decades, through the works mentioned in the interviews. 
“I cannot see the KL the same way any more after getting involved in this project,” she says. 
“I can [now] feel the richness of KL. I can feel [the city] is more vibrant.”

Footnote : LiteraCity is now available at most bookstores at RM30.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Adiwiraku

Film director Eric Ong talks to theSun about his first feature film Adiwiraku that tells a true story of a teacher making difference in the live of her students .... Read the full story here


 
 Headline: To Gigku With  Love 
By Bissme S

CHERYL ANN FERNANDO left the comfort of her home in Kuala Lumpur to teach English in a rural school in Sungei Petani, Kedah, from 2013 to 2015. She faced countless problems such as poverty, absenteeism, and family conflicts among her students. Despite all that, she was determined to help her students overcome their fear of speaking in English. To give them more
confidence, she set up an English Choral Speaking team to take part in a competition.
“She was teaching high school students who could not even spell properly,” says 52year-old Eric Ong, who was so inspired by her determination that he turned her struggles into a film, Adiwiraku.  The two-hour biopic opens in cinemas on March 9.
Ong adds: “Instead of just complaining and [trying to shift responsibility], she took matters into her own hands and found ways to change the situation for the better. Her story is very inspirational. 

"Today, our society is filled with critics and complainers. They are eager to point out the flaws in our system, in our laws, and in our society.  Criticism and complaints do not lead anywhere. We should be more like Cheryl Ann.
“Whenever we see a flaw, instead of just  complaining and  criticising, perhaps we should find  solutions to make the  situation better.”
Playing Cheryl Ann in Adiwiraku is local model and actress Sangeeta Krishnasamy. Others in the cast include Xavier Fong, Wan Azlyn, Farra Safwan, Ahmad Adnin Zidane, Irdina Tasmin, Balqis Sani, and Rizal Fahmi. Ong has also cast some of Cheryl Ann’s real-life students in the film.
“I [gave] them some acting workshops before they faced the camera,” he says.
“They were excited to be in the film. They were telling their own story. I was really satisfied with their performances.
“It’s a unique  experience for me to have people playing themselves in a biopic that I am directing. It is an experience that I will  treasure for the rest of my life.”
What about the real Cheryl Ann?
“She visited the set during filming,” Ong said.
“She was making sure my production team and I did not abuse her students (laughs).
“She cried after  watching the film. I am sure the  audience will cry, too.”
Ong recalls his favourite scene in Adiwiraku where a student, who has been missing Cheryl Ann’s classes for the last three months, suddenly reappears. The hardworking and brilliant student  easily catches up on what she has  missed in her absence.
“Then, the student goes missing again,” Ong says.
“This time, Cheryl Ann manages to track her  working at a gas station. She keeps reminding the girl about the importance of education in order for her to have a better future.
“Then, the student shocks Cheryl Ann with one question: ‘Have you ever gone without food for three days?’
“The student adds: ‘If I die from starvation, what future will I have?’ “Her answer leaves Cheryl Ann speechless. We cannot understand someone’s misery till we live in their shoes.”
Adiwiraku is Ong’s first feature film. He has more than 15 years of experience working in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia producing television programmes ranging across various genres. Ong studied films at Universiti Malaya. He has always wanted to be a filmmaker.
But it was his grandfather who first instilled the love for films in him. “During my school  holidays, I would stay with my grandfather,” says the Malaysian-born Ong, who has been living in Singapore for the last 10 years.  
“There was a cinema behind my grandfather’s house, so my grandfather and I would go watch films almost every day.”
The young Ong even befriended Ali, the cinema’s ticket collector, who secretly allowed him into the cinema for free several times.
“Ali even brought me to see what was going on behind the big screen,” he says.
“I even got to watch some movies ‘backwards’.”
Ong is now planning to direct his second feature film, another biopic that takes place in Sarawak. He refuses to reveal too much about the film, especially on its subject. 
“All I can say is that my film will highlight an inspiring story that touches on racial harmony,” he says with a smile.