Filmmaker Quek Shio Chuan is the director of Guang, an award-winning movie about a young man struggling with autism. He sits with Going Places to talk about his directorial debut for a feature-length film, the inspiration behind it, and what he hopes viewers will take away from his work.
Tell us more about yourself. How did you get into filmmaking?
I wanted to be a disc jockey at first when I decided to take on a broadcasting course. But as soon as I got into my first video assignment and picked up the camera for the first time, I was immediately drawn into the magic of filmmaking and have not stopped since.
Could you share with us the inspiration behind Guang?
Guang is inspired by my elder brother who is autistic but at the same time, has the “perfect pitch” ability. I walked into his room one day and saw him playing on a set of keyboards that did not produce any musical sound at all but which he claimed he could hear the notes clearly. Watching him play joyfully while not being able to enjoy his music was the spark of inspiration to the idea.
How much of it was based on real-life events?
I would say most of the events in the film are based on real-life incidents when we were children. Until today, he still has the hobby of collecting items to complete DIY projects to satisfy his curiosity and fulfil certain needs. He is currently insulating his room and modifying his air conditioner to 10 degrees, which he deems to be his desired temperature. I do not fully understand why.
Guang is your debut feature-length film. What were some of the most challenging aspects of putting it together, compared to the shorts and commercials you have worked on previously?
The most apparent challenge would be to engage the audience with a compelling story for the whole length as I am used to shorter content. As it was my first film, I spent a much longer time than projected to complete the edit as I was still familiarising myself with the editing aspect for a feature film. In fact, most of the four years it took to complete the film were spent in the editing suite.
Music plays an important role in the film. What is your relationship with music?
My siblings and I were sent for piano lessons at a young age, and thus, all of us are musically educated. In fact, the theme song for the film was composed and sung by my younger sister, as were several of the soundtracks featured in the film. My brother played the chaconne in the film, most apparently in the glass breaking sequence.
Tell us more about the casting process. You picked two relatively unknown actors as the leads rather than big-name artists. Why is that?
Kyo (Chen) was the actor who played Guang in the short film we produced back in 2011 and it was only natural for us to stick to him as the main cast of the film, as he embodies the soul of the character. I played the younger brother back then due to insufficient funding and time, but we have always been open to casting a professional actor to play the role. After several casting attempts, Ernest (Chong) came across as the most suitable actor who has not only impressed me on his first casting but also how his personality matches the character. Coupled with the fact that the two of them have worked together numerous times in television, the decision was made to prioritise performance above all else, including star power.
Autism isn’t a subject that is regularly talked about, especially in Malaysia. What is a key message you hope for audiences to take away from the film?
An autistic person may be deemed as a person with impairments in social interactions, which in turn, requires more patience and care. Therefore, I hope viewers would be left with the reminder to not shun a person on first contact, just because someone acts a little differently from what is considered to be the norm.
Guang has received critical acclaim, winning four awards at the 30th Malaysian Film Festival, as well as various nominations and awards in foreign film festivals. How do you feel about this?
I believe such accolades are only possible as a result of the teamwork put in by the entire cast and crew of Reservoir Production. I am forever thankful to them as well as my family members for always believing in Guang.
What is the biggest lesson or value that you’ve taken away from your journey in filmmaking?
You can never make a film alone. Making a film is a complex and time-consuming task that can only be achieved with a group of like-minded people who are as determined and driven to realise a common idea. In many ways, a production team is like a family that teaches me much more than filmmaking but about life itself.
What’s next for you?
Netflix – The Ghost Bride – a young adult fantasy romance series set in 1900s Melaka, where the adventurous main character Li Lan faces the dilemma of marrying a deceased person in exchange for wealth and the wellbeing of her family members. Projected to be released next year, the series takes the audiences on a journey through time, different realms and on a quest to solve a murder mystery.
What has been your earliest memory of flying with Malaysia Airlines?
This dates all the way back to when I was 10 years old, when my family and I travelled to Taiwan, where my parents undertook their tertiary education, for a 10-day trip around the island. I remember how amazed I was during my first-ever lift-off, staring out the window to the vast landscape in awe.