Headline: The Shocking Truth
By Bissme S
PRODUCER, director and writer Edmund Yeo can certainly give himself a big pat on the back. Last year, he became the first Malaysian filmmaker to win the best director award at the prestigious 30th Tokyo International Film Festival for his film Aqerat, which deals with the dark side of human trafficking, and his lead actress, Daphne Low, also took home the Tokyo Gemstone Award.
Aqerat was recently shown at the second Malaysian International Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur. The story centres on a young Malaysian woman named Hui Ling (Low) who is saving up to start a new life in Taiwan. But her roommate steals her money and disappears.
Desperate, she joins a gang dealing with the trafficking of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. But when she sees the atrocities the gang inflicts on the refugees, the guilt takes a toll on her. The painful tone of the film, and Low’s powerful performance, will touch your heart and consume your soul.
“I [like to] make films about my country and what is happening around me,” says Yeo who also wrote the screenplay for Aqerat. Back in 2015, Yeo was among the millions of Malaysians who were horrified at the discovery of a mass grave near the northern border, filled with the remains of over 100 Rohingya refugees.
“In the past, we only read about Malaysians being victims of human traffickers,” says the 34-year-old.
“But now, Malaysians are the bad guys. I was curious what motivated these traffickers to commit such cruel acts against
other human beings.”
To get a true picture of the situation, he talked to Rohingyan refugees and several non-profit organisations dealing with them. What he learned shocked him. He found out that there were ordinary folk who had turned to human trafficking just to earn some extra money. When he read an article about a kindergarten teacher who was arrested for human trafficking, he almost made his lead a kindergarten teacher. Aqerat will open in local cinemas at the end of the year.
Yeo has always wanted to be a filmmaker, and it’s no wonder he fell in love with the arts. His father is a film critic for a Chinese newspaper and a former executive of a recording company, while his mother was a pop singer.
He says his parents never stopped him from becoming a filmmaker, though his mother did try to change his mind.
“Now, my motivation is to make good films and not disappoint my parents,” he adds.
Yeo started by directing short films, some of which were shown at international film festivals, and even won awards. His first feature film, River of Exploding Durians, was also nominated at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014.
The majority of Yeo’s lead characters are female.
“[It’s] because I prefer working with actresses more than actors,” he jokes, but adds that
“I prefer if there is a distance between my lead character and me”. He explains that if his lead character is male, he may project himself on the actor.
“I might get too attached to my lead.”
Using a female lead gives him the flexibility to explore possibilities. Currently, he is editing his third film, Malu, about two sisters who were separated since young.
“I am exploring the family dynamic in this film.”
This might very well be another award-winning film in the making.