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[InC-terview] You Mean The World To Me director Saw Teong Hin!

By Say Peng  /  06 Oct 2017 (Friday)

Saw Teong Hin is a Penang-borned Malaysian film and stage director. He is known for the 2004 epic fantasy film Puteri Gunung Ledang, based on the Malay legend of the Gunung Ledang princess and a Malaccan Sultan's attempt to woo her. The film won Saw the Best Director prize at the 18th Malaysia Film Festival. 

This year, Saw returns with his next feature film, You Mean The World To Me, an autobiographical story filmed entirely in the Penang Hokkien language. It tells the story of two siblings, a brother and a sister, played by Frederick Lee (younger brother of Christopher Lee) and Yeo Yann Yann (Ilo Ilo), and their estranged relationship with their mother, played by Neo Swee Lin, a veteran local theatre actress. The film was made to honour Saw's own mother who passed away in 1999. It's also a tribute to all mothers, sisters, and aunts for the unconditional love and sacrificies they have made for their own family.

The film was screened in June at the 10th Festival de Granada Cines Del Sur, held in Spain, where it was positively embraced by audiences. 

InCinemas speaks to Saw about You Mean The World To Me.

InCinemas: Why do you want to tell this story?
Saw: It's a very personal reason. Firstly, it's a very personal issue. It came at a stage in my career when I wanted to make something that's very meaningful to myself as a film director. So I decided to write this. And also, as I was writing the script, that was the impetus, the reason why I wanted to make this film. Then as I wrote it, I realised that actually the lesson that I learnt from my own life might be a good lesson for everybody to be aware of. It could be instructive for other people too, the idea of love and forgiveness and all that. That's why I decided to pursue this project, to give it my complete attention.

InCinemas: What are some of the lessons that you wish audiences can take away from this film?
Saw: The first thing is, family is family. Compassion is the most important thing. It's also to be able to understand love in all its complexity. Sometimes, family members or friends might do things we don't understand and don't accept, but they might have their own reasons for doing it. So it's very important to have empathy, to feel for other people's situation and trust that everybody is doing the best they can. If there is empathy and compassion, there will be no judgment. 

InCinemas: Can you share with us some of the struggles you went through to make this film?
Saw: Firstly, the writing process itself. A story like this so many thousands of details. As a writer, to craft it, to eliminate the extra things, to make the storyline clear - what the story is about - is hard. Also, because it is semi-autobiographical, there is a responsibility to present things correctly. My family members are still alive, so there is a responsibility to do that. So there are some counter-checking with other family members. "Is this what you remember?" And what is interesting is, memories are never the same. People remember slightly differently. So for me, the important starting image of the leaking tap is important because it is unreliable. Something that you depends on, like memory or a tap, you turn it on and you get water. Or sometimes it just drips. Memory is unreliable like that. 

And wanting to make a drama film in the Hokkien language and also about a dark subject matter is not easy to get funding for. The producers don't always quite understand the tone. They always thought it was too bleak, not hopeful. Whereas I keep telling them it's a hopeful film because it's about coming to terms with something dark and being emancipated, being released from that. It was a tone that was hard to explain. Until I staged the script, the theatre play, and the producers saw the play. They went "Okay, it's like that." [Doing the play] made it easier for me. 

InCinemas: What was intereting for me to learn was that before you did the film, you staged the play. 
Saw: I wrote it as a film script first, but I couldn't get the money for it. And then I was approached to do a play. I suggested this play to the Georgetown Festival. And because it was Penang Hokkien culture, George Town Festival was very excited about it. So they agreed. I staged it and it was a great success. From there, the movie became possible. 

InCinemas: You worked with the cinematographer Christopher Doyle on this film. How was it to work with him?
Saw: This is the first time I worked with him. I've known him for quite a while. Actually, I find Christopher to be kind and generous. I say he's very kind because Christopher has a rock-star persona, he's world famous, but he really liked the script. And for him to work on this project helped elevate the profile of this project. His involvement helped a lot.

And he really taught me and helped me look at cinematography in a very different way. For most of the directors, it's about technical things and all that stuff. For Christopher, it's not about how everything is lit, but how you feel when you look at the frame. It's a feeling. It's not how it's done. So you're not hung up with "Is the light correct?". It's about when you see the picture, how do you feel? That's the only important thing.  

InCinemas: To end off, can you share with us some of the films or directors who have inspired you?
Saw: A lot. Actually, it's the films that inspire me, rather than the directors. The World of Apu by Satyajit Ray. Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern. E.T. by Steven Spielberg. A lot lah. 

You Mean The World To Me is currently showing exclusively at GV Vivocity. Be sure to catch it!
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