This blog highlights some of the interesting interviews I have done as a journalist with the Sun newspaper. I really believe what makes these interview interesting is their honest answers to the questions I throw at them. Hope you enjoy reading these interviews as much as I had fun writing them. If the readers of the blog wants to write to me, they can do at this email(firstname.lastname@example.org)
MALAYSIAN producer Joanne Goh will be going to New York next month to promote her film Nina Wu.
THE film will have a gala premiere in New York on March 14, and subsequently, it will be shown in cinemas in New York and Los Angeles from March 20.
The film is a joint venture between Goh’s company Jazzy Pictures and production houses from Taiwan and Myanmar.
The film deals with the controversial subject of sexual harassment in the Taiwanese film industry.
Under the direction of award-winning Taiwanese director Midi Z, the film first premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival last year.
The moment Goh, 44, returns from New York, she will not have a moment of rest. She has to immediately promote her latest film Takut Tak, a horror-comedy that will hit cinemas on April 2.
The story focuses on five film students who want to shoot a movie in a haunted house.
She explains: “We have hired a new up-and-coming director Muzzamer Rahman to direct this film. He knows what young cinemagoers are looking for. We also [added] some CG effects to enhance the level of horror for certain scenes.”
Takut Tak is Goh’s first attempt at producing a horror-comedy, and she is looking forward to seeing audience reactions to the film.
“As a young girl, I loved watching films and film award shows,” says Goh, who was born in Ipoh and raised in Kuala Lumpur.
“I never imagined I would ever get involved in the film industry.”
It’s an amazing achievement for someone who only became involved in film production three years ago.
Her career began in 1995 in an I.T. company in Singapore, where she handled surveillance for banks and private companies.
Just two years later, she set up her own company, Jazzy Groups.
Goh, who has a degree in marketing, says: “My dad had a hardware shop (he has since retired). I admire my dad for his entrepreneurship. I wanted to be like him, owning my own business. I did not want to stay in my comfort zone.”
Her company eventually diversified into the entertainment industry. She organised concerts and managed singers from Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
Some of the well-known names she has worked with include Wang Lee Hom, Aaron Kwok, Raymond Lam, Twins, and G.E.M.
In 2017 she set up Jazzy Pictures and co-produced her first film, the groundbreaking Crossroads: One Two Jaga (2018), which daringly dealt with the topics of illegal immigration and police corruption.
She says: “When I wanted to produce this film, everyone said I was crazy. The film could have easily gotten banned because it deals with corruption. But I loved the story very much, and I am a risk taker.”
Her gamble paid off handsomely. The film played at several international film festivals to rave reviews.
It also grabbed six awards at the 2019 Malaysian Film Festival for best film, best director, best actor, best screenplay, best original story and best poster.
Currently she is working on several film projects with production houses from Hong Kong, China and Thailand.
“We are also looking to work with Hollywood producers in the future, and we are slowly building networks in Hollywood,” she says.
Currently she is working with renowned Indian director Rajkumar Hirani on an adaptation of his hit Bollywood film 3 Idiots in Mandarin with a Chinese cast.
She says: “I love Rajkumar Hirani films. They have strong stories. Movies with strong stories always appeal to me.”
The new film was supposed to have been shot in China at the beginning of the year.
She says: “Everything has to be postponed because [of the Covid-19] outbreak. We did not want put our cast and crew at risk. We will only go to China when it is safe to shoot.”
Goh is also the founder of the Malaysia International Film Festival (MIFFest) and Malaysia Golden Global Awards (MGGA), which started in 2017.
Under the festivals’ banners, some prestigious names from the Southeast Asian film industry have been invited to Malaysia to give talks on their craft, including Rajkumar, Midi Z, Joko Anwar (Indonesia) and Brillante Mendoza (the Philippines).
Goh admits her ultimate dream is to invite her all-time favourite actress Meryl Streep to the festival to give a talk on acting.
“My team is currently talking to her team,” she says. “I love all her performances.”
Goh is hoping that negotiations will be successful, and I am sure she is not alone in keeping her fingers crossed.
I am sure many out there will be thrilled to have the three-time Oscar winning actress on our shores.
AWARD-WINNING Taiwanese director Chao Te-yin, 36, better known as Midi Z, boldly tackles the subject of sexual harassment within the film industry in his new film, Nina Wu.
This psychological thriller centres on aspiring actress Nina Wu (played by Wu Ke-xi), who gets her first plum role in a spy film after eight years of struggling to be noticed.
But her euphoria is soon dashed by the director who bullies and humiliates her, even slapping her on set, as well as forcing her to perform explicit sex scenes. She is also nearly killed when one of the special effects goes wrong.
All the abuse also triggers a terrible memory she has been trying to suppress.
All of this begins to take a horrible toll on Nina, and the line between reality and fiction begins to blur for her.
Lead actress Wu wrote the script last year and showed it to Midi. Impressed with the script, he decided to adapt it to film, as well as to direct and produce it.
Midi, who was recently in Kuala Lumpur for the 3rd Malaysia International Film Festival, explained: “There are a handful of films that show the struggle of male artistes in the film industry, but very few that show the struggle of female artistes.”
The idea of an actress being humiliated and abused until she begins to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) piqued his interest.
He decided to get into the soul of this character by interviewing two women with PTSD.
One woman survived being sexually abused over 20 years ago, but is still affected by her experience.
The other woman lost her entire family in an earthquake.
“Almost every night, she could ‘feel’ the tremors of the earthquakes,” said Midi. “She couldn’t tell when the tremors were real, and when they were not.”
When Nina Wu was screened at the recent Cannes Film Festival, it was well-received, and Midi even received offers from some Hollywood production houses to direct “women stories”.
He is seriously considering the offers, and believes the experience of working in Hollywood would make him a better filmmaker.
Surprisingly, Midi, who was born and raised in a small village in Myanmar, never wanted to be a filmmaker.
He recalled: “I came from a poor family. All I wanted to do was to end my poverty. I did not know what art was.”
He was the youngest of five children of a doctor father and a mother who was a cook. His village only had three cinemas, which were located far from his home, and he was not keen to travel just to watch a film.
“I was never a film buff,” he said. “Throughout my childhood, I went to the cinema only 10 times.”
“I never thought I would ever leave my village.”
Fortunately, life can be unpredictable and full of surprises.
At age 16, Midi moved to Taiwan after winning a scholarship to study art and design at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
There, he also did odd jobs, waiting tables and working in construction just to make money to send back home to his family “so we could build our own house”.
He got into filming quite by accident. A friend in Myanmar sent him money to buy an expensive video camera to record his wedding back home. Unfortunately, as Myanmar was under military rule at the time, no video cameras were allowed into the country.
Midi then decided to make use of the video camera to start a career as a wedding videographer. “Some of them paid me and some didn’t,” he recalled.
He began to plot stories for his wedding videos. Indirectly, he was learning the art of storytelling. This led to offers to make commercials.
In 2010, Myanmar had its first presidential election, and some of his Myanmar friends in Taiwan decided to return home to cast their votes.
Midi followed them to document the momentous election with his video camera, which resulted in the semi-autobiographical feature film, Return to Burma.
The film travelled to many international prestigious film festivals, earning rave reviews along the way. That spurred his interest to make more films.
To date, Midi has done five feature films, three documentaries, and one short film. Not bad for a man who once believed he would spend the rest of his life in a small village in Myanmar.
ZAHAMIN BAKIZAINAL is an ethnic Malay TV presenter and radio personality who has found fame in the local Chinese entertainment scene.
The colourful 39-year-old personality, better known to his audience as Baki Zainal, can speak fluent English, Malay and Mandarin.
He shot to stardom when he hosted the Chinese travel programme Step Forward in 2009. The show, which he hosted for 11 seasons, gave him the opportunity to travel all across Malaysia, and even outside the country as well.
Following this stint, he went on to host more adventure travel shows including Let Us Cycle and Taste of Memories.
In an exclusive interview with theSun, Baki candidly spoke about his family, his passion for travel, and his perception of the local entertainment industry.
*Describe your childhood.
“My father ran away from his home in Perak when he was a young man and went to London. He joined the British army and upon his early retirement, returned to Malaysia.
“He moved from one town to another before settling in Johor Baru. That is where he met my mother. She was his neighbour and 20 years younger than him. It was an arranged marriage.
“There was a story I heard that my mother tried to run away on her wedding day. But in the end, she married him [while wearing] her jeans! They learned to love each other over time.
“My childhood years were spent travelling between Johor Baru, Singapore and New Zealand. I have relatives in Singapore and New Zealand. I was [my parents’] only child. But I have seven step siblings.
“I was a daddy’s boy. I remember one incident where I fell from my bicycle when I was six years old.
“My father got rid of it and never allowed me to ride any more, for fear of me hurting myself again.
“When I was 15, my dad passed away after being in a coma for four days. He died from kidney and liver failure. It was a tough period in my life.
“My father’s last advice to me was: ‘Follow your heart.’”
* What kind of relationship do you have with your mother?
“I (used) to have a bad relationship with my mother. We were constantly arguing. I saw her as a heartless woman who did not care for her son.
“When I turned 30, I learned to understand her and formed a better relationship with her.
“I love her stubbornness. I always pray to God that he must never take away her spirit of stubbornness.
“I always nag her to take her medicine on time. She always tells me that ‘I have lost a husband who constantly nagged me, and I do not need a son who nags me, too.’
“I remember an incident that happened two years ago where she apologised to me for not being the perfect parent because she had not stopped me from making so many mistakes. I had tears in my eyes.
“I told my mother I am who I am today because of the mistakes that I have made.
“If I did not make mistakes, I would not have become compassionate.”
*Your job has taken you to many places in the world. Which is your favourite destination?
“Bhutan. I love the vibe, the energy and the calmness of the place. Their lifestyle teaches you to respect every living thing. My family thought I would become a Buddhist monk after returning from Bhutan!
“I remember coming upon a group of people whom I thought were singing. Later, I learned that they were actually chanting.
“They were praying for all the ants and worms because these animals have to sacrifice to give them, a home.
“They prayed that these animals would be reincarnated again to a better life. How great is that!”
*What advice would you give young talents out there?
“There are a lot of young people who come up to me and say: ‘I want to become like you’. The first question I always ask them is, why do you want to become like me?
“If your answer is because you want to walk the red carpet, travel to see the world and stay in beautiful resorts, then your motive is completely wrong. You could get another high paying job to travel and see the world and still stay in beautiful resorts.
“There is a lot of hard work in this job. You have to do plenty of research before visiting a country. You must have an understanding of the country. You need to absorb everything around you.
“When I started my career, I did not travel in business class. The transits can be extremely crazy and tiring. You will arrive at your destination during ungodly hours and you have to start shooting within a few hours of arriving in the country.
“Once I was staying in Beijing for four weeks and feeling tremendously homesick. I went down to the restaurant in the hotel and gave the waitress the recipe for ‘telur dadar’, and asked her to pass the recipe to the chef. The chef asked me to go back to my room and return in an hour’s time.
“When I returned after an hour, I was surprised to see that the chef had prepared a few dishes that reminded me of home. Later, I learned that the chef was from Ipoh and had been working in Beijing for 20 years, so he understood what it was like to be homesick.”
* What is your philosophy of life?
“We are always so gung ho about being right and wrong ... about being black and white. We have forgotten to be kind. I believe kindness is important.
“We must understand that at the end of the day, we are fragile creatures and we can easily break.”
AMBER CHIA has graced over 200 magazine covers, walked on runways in six continents, starred in seven films, authored two books and has been the ambassador for over 30 brands.
She also runs a modelling agency that bears her name, the Amber Chia Academy, and even manages to balance her busy career and motherhood, raising her nine-year-old son Ashton together with her husband and business partner Adrian Wong.
Chia’s claim to fame came in 2005, when she became the first Asian model to be featured in the international campaign for Guess Watches.
Her star soared in 2009 when British singer and renowned fashion designer Victoria Beckham personally selected her to present the Victoria Beckham Autumn/Winter 2009 Ready to Wear Collection at that year’s New York Fashion Week.
The road to stardom was not a rosy one. Chia’s childhood in Tawau, Sabah was filled with poverty and hardship. At age eight, she was given away to foster parents, only returning to her birth parents four years later.
At 15, she dropped out of school to help her parents run their fish stall in the market. She even took up two other jobs. At 17, she left for Kuala Lumpur to become a model, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In this exclusive interview with theSun at her office in Petaling Jaya, Chia recalled the challenges she has faced, and the future that lies ahead.
*You started Amber Chia Academy in 2010. How has your academy grown over the last decade?
“When we first started the academy, we only offered modelling and makeup courses. Over the years I have added more courses to the academy, for example photography and grooming, and we even have child and teenage modelling courses [now].
“The child modelling courses are for [ages] eight to 12 years old, and the teenage modeling courses are for [ages] 13 to 16.
“I want to guide the new generation of models with the experiences I have gained. These courses [will help them] build a certain level of confidence.
“In the past, parents would not allow their children to be models. They always associate modelling with drugs, alcohol, late night clubbing and prostitution.
“Now they are saying to their children: ‘You can be like Amber Chia.’ I am glad to see the change in perceptions.”
*What kind of mother are you?
“My career kept me busy, and I felt very guilty for not spending time with my son. So, I spoilt him.
“I bought him things to make him happy. But slowly, I realised I was buying him things to make myself feel good because I was not spending time with him. That should not be the case. I should be spending quality time with him. I should be educating him to be grateful for the life he has.
“I remember when he was very young, I took him to visit an orphanage. He saw children who had less than what he had, and he appreciated his life more. I should be doing more of these activities with him.”
*Next year you will be turning 40. Are you afraid of getting older?
“I have so many friends who passed away at a young age. I am grateful to be alive every day, and [that] I am still healthy and can chase my dreams and spend time with my loved ones.
“I believe in growing old gracefully. I have seen some grandmothers in their 70s and 80s who still look beautiful. Some people look stunning with white hair, and I do not mind having [that].
“If I was in my 90s and someone wants me to [walk the runway], I will take my walking stick and walk. I will feel proud to be the oldest model on the catwalk.
“You can look good at any age. Looking good takes effort and energy. I believe there are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”
*Have you any regrets about your childhood?
“Not at all. My difficult childhood gave me a stronger soul to face failures and rejection.
“For example, I was rejected more than 50 times before I became a successful model. Each time I was rejected, I learned to stand up and brush aside the [disapppointment] and started hunting for other modelling assignments.
“Once, I got a gig at a fashion show. But none of the clothes fit me. I was told to go [straight home], in front of so many other models. I felt humiliated. I cried my eyes out the whole night.
“The next morning, I learned to put the [emotions] behind me and went on a diet.
“Today, I find some youngsters are easily dejected when they get [turned down] after just three auditions. They want to quit modelling immediately.
“You have [to persevere] if you want to have a career in the industry. You need to accept [that failure] is going to be a part of your journey. You should not be afraid of failure. In fact, failure is supposed to make a better version of you.”
*Some claim eating disorders are a common thing in the modelling world. What is your view of this issue?
“An eating disorder is never healthy. It destroys your body. When you are not healthy, you will never look beautiful.
“Good health is an important key to looking beautiful. You need good health to shine from the inside. I believe you should adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“You have to be choosy over what you want to eat. For example, in the past I [hated] eating salads. Slowly, I added salads to my diet, and now I love eating salads.”
THE saying goes that “winners never quit”, and 30-year-old Malaysian actress and TV presenter Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, better known as Neelofa, certainly fits this bill.
She has bravely faced obstacles, hurdles and betrayals to build a multi-million ringgit beauty and fashion business empire through her company NH Prima Sdn Bhd.
She has also won many awards for her entrepreneurship skills, including the Forbes Asia under 30 class 2017, SME 2017 Celebrity Entrepreneur of The Year, and The Iconic Role Model Award.
She is best known as the founder of the company Naelofar Hijab, which is one of the most successful hijab brands in Malaysia today.
In this exclusive interview with theSun, Neelofa talks about her childhood years, her business inspirations and what she looks for in her ideal soul mate.
*Describe your childhood years.
“My childhood years were adventurous and fun. I climbed trees. I jumped in the river. My friends and I stole eggs from my neighbour’s chicken coop and played ‘masak-masak.’ Today kids are spending too much time in their house playing with their iPads, and I do not envy them.
*Who influenced you to be an entrepreneur?
“My family. Everyone in my family – my grandfather, my grandmother, my father and my mother – has their own business. My mother used to buy clothing materials from Dubai and Mecca, and sold them here.
“The first business I started was Lofa Heels. I was only 18. I personally delivered the shoes to my clients.”
*What are some of the challenges you faced in setting up your business?
“When we first started our hijab collection in 2013, we got our supply from a company in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the company could not supply enough material to us.
“Our stockists and agents were hammering us. So, we decided to take control, and designed our own hijab. That way, we could decide how much we want to produce.
“When we grew, we hired more staff. Unfortunately, some of them betrayed our trust.
“They stole our data and our designs, and sold them to our competitor. A few even sold our products through the back door just to make an easy profit.”
*It must have been painful to have your trust betrayed. Did you feel like giving up?
“We did not want them to win. We fought back. We hired consultants to solve the problem and tie up the loose ends.
“But last year, I wanted to quit. I run my business with three of my siblings. We have different opinions about how to expand our business. I wanted to leave the business in their hands and quit. But slowly, we compromised, and now we have a better relationship.”
*What are the biggest sacrifices you have made to be where you are today?
“My career keeps me very busy. I missed a lot of my family gatherings. My grandfather passed away last year. I promised to visit him more often and I failed to keep my promise.
“My younger brother has grown up so fast and I was not an important figure during his childhood years. But you can’t have everything. Sacrifices are needed in life.
“But when I became a mother, I do not want to want to miss their childhood years, and I will definitely slow down my career.”
*We heard you are penetrating the overseas market. Is that true?
“I have signed a deal with an agency in France where I will be promoted as the face for hijab fashion in the European market. For now, I will attend fashion shows in France, Milan (Italy), and the United States where I will get some exposure. Once I am established, they will slowly get to know my brand. I am also negotiating to host an entertainment show in Indonesia.”
*As an actress, some expected you to start a production house and produce films.
“I never dreamt of going behind the camera and creating stories. Acting happened by accident.
“When I won the Dewi Remaja crown in 2010, a film director (Aziz M. Osman) offered me a film role. I accepted the offer because I was curious about the acting world.
“But I never liked waiting on the set for my scenes. It can get so hot! I do not think I will ever return to acting. If they ever shoot a film in a cooler climate, then I might reconsider the offer.”
Some fans never stop asking about marriage. Do you get tired of answering this question?
“I understand their curiosity. Getting married is like starting a new chapter in your life, and they are interested in my new chapter.
“I want someone who is matured, responsible and easily adaptable. Some of my friends kept telling me that guys are afraid to approach me because of my status and what I have achieved.
“But I will never play myself down, just to please a man. He has to accept me for what I am. I cannot change. I cannot fake it. I believe God created us in pairs and one day, I will find my pair.”
THIS has been a great year for Mugen Rao. The local entertainer was a contestant on season 3 of the Tamil-language version of Bigg Boss, a popular reality television game show produced in India, becoming its first Malaysian participant.
He then created history by beating 16 other contestants to become the first Malaysian winner on the show.
In Bigg Boss, contestants live together in a house and are cut off from the outside world. This creates tension and drama, and the audience is treated to huge outbursts of emotions from the contestants. Contestants are slowly voted out, week by week, and the last one left will win a cash prize.
What motivated Mugen to join Bigg Boss? He said: “I saw the first season in 2017 and I loved it. I told my family I wanted to be a contestant.”
The show, he said, taught him patience, how to handle different personalities and how to live without a handphone.
Besides winning the title, his fondest memory was mingling with the show’s host, the legendary actor Kamal Hassan.
“His dedication to his art really impressed me,” said Mugen. “He is so humble. I remember I was stunned when I first met him. I was at a loss for words.”
There have been accusations that, in order to win votes and the hearts of the audience, Mugen was manipulative and told sob stories of an unhappy childhood and of suffering mental anguish over his parents’ arguments.
He said: “Victory is never easy. You have to face the consequences of your win. If someone else had won, there would be people who would have found flaws in him.
“I think there were more positive things said about me [than negative]. We should focus on the positive comments and dismiss the negative.”
Mugen certainly has no time to worry about his critics, as it looks like 2020 will be a busy year for the 24-year-old. After his win, Mugen was flooded with acting offers from the Indian film industry. He also received offers to write songs for Kollywood films.
He has already accepted offers to act in two romantic comedies, and shooting for the first film starts in early January.
Asked why he decided to act in romantic comedies, he said: “So far, I am seen as the good boy next door and these roles will be perfect for me.”
But in future, he wants to take on different roles to become a more versatile actor. He also hopes to play negative roles which he described as “always interesting and unpredictable”.
For now, he wants to build a name for himself in the Kollywood film industry. However, he dismissed rumours that he would be moving to India for good in order to focus on the Tamil film industry there.
“I will never forget Malaysia,” he said. “This is where I started my career.”
Instead, Mugen plans to work with local talents here and to produce films in Malaysia.
“But first, I need to establish myself in India,” he says.
“If you are famous in India, there will be more people inclined to support you to do projects here.”
He is also open to the possibility of acting in Malay films as he believes it will broaden his horizon and attract a new segment of fans. He has already appeared in two episodes of popular Malay TV cop show, Gerak Khas.
Mugen is also grateful that his newfound fame is allowing him to do good in society.
“I love giving motivational talks,” he said. “I tell people to not give up on life and to believe in their dreams. When you are famous, people will listen.”
Of course there are also challenges to his growing fame.
“Not everyone likes you when you are famous,” he said. “People will start talking bad about you. At the same time, you will lose some privacy as [people] will be watching you.”
Mugen said he was “very negative” as a teenager. He chose to become a more positive person when he turned 18, and he found his life changing for the better.
“I believe in the law of attraction. You become what you believe in,” he said.
Being an entertainer was not Mugen’s first choice of career. When he was younger he wanted to become a police officer.
Unfortunately, when he was 18, a robber stole his handphone and wallet, and also wounded his hand with a samurai sword.
Mugen said: “I thought I would never be able to use my hand muscles again, so I decided to forget my dream to be a police officer and I became an entertainer instead.”
Fortunately Mugen had some experience with the entertainment industry, as his father was a part-time singer.
“I used to follow my father to his singing functions and he encouraged me to sing to the crowd,” he said.
“From my father, I learnt to sing and from my mother, I learnt about love. She has always loved me unconditionally.”
Speaking of love, Mugen admitted to having someone special in his life, but said he was not ready to divulge details yet.
He said: “She is my best friend. Love is something you should focus on in life. It keeps your heart happy.”