Yong Shu Chiang
Sun, May 25, 2008
The Straits Times
15-Minute standing ovation

Cannes - When the lights came on in the splendid Grand Theatre Lumiere, an initial wave of polite applause soon gave way to a standing ovation.

The screening of Singapore film director Eric Khoo's My Magic at the 61st Cannes Film Festival garnered nearly 15 minutes of continuing applause, accompanied by scattered cheers of 'Bravo!'

My Magic is Singapore's first contender for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), the top prize at the prestigious festival. It is among the 19 films in the running, chosen from 4,000 submissions worldwide.

Lead actor Francis, also a professional magician, performed a few tricks, conjuring up flashes of fire and producing a special wallet which burst into flames as he opened it.

An exuberant Khoo, 43, who received the Cultural Medallion last year, said: 'It's been a magical ride. It's been totally beyond anything we could have imagined.'

Added Unity Secondary School student Jathishweran, 14: 'I'm still asking myself if this is a dream.'

Francis, 48, said: 'The crowd just went on and on (clapping). It was exhilarating. It's a day I'll never forget.'

His magician background and personal life had provided inspiration for the film's co-writers, Khoo and Straits Times senior journalist Wong Kim Hoh, 46.

They crafted a 75-minute, mostly Tamil drama about an alcoholic magician (Francis) struggling to redeem himself and repair his relationship with his son (Jathishweran).

It was made for an estimated $200,000, and was partly funded by the grant given to Cultural Medallion recipients.

Three years ago, Khoo's film Be With Me, also co-written with Wong, played at the Directors' Fortnight here.

But this latest offering is vying for the grand prize alongside the works of leading international directors such as Clint Eastwood (The Exchange, aka Changeling), Wim Wenders (The Palermo Shooting), Steven Soderbergh (Che), Atom Egoyan (Adoration) and the Dardenne brothers (The Silence Of Lorna).

Khoo expects My Magic to be screened in Singapore before the year-end.

The film has already been picked up for distribution in France by ARP Selection.

Earlier in the day, just after 4pm, the My Magic team walked down a sun-drenched red carpet in front of the theatre entrance, facing an enthusiastic throng of curious onlookers and press photographers.

Khoo, Francis and Jathishweran were joined on the red carpet by cinematographer Adrian Tan, co-writer Wong, executive producer James Toh, and producers Tan Fong Cheng and Freddie Yeo. Khoo's family, including his wife and four sons, were also there.

Khoo, who admitted to having cast envious glances at the red carpet on previous visits to Cannes, did not want to speculate on My Magic's chances of making history by winning the Palme d'Or.

'No, I haven't prepared any speeches. I never count my chickens before they are hatched - it's bad luck. I'm just honoured to be able to get on that red carpet.'

Wong, who felt 'quite gratified' by the reception to the film, added: 'The very fact that we are even here (in Cannes) is almost too unbelievable to be true. Anything else is a bonus.'

The festival jury, led by American actor Sean Penn, will award the Palme d'Or during the festival's closing ceremony this evening (early Monday morning, Singapore time).


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