Shooting to begin for first Penang Hokkien film

Lights, camera, prayer: (From left) Saw, Doyle, Tee (second from right) and the production crew attending the Chinese prayer rites to 'bless' the camera in front of the Majestic Theatre in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN - The shooting of the first Penang Hokkien movie for silver screens worldwide starts this Sunday.

Principal filming of You Mean the World to Me should last three weeks, with one of the lead actors being a fresh 10-year-old boy from Bukit Jambul.

Director and scriptwriter Saw Teong Hin said he found the boy during an audition here in August.

"He'll be in about 40 per cent of the scenes and I admit it's nerve-wracking to cast a youngster for such a heavy role.

"But to really show the subtle nuances of Penang as it was in the 1970s, we have to fall back on Penang Hokkien, so we must have a young Penangite to act," he told reporters yesterday.

Saw said 96.8 per cent of the dialogues would be in the dialect with the remaining in pidgin Malay, Mandarin and English.

The movie will be produced by Astro Shaw and Real Films, which has produced more than 80 movies in various genres and languages, including Polis Evo and The Journey which topped the highest grossing Malaysian movies of all time.

"We will show on the world stage a deeper layer of Malaysian culture. It's hard to show our diversity to the world and tourism ads are too superficial for this.

"The characters in the movie and the experiences they go through will show how the different cultures and languages in our land are moulded together," said head of Astro Shaw Najwa Abu Bakar.

In a Chinese prayer rite yesterday, the production crew led by Saw, producer Leonard Tee and cinematographer Christopher Doyle "blessed" the movie camera with a sprinkling of water from a bouquet of flowers and pomelo leaves outside the entrance of the first cinema in Penang - the Majestic Theatre in Phee Choon Road off Penang Road.

Built in 1926, it was the first cinema to bring "talking movies" to Penang and operated until the 1980s.

Many scenes of the upcoming movie would be shot here, said Saw, adding that other locations earmarked included Loke Thye Kee Restaurant in the corner of Penang Road and Burma Road, several houses and restaurants in Beach Street, Muntri Street, Acheh Street and Carnarvon Road, a few nooks and crannies in Bandar Baru Air Itam and Penang Hokkien Cemetery in Teluk Bahang.

Doyle, who has shot over 30 Hong Kong and Taiwanese films including Hero with Jet Li and Maggie Cheung in 2002, felt that a movie in Penang Hokkien was the most effective way to preserve Penang's heritage.

"The language you use and the things you see every day here may not be special but if you render them cinematically, then you will see how beautiful your culture is," he said.

This tear-jerker flick tells of an adult Sunny who returns to Penang to shoot a warts-and-all film about his family without their knowledge. Heartbreaks and flashbacks of scandalous revelations abound.

In the final confrontation, Sunny has an epiphany that changes his perspective of the past.