Third time's the charm for Malaysian film-maker Chiu Keng Guan.
The director's latest offering, The Journey, has broken Malaysia's box-office records, with more than RM17 million (S$7 million) in earnings since its release on Jan 30, making it the highest grossing made-in-Malaysia movie.
Chiu's earlier flicks Woohoo! (2010) and Great Day (2011) made RM4.2 million and RM6.5 million respectively.
But The Journey's stellar performance was beyond Chiu's expectations.
"It really took me by surprise. Family dramas usually don't do well in Malaysia," the 42-year-old told The New Paper, adding that moviegoers prefer comedy, action and horror.
Chiu and his cast were in town on Thursday to promote The Journey, which opens here on March 20.
He said the movie business in Malaysia is "a cruel industry" and that a movie "can live or die" by word of mouth after its first opening weekend.
"The Journey, thankfully, has very good word of mouth and it even got stronger week after week."
The movie is still showing in Malaysia.
It's certainly no mean feat for The Journey to outdo the previous record holder, 2010 blockbuster KL Gangster's RM12 million, which starred well-known Singapore actors Aaron Aziz and Adi Putra.
Made with a budget of RM3 million and with no big names, The Journey is a simple, low-key road trip tale about a strained father-daughter relationship.
It follows Bee ( Joanne Yew), who returns home to Cameron Highlands after years of living in England.
Joining her is her British fiance Benji (Ben Andrew Pfeiffer), much to her father Chuan's (Frankie Lee) displeasure and dismay.
Chuan reluctantly gives his blessings, but only if they concede to his demands of throwing a traditional Chinese wedding dinner and personally delivering invitations to the guests who live all over the Malaysian Peninsula.
The Journey deals with the language barrier between Benji and Chuan, Bee's anger against her father for sending her away to England when she was just a child and cultural differences.
Chiu, who graduated from Beijing Film Academy and is a full-time TV producer, credits the film's success to its down-to-earth plot.
"I believe audiences really connect to the story as we often see it in real life." "I think we all have or know a strict parent who doesn't really know how to show his love openly. Chuan's a typical Asian father."
He said the movie celebrates the love between family, friends and couples - "a universal theme that connects with everyone".
"Malaysian movies are usually segregated by language. Malays don't really watch Chinese movies and vice versa.
"But somehow, The Journey has attracted all races, even Caucasians. Perhaps it's also because we use 'rojak' language," he said, laughing.
The cast speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, Hokkien and English.
"I have many people coming up to me, young and old, thanking me for making this movie. Most of them have tears in their eyes."
Chiu also felt the movie's pre-production buzz helped create awareness.
He called The Journey a "nation movie" and "community project", as it held casting calls throughout Malaysia.
He also invited Malaysians from all walks of life to join the production to be extras and even offered local professionals, such as make-up artists and hairstylists, to be part of his crew.
A pivotal part of the movie features Chuan and his former primary school classmates trying to make a hot air balloon to fulfil their childhood dream.
In reality, it comprised more than 10,000 recycled plastic bags, which were contributed by people all over Malaysia.
Chiu even had volunteers help make the 24m-tall balloon.
Chiu, who has received congratulatory messages from Malaysian film-makers and even local director Jack Neo, is looking to see how well The Journey will travel outside Malaysia.
"Like all film-makers, I've submitted my movie to all sorts of film festivals and hope it will win something along the way," Chiu said, laughing.
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