Production Talk - 'The Forest Spirits' by Ting Szu Kiong

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THE FOREST SPIRITS 狐仙计 The first Singapore wuxia short film Story by Ting Szu Kiong. A powerful clan leader goes deep into the forest to hone his supernatural skills. To stop disturbance, he kills one of the forest spirits to warn them while they are having a celebration. Years later, the forest spirits lure a young man into the forest. This is their first step in their revenge against the tyrannical man who has taken away their territory.

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Grace (G): Is this your first feature film?
Szu Kiong (SK): The Forest Spirits is a short film. It should be my fourth short film. My first is My Keys which was nominated for Best Short Film in Asian Festival of First Films.

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G: What inspired you to start on this project?
SK: From my first film, I have always strived to add to the variety of local films. And, of course, I like wuxia films. I grew up watching such films in the 70s. I had been thinking of an wuxia short story for some time. After watching Akira Kurosawa's first segment of DREAM, I suddenly thought of a story. Akira Kurosawa's DREAM is so mermerisingly beautiful. It shows a respect for nature and I love nature. And this inspired me to think of a short story in a similar vein.

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G: What can the audience look forward to?
SK: The film is made with simplicity. No large numbers of cast. No hundreds of exotic locations. No flying actions. No explosions. I think I would advice everyone not to bear preconceived ideas and expectations in watching any film. But certainly, it's a very different Singaporean film. It has a simple story but an underlying call for nature conservation.

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G: Where was 'The Forest Spirits' shot at?
SK: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. You should go there. It's a beautiful place. Just beware of hungry monkeys.

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G: How long did you take to make this film from the time pre-production started?
SK: The preproduction took more than half a year (starting from Jan 09 to Aug 09). We spent much time buying materials and making props and costumes. Thanks to Chee Wee, the production manager, and Julia, the costume designer. We made Sunny's armor by cutting cardboards, gluing suitable fabrics and tying them together. We cannot find suitable wuxia shoes and so bought different shoes, cut them, and thread the different parts together. We can't find a long stuff for Sunny's character and so bought a few walking sticks, saw them, and joined the parts together. It's a very hands-on project.

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G: Are there any special 3D effects in this film? If so, was it difficult making it look believe?
SK: We use a green screen special effect, and minimal 3D special effect. We can't do much 3D special effects because of limited budget. A 3D effect might be believable when it's alone in itself. But when edited with other shots, it's a different story.

G: What is the main ingredient in making a wu xia film?
SK: Wuxia films also have drama, human conditions. So, the basic theory in acting and storytelling apply. But wuxia cannot exist without period costumes and hairstyle. I think it is possible to make a short wuxia film without actions but probably it's not possible for a feature wuxia film not to have actions. At least I haven't seen one.

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G: How did you go about casting?
SK: I gathered my talents from friends' referrals, except for Sunny. I went to him to introduce myself after I watched an experimental feature film he acted in. I found him a very dedicated actor in that film. Such degree of committement is rarely found in many local actors. I thought to myself I really need more of such talents and so I went to be acquainted with him. I usually don't conduct casting sessions. This is probably because I don't know if I can conduct a useful and effective casting call. I am still a new filmmaker (3-4 years from my first short film). You know?

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G: How did you get help to shoot this? In terms of financial and crew support?
SK: SFC supports this film with a very good amount. And I am very grateful to SFC for supporting my four films so far. The crew members are from all walks of life. Some are students (Weiru, Wan Fong, Yixin) from Film, Sound, Video course of Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Vivek, one of the producers, is in the banking line. Eugene, the special effects coordinator, is a computer-game shop owner. I got to know them at different times in different situations through these few years. These good people are all very supportive of the project which they see has much potential. In addition, I am very glad to work with Derrick Loo, the director of photography of Bloodties, and Shireen Lim, the makeup artist of Bloodties, for the first time in this project.

G: Which is your favourite wu xia film?
SK: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for its unique story, beautiful action choreography that's like a dance, concept of harmony with the sword and nature

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G: What were your biggest challenges in making this film?
SK: One biggest challenge is dealing with unpredictable weather. The filming was scheduled to be two days. It rained everyday and I got to add an extra day of shooting, incurring more production cost significantly. It even rained the third day. But miraculously, we completed the filming at the end of the third day.

G: Any interesting anecdotes to share about the production?
SK: Anectodes for filmmakers? I am not sure if I can give any as I am still a new filmmaker. Every filming is a learning experience. And for me, there is still a long way to go. If I were to live as long as Clint Eastwood, I have more than forty years to make films and learn.

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G: When and where is 'The Forest Spirits' going to be released?
SK: It is in post production now. I will submit for local festivals next year to share this film with all of you. Hopefully, I can get it screened and share with you all in January 2010!


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Photos by: Benjamin Ang

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