Road To Guang: A Malaysian Film Director's Journey
Dreams Do Come True
By Richard Liaw
They say that a dream fulfilled can be our tree of life but the journey towards it can be an arduous one. It is no different to film director Quek Shio Chuan. He was filled with emotions as he recalled his journey making his first feature film, Guang. It all started when he had the chance to work as an assistant director back in 2011. He discovered that his true passion is in the creative process of filmmaking, but he needed to prove himself before people would hire him as a director. To do so, he would need a showreel containing quality work. A few story ideas later, he had the backing of his team to produce and direct a short film based on his life, growing up with an autistic brother. They believed that the best stories are the ones closest to our hearts. Fortunately for him, the short film that took just one month to complete, won BMW Shorties 2011. Finally, Quek had made a name for himself. That led him to his first big break in the commercial world: directing ‘Sparkle’ by Yuna back in 2012.
Even while he was busy making commercials for big brands, he never gave up on the story. He dreamt of making Guang a feature film. He had the support of Ismail Kamarul, the executive producer at his production company and together, they planned to make it happen. It was in 2014 that Sabrina Wong entered as a producer for the film and she started to look for funds. Through the team’s effort and a series of pitches, they managed to secure a reimbursement grant from MDEC. That did not cover everything but was enough to bring them to the next stage of pre-production. Quek started his bittersweet journey of writing the script in 2015. Drawing from his experiences growing up was a mixture of love, pain and nostalgia. He had no prior experiences writing a script that long, so it took him about a year and countless re-writes. He contemplated reprising the role of Wen Guang’s younger brother in the film but knew he needed to focus on directing. Production for the film started at the tail end of 2015.
Securing further funding for the film was no easy task and Sabrina was working tireless on it. It was considered a risky project because there really wasn’t solid evidence that a movie of that genre could make it in Malaysian theatres. What’s more, there were fans of the short film who would inevitably compare. They also knew that they had to stay true to the great production quality that their production company, Reservoir Production, is famously known for. In fact, there is a shot in the film that took them 6 days to achieve. Can you guess which? Indeed, the shoot was long and hard. The end of the year was the only free time they had between shooting commercials, so everything needed to be done on schedule. There were days when the entire production team had to squeeze into a small house for the shoot. Thankfully, at the turn of 2016, production was done and Quek could start editing. He did the base cut himself (which he would very much NOT recommend to aspiring film directors). Through sheer effort, he completed it but that was when he faced his biggest challenge ever.
“It was too flat”, “Not appealing to the masses” and “It won’t sell in Malaysia” were a few of the feedback that he got from a potential distributor and industry partners after they watched the cut. Those words alone could kill any dream, especially to a creative individual who has poured blood, sweat and tears into a creative work for years and inspired others to come onboard only to discover that it isn’t good enough. That was when Quek spiralled into depression and was MIA for months. It was on one fateful day that a producer dragged him out for a run. The run changed something in him. It was when he exerted his body, that his mind could rest. He felt better emotionally. Upon returning to the office, Ismail asked Quek a question that changed everything: “What if I allowed you three days of reshoot?”. That question brought hope to Quek. He went back to work on Guang and identified about 5-6 scenes that if changed, could improve the dynamics of the movie completely. He realised that the problem was that the front portion of the movie was too long and the end, too short. The much-needed build-up and tension was too short, making the movie less rewarding for audiences.
Lo and behold, reshoot for the film was done during the end of 2016. Around mid-2017, a newly edited version of the film was ready. Reception and feedback this time were positive, and things were finally looking up for Quek. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, a post-production house which they were initially engaged with, closed down. They needed to find a different company to work with but that also meant more time and money. What’s more, Quek and Ismail felt that they needed to add a scene which was shot during the 2011’s short film, into the feature film. What do you know, they were unable to locate the footage which means… another reshoot! So early 2018, they got everyone back for yet another time. Things were looking grim as funding for the project was becoming a real issue. The film was already taking close to 4 years to complete and they knew they needed a partner to drive it forward. By their effort (and divine intervention really), they managed to partner with MM2 Entertainment. Finally, everything was falling in place for the release of the film. In mid-2018, they submitted the film to international film festivals and were ecstatic to receive the Best New Director Award and Best New Actor Award in the 13th Chinese Youth Generation Film Forum as well as second place for the Audience’s Choice Award in Japan’s Fukuoka International Film Festival.
Quek was overjoyed and very much humbled to know that people appreciate the film and story. To him, the movie wasn’t just about creating awareness and a greater understanding of autism among the audience, but a story about family. A story that focuses on the relationship that we share with our loved ones, despite the circumstances we are dealt with in life. This journey had also brought Quek’s family closer. His sister, Quek Shio Yee, a singer songwriter based in Taiwan wrote the theme song for the film and also travelled back for the shoot. His parents and autistic brother were there on set for the entire production. It meant a lot to the family because they did not always have the time to be together. Besides that, Quek also found real friends and created stronger bonds with people whom he knows will work well with him in future projects. Talking about future projects, Quek is currently working on an undisclosed long-form series with an undisclosed company so look forward to that! Also, Guang is coming to theatres in Singapore (probably by end Jan or end Feb 2019), Hong Kong and then Taiwan. So, if you are from there, do check it out!
Quek’s advice to aspiring directors is to be persistent. Everyone starts off differently in the industry but it is important to know that we should never give up when chasing our dreams. Sabrina also advices aspiring producers to be daring. Take the lead and do what it takes. That we should never be afraid to fail because the process in important. Even if things do not happen the way we expect them to, we still gain and learn from them.
The truth is, anyone could have given up during those gruelling 4 years. Chasing a dream that had no promise of success. Not knowing what to do at first, being ‘newbies’ to filmmaking. They had every excuse to walk away. But thank God they didn’t. They jumped at every open door and gritted their teeth through hard times. They dreamt hard and worked hard. Because they did, we now have a live-changing movie to watch. A huge applause to Director Quek, Executive Producer Ismail, Producer Sabrina and everyone who was involved in the making of Guang. Dreams do come true.