Duck Rice, Busan and Me

First To coincide with the online release of my short film, ‘The Incredibly Strange Tale Of The Man Who Lost His Love But Bought It Back With A Packet Of Duck Rice’ (Duck Rice for the rest of this entry), James Lee has asked me to write a guest piece on his blog to talk about my experience at the 33rd Busan International Short Film Festival, where Duck Rice recently competed for the NETPAC Award under the Landscape of Asian Shorts category.

Before I talk about that, I should probably give you guys a little background as to how the film came to be, and how it somehow ended up in Busan in the first place.

I wrote Duck Rice back in 2013, while I was doing a play in Singapore.

The script languished in my ‘unmade scripts’ folder (it’s a big folder) for two years till I met up with James to interview him for my book. Before we parted ways, I mentioned this script to him. He asked to read it, I sent it to him and the rest is history.

Once we had a rough cut of the film ready, James took a look at it and thought it was worth delaying the release to see if it had a chance of getting accepted into any festivals. I wasn’t particularly keen but I figured “Hey, what’s the harm?’

Cut to a couple months later and the film has just won the Blencong Award at the Jogja-NETPAC International Film Festival in Jakarta. I was beyond shocked. I’ve never won anything before in my life, so to win something like this still feels surreal to this day.

Plus I had taken a look at the other shorts Duck Rice was up against and they all seemed so…what’s the word? I don’t know… important?

We announced a release date and everything, and then I got an email from James, forwarding another email he had gotten from a lady by the name of Jinna Lee. She had been a jury member at Jogja-NETPAC and was also Head of Programming for the Busan International Short Film Festival. She enjoyed Duck Rice a lot and asked me to try submitting it to Busan.

Look, I’m not very smart about a lot of things, but even I know not to turn down an offer like that. It meant delaying the release even further but the possibility of going to Busan was too cool to pass up. I told my wife about it and we both decided that if the film got accepted, we would make the trip to Busan to attend the festival.

Cut to two months later and we both found ourselves in Busan attending the Opening Night Programme of the BISFF.

Okay, here’s where I stop talking about myself and Duck Rice, because once the festival started, it really became way less about me, and all about the other amazing films and film-makers I got the chance to see and connect with.

Every year, the festival chooses a specific country to showcase and this year, the chosen country was Austria. As part of the Opening Night Programme, we were treated to a screening of Trites Deserts - A Robot’s Tale by Austrian film-maker Stephanie Winter.

The film was a wonderfully trippy musical mind job that revolved around a janitor that finds a set of mysterious clothes on an empty stage. When he touches them, the film launches us into an beautiful imaginary world of psychedelia. In many ways, it played like an ultra cool music video that culminated in a live performance by August Schramm, the lead actor, and Austrian Apparel, an electronic music DJ duo, who also did the score for the film.

It was great, it actually reminded me a lot of when I was still in University in London, where I got the chance to see so many amazing works from visiting theatre practitioners from all over the world. Sometimes, being in Malaysia can get you stuck in a rut, cos you spend so much time working or trying to get projects off the ground that you forget to expose yourself to all the other things that artists from the rest of the world are doing.

After that, I watched a screening of A Sunny Day by Ying Liang, focusing on the relationship between a father and daughter, with the recent Hong Kong 2014 ‘Umbrella Revolution’ serving as a backdrop. When I realized that this film was competing against Duck Rice, I turned to my wife and whispered - “We’re screwed.”

A Sunny Day was a poetic meditative film, made by a film-maker who really had an amazing grasp on subtlety of performance. I very quickly settled into the comfort of knowing that I was surrounded by ridiculous amounts of talent, and I gotta say, it made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Then again, that could have been the four beers I had before the screening. Regardless, I was loving every minute.

It was tricky deciding what to watch because there was so much great content. At the same time, because it was my first time in Korea, I was determined to do the whole ‘tourist’ thing too. I managed to catch two amazing animated shorts. One from Japan - Fox Fears by Sato Miyo and the other from Korea - Deer Flower by Kim Kangmin.

Fox Fears was essentially a watercolor painting come to life, told in the style of a traditional fairy tale about a boy who meets an old woman who tells him the story of a mother fox’s love for her pup. It was haunting and powerful and the animation style was beautiful to look at.

Same with Deer Flower, which focused on a family on a road trip to see a deer farm in a country village. A crazy combination of stop-motion animation, as well as both 2D and 3D painting, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I’ve always loved stop-motion animation, going back to my childhood, watching old Ray Harryhausen movies.

It’s important to note that Deer Flower went on to win the top prize at the festival under the Korean Competition category.

I also managed to catch The Day The Sky Roared by Jason Iskandar, from Indonesia. The almost silent film, was based on Jason’s experiences as a child, during the 1998 riots where thousands of Chinese Indonesians were killed, and Once Upon A Time, a charming Thai film by Jantraya Suriyong and Siripassorn Umnuaysombat, which managed to find innocent humour in a story about a family crippled by alcohol and drug abuse by having children play all the characters in the film.

During the post-show Q&A, the directors of Once Upon A Time revealed that the story came entirely from the kids, after months of interviews.

In the midst of all this, Jinna had invited me to be a panelist representing Malaysia at the BISFF Asian Short Film Forum, which focused on reexamining the present position of short films in Asia and the potential for the short-filmmaking in the future. Other countries represented were Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, China and Korea.

I was nervous as hell because I knew I was gonna have to speak for at least 15 minutes, and I’m not known for saying intelligent things for any period of time over 5 minutes. But it went well. I had a fun sparring partner in fellow Malaysian Wong Tuck Cheong, Honorary Secretary of NETPAC. Ultimately, the problem with short films is the same everywhere - how do we go about monetising this artistic medium so we can continue to encourage not just new filmmaker but established ones as well?

At then end of the day, it’s impossible to really put into words how much the whole experience meant to be. It completely opened my eyes to the lengths an artist will go for his or her art. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes those things get lost in the shuffle when you’re busy trying to make a living.

But there in Busan, I got to connect with filmmakers who made me feel ashamed for anything I might have complained about the last couple of years because it was nothing in comparison to what they went through.

Ying Lian, for example, was now living in Hong Kong because his last film had gotten him banned from returning to his home country of China. Because of that, he hadn’t seen his parents since then, and was doubtful he ever would since they were both too old to travel. He told me and my wife this story over dinner and we just sat there dumbfounded. And like true artist, he said that if he had to do it all over again, he said he wouldn’t do anything different.

And I think that’s as good a place as any to end on. Because when I think about it, more than anything else, that’s what I took home from the experience, that sometimes art takes you in strange directions, and you have to trust yourself to be brave enough that what you’re doing has meaning.

I made some great friends in Busan, from all over the world, Jinna in particular, and it was great to sit with all of them after a day of screenings over a few beers and talk about film. Not their films or my films but film in general, because that’s why we were all there - because we love film.

Watch the short film The Incredibly Strange Tale of the Man Who Lost His Love But Bought It Back with A Packet of Duck Rice

Gavin Yap Theater and film actor, director, writer and co-founder of

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