Five Easy Pieces (nothing to do with Bob Rafelson’s 1970 film!) is a new column where I pose five easy questions to a director or producer or actor or whomever I can get to do this. It’s basically a quick interview session.
Dain Iskandar Said and mythical elements go hand in hand. His second feature film, the acclaimed Bunohan, brought to life dream-like, magical sequences of hornbills and crocodile women. And then, there’s the enigmatic possessed boy who flits in and out of the film.
Every director and storyteller is indelibly tied to one particular thing. And going by Bunohan, Dain’s preoccupation seems to be how the physical world and the spiritual world often cross over into each other, whether literally or metaphorically.
That is why his new, upcoming film, the supernatural thriller Interchange, holds special interest for those who have been anticipating the follow-up to Bunohan, the best Malaysian film of 2012 according to the Festival Filem Malaysia.
Production of Interchange has been kept pretty much under wraps, although the media has reported on it. A scene was shot at the library of The Star news organisation. Locations included parts of Kuala Lumpur’s gritty inner city, although the story takes place in an unnamed fictional city. Actors include Shaheizy Sam (who is hot property now after the huge success of Polis Evo), Iedil Putra, and Indonesian stars Nicholas Saputra and Prisia Nasution. And we know the plot involves a crime-scene photographer and a mysterious woman, and macabre murders and magic rituals.
Some months ago, I had the privilege of visiting the location shoot at Kuala Lumpur’s infamous Jalan Alor, in a creepy, abandoned shophouse, where the upstairs had been refashioned into an old photo studio. I had the chance to witness a chase scene involving some of the characters.
Because of the high interest surrounding Interchange, I decided to pose five questions to Dain.
1. Can you tell us a bit about the story in Interchange, without giving away too much?
The film has noirish elements, though it is a dark fantasy thriller set in a modern South-East Asia at large or Asean region. Or as a friend calls it, a fucked-up urban fairy tale.
Shaheizy Sam is Detective Man investigating a series of brutal ritual killings, who calls in Adam, played by Iedil Putra, a younger forensics photographer/investigator to help him out. When the film opens, we see Adam already affected by the first murder 5 or 6 months ago. It was so gruesome that it triggered back the “vision events” that he keeps having, a condition known as palinopsia, where he seemingly “sees things”. He retreats from the world, stays home taking photos of his neighbours from his apartment.
And that’s when a seemingly innocuous past time turns into a dark vision leading him deep into the jungle of the story’s soul. Through his lens he spies Iva, a new tenant in the apartment opposite his. She is an attractive young woman from Borneo.
Adam is smitten and soon they get entangled on a journey of mystery, murder and mayhem.
As Iva draws Adam further into her tribal world, Man’s investigation crashes headlong to solving the case whilst trying to save Adam’s soul and get him back into the real world.
The tribal story throws up a magical figure in the shape of a totem or animal spirit. This creature is central to the story’s unfolding.
2. At what stage is it in production?
I’m currently buried deep, working closely at all stages with my producer Nandita Solomon, who is helming the post-production like a trooper. In particular dealing with all the CGI and animation. So Nandita’s been orchestrating 4 different post-houses engaged to speed up the process. One in the Phillipines, another in Pinewood Iskandar called Imagica, and in KL with Voxel Studios, and last but not least, the Mira boys, who are handling the bulkier aspects of the CGI/animation of the film such as creating and fleshing out the design details, like feathers and all that, created by Adam Kitingan (our character designer and VFX supervisor). I owe a lot to Adam in these aspects of the VFX post. He’s nothing short of amazing.
It’s been a long, at times arduous, process, as I’m not the most patient person in the world, but it is extremely exciting to work with what is, by and large, a young though experienced team. So in terms of special effects, it’s been quite a journey, though I’m not sure it’s one I want to repeat. My problem here is the necessary slow pace. Perhaps if we have a bigger budget we can work in a different way and at a faster pace.
But the CGI is coming along beautifully and we can’t wait to put the film out there.
Simultaneously Nandita and I have been working on the sound design with Hiro at Imagica. This part also brings out the experimentalist in me, as there’s nothing I love more than working on the nuances of sound textures and design. It just opens up your film, and you see your film suddenly grow to another level.
The process is meticulous and epic at the same time. We have a great time playing. What I mean by this is I like using unexpected sounds of things which you might think are completely unrelated, but could be surprising and would work and confirm your wildest imaginings as workable. You see the characters, the scenes, the whole film taking on a different dimension and come to a life of its own.
The other area much anticipated by both Nandita and I, has been music. Here, we are both very particular as we are both literate in our musical tastes. Some of our tastes and sensibilities overlap, for example, the love of singers and musicians like Tom Waits, or The Velvet Underground, and bands like Sigur Ros or The Kronos Quartet. Someone like Tom Waits is already cinematic, and then you think of electronica as a bed on which the melody can sit on, whilst both Waits, Kronos and the Velvets open up your aural experience and senses to explore different possibilities.
We bring this to a wonderful composer, Luka Kuncevic, who understands our tastes and has the same kind of sensibilities. We discuss Kurt Weill, Gypsy Romany and klezmer music, and he just adds his incredible touch to the schema, and bang, it comes out in the right direction. Luka is something else, someone who shares the same language and someone with whom we can discuss a very broad range, and he gets it. I first worked with Luka a long time ago, sometime in 2006, so it’s timely getting back together.
3. People who have seen Bunohan might have their expectations about Interchange. How similar or different are the two films?
I try not to repeat myself. And there’s so many different stories I want to get my teeth into. Interchange is very different from Bunohan. I mean for one, it’s set in the city, so it’s very urban, though the story concerns tribal people from our history.
And secondly, the feel and approach are also a lot different, in terms of story, characterisation and the world that I tried to build in the film. But it’s still a film about characters and their struggle to find themselves, via their journey, though this time the characters are trapped not just by place, but by time. The main male character, a forensics photographer, is trapped by photography, whilst the female lead, according to her tribes’ beliefs, is also trapped. All the characters are trapped in one way or another.
I think Interchange is our story, a South-East Asian story that we can all recognise. It’s a western genre, and I turn it into a South-East Asian story.
4. When can we expect to see Interchange in the cinemas, or is it too early to ask?
I think Interchange will definitely be out next year, but I can’t tell you when exactly yet.
5. After Polis Evo‘s success, Shaheizy Sam is kinda an action superstar now. What do you think of him?
I really love Sam, and working with him was a great experience, and he did bring a different kind of attitude to the character, which was how I saw it. I mean, of course I’d known of him, but it was the film Songlap that made me really notice him. I had met him in Macau, in some event that we both attended, and it was then that I realised he wasn’t just the celebrity but very much an actor, and someone who approaches his work with the attitude of a craftsman. And he’s always joking with me, everytime whenever we met. I liked that about him. The fact that he’s a superstar, I think, doesn’t – and nor does he let it – get in the way of his acting.