An adolescence imagined: An Interview with Jacky Yeap

If you watched the trailer of Malaysian filmmaker Jacky Yeap's first feature film, Sometime, Sometime (一时一时的) which had its world premiere at last year's Shanghai International Film Festival, you cannot miss filmmaker and Founder of DaHuang Pictures Tan Chui Mui in it, playing quite a significant role. Indeed, she has a very special role in the film. In fact, the pairing of filmmaker Jacky Yeap who plays the son and Tan Chui Mui who plays the mother carries more significance than meets the eye. Jacky, who is almost 30 years-old, plays Zi Kian, an awkward teenager who has a disturbing obsession with his mother and somehow, halfway through the film, we feel like we are watching Jacky as well in many self-reflexive moments. Jacky, who currently works in DaHuang Pictures opens up about the character, his approach to the role and Tan Chui Mui. 

What attracted you to work on a story like Sometime, Sometime, and how did production on the film begin?


One afternoon in 2018, Tan Chui Mui who is my boss suddenly asked me how old I was. I said 27 and she said ‘it's time to make another film’. At that time, she knew that I had two scripts on hand, one called Getting your attention, which is a story about a film director, which had a more artistic and complex story structure, and the other called Falling in Love Again, which was a story about three men of different ages falling in love with the same woman, which was effectively the longer version of my 2017 short film with the same title. Chui Mui felt Falling in Love Again was more suitable for me to make at that stage, so we started making this film. Later on, on second thought, I felt the story might be a little too unreal as I think I gave myself too much freedom in the story idea. So I decided to make some adjustments to the story to make it closer to my experience and more realistic and this final version of Sometime Sometime was created in this way.


This story is related to my own background, and my experience growing up. My mother passed away when I was years old and I lived with my father and two brothers. So, when I was growing up, there was no female figure around me, but I didn't care. From the time of my university to the time I started working in Tan Chui Mui's DaHuang Pictures company after graduation, I found that my heart was subconsciously in need of a mother, and over time this need became more and more conscious. This is also reflected in the changes in my relationship with Tan Chu Mui over the years. We went from being boss and employee, to becoming like a family, and there were many days we argued. And this feeling is very special and new to me, just like how a mother treats a son. At that time, I felt a special impact from this relationship and it affected me a lot. I wanted to quickly record this relationship through this medium (cinema) which can preserve the moment in visuals and sound, for I knew that this was a make-believe relationship, we will never have the real thing. Therefore, there are many daily routines played out in the movie that may be boring or ordinary to the audience. But for me, it was my chance to experience a mother-child relationship, even though I was already in my 20s. Therefore, SometimeSometime is a projection of my mother-child relationship.

Could you tell us more about the process of working on the film's narrative, given that there are quite a lot of spontaneous moments in the film? How much of the story or dialogue was improvised?

In fact, every piece of dialogue in the movie is written in the script, with only a few adjustments made on set. The reason why the audience feels like they are watching actors being spontaneous is that I have been observing myself and people around me. I like to observe people around me, like my boss, friends, long-term working partners, etc. I find them all interesting, the way of they speak, the actions, etc. However, often when I watch a movie, the people in the movie speak very in a standard style and the sentences are perfect. I feel that while this is well presented, but it is not good for this movie. The story of this movie and my purpose of making this movie (as answered in the first question) should try to restore what we see and hear in the real world, more specifically, what I see and hear,


As for the story, if I want to be a bit more self-indulgent, maybe I will shoot the trivial things in daily life, there will be no story, more like a documentary. But nevertheless, this is a feature film, and it still needs a story to support this movie as a skeleton. So using the content that I already have, I created two outsiders in the life of the mother and son, one being the mother’s boyfriend, from which we witness the jealousy of the son, and the other being the son’s classmate, which is the object of his affection. I think everyone feels some jealousy, from childhood to growing up, but why do people gradually hide this jealousy after growing up? This is because society 's definition of what it means to be adult has caused us to hide our jealousy. It does not mean that there is no jealousy, but we are just suppressing it. As long as we face our jealousy honestly, and jealousy brings bad things, we can break through the evil feeling of jealousy. Just like the son in the movie, whose jealousy of his mother's boyfriend leads him to show that he doesn't like the man through mischief. However, if it is a 3 to 5 year-old child, he will be openly display his jealousy, unlike adults, who can pretend to be unaffected.

Could you give some insight into how Tan Chui Mui came into the project, and of your experience working with a seasoned filmmaker during the various stages of production?

Tan Chui Mui is already my boss. After working together for so long, we have grown to each other enough, so she helped me produce my movie. Basically, my team and I handle most of the problems in the production. Chui Mui doesn't handle many problems in production and only when necessary, will I go and seek her guidance or advice. In addition to being the producer, Chui Mui is also the heroine of the movie. In this movie, her work is more in the interpretation and crafting of the role of mother. Therefore, we had more disagreements in this regard, and in many cases, I would be told off her, haha. For instance, the character of the mother in the movie is modelled after Chui Mui, and I have included a lot of her into the writing. But she doesn't want to play herself in the movie, and hoped that I could focus developing the mother character instead of focussing on her. In the real world, Chui Mui is a very strong, independent person with a lot of gravitas and aura , but in the movie, she is a gentle and fragile woman. This change was made after she read the script.

How did you end up playing the role of Zi Kien? Also, considering the age difference between the character and yourself, did you ever feel any disconnect or difficulty playing the role? (How old are you by the way?)

I am 29 years old now and when this movie was made, I was 27 years old. My character in the movie is 17 to 18 years old. There are several reasons why I had to play this role. Firstly, maybe for others, this is just a movie, but for me, it serves to fill a lost portion of my life, the relationship between mother and son. In other words, I am using cinema to complete myself. Secondly, because I look like a child. Many people who meet me for the first time will think that I am a middle school student. But Chui Mui said that I am getting old, and if I want to act in this role, I must do it quickly, or I will get old, so I can't do the role anymore. So we started shooting as soon as we got enough funds. Finally, it is also important that Chui Mui and I look believable as mother and son. Half a year before the filming started, due to work reasons, Chui Mui and I would often attend events together or go abroad. Those who saw me for the first time would ask Chui Mui: Is this your son? Therefore, I believe that this movie would not be complete without us playing mother and son.


To what extent are the actors (meaning you and Chui Mui) playing a bit of yourself? There was a moment the young girl called you 'Jacky' instead of Zi Kien, so the lines are indeed quite blur.


To some extent we are indeed playing part of ourselves. I think it is impossible for the actors and the characters in the movie to be separated. They influence each other. Before the filming of the film, we let the characters enter their bodies. After the filming, some parts of the characters become us. This is what I believe. As for the scene in the movie in which the supporting actress called out the name "Jacky". For people who don't know me, they might think this is Zi Kien’s English name. But people who know me, this is like me having a conversation with myself through the movie. In fact, this scene was designed to make the audience suddenly awaken to the fact that you are just watching a show. The narrative is all fake. In another instance, in the middle of the movie, when he was eating with his mother, father, father-in-law and mother-in-law in a vegetarian restaurant, his father told him that his movie would be better if he added music. Next thing we know, non-diegetic sound appears in the film.


What is the difference between working on a short film and a feature? Were there any unexpected difficulties that you faced working on a more ambitious and lengthy project?

At the beginning, I was very confident, we were a low-cost production, and the funds were all from subsidies, so there is no pressure. I did make it as a short film, and it was just a relatively long short film. As it was self-directed and self-acted, I am also very confident. Two days after the filming started, my biggest suffering was exhaustion. I found out that acting would consume a lot of mental and physical energy. When the assistant director said cut, I was a little tired and had to watch monitor check playback . After a few times, I started to feel tired and couldn't concentrate on too much work. In the end, I decided to trust my deputy director, because he is a long-term friend of mine, and he also knows me and Chui Mui well, so I basically relied on him for performance, and I just concentrated on acting.

是什么激发了您想出SometimeSometime类型的故事? 电影的制作是怎么开始的?

 2018年的一个下午,我和老板陈翠梅在公司油漆,她突然问我今年几岁,我说27,她说,是时候拍电影了。就这样,我们开始制作电影。那时候她知道我手上有两个剧本,一个叫《影人注目》,关于一个电影导演的故事,属于比较花桥的故事结构,另外一部叫《Falling in Love Again》,是一部讲述3个不同年龄层的男人同时爱上同一个女人,算是我2017年拍的短片作品《Falling in Love Again》的长版。老板觉得Falling in Love Again的故事比较适合我现在这个阶段拍,所以我们就开始制作这个故事。过后我想想,那个故事是我天马行空创造出来的,都是虚构的,可能因为这个原因,导致我觉得不踏实,就开始想要做些调整,让故事比较靠近当时的自己,最后就改成了《一时一时的 SometimeSometime》这个版本。

 会写这样的一个故事是和我的成长背景有关系。我妈妈在我5岁的时候就过世了,我是和我爸爸和两个哥哥一起生活的。所以,在我的成长,身边是没有一个女人存在过的,但我不以为意。直到我大学毕业后到陈翠梅的大荒电影上班,我发现,我内心想要有个妈妈的渴望从小时候的无意识,慢慢变成越来越有意识。这也包括这些年来,我和陈翠梅的关系的变化,与其说我们像老板和员工,我觉得有时候更像是一家人,整天吵吵闹闹的。而这种感觉对我来说很特别,很新,就像妈妈对待儿子一样。当时候的我对这份感情感到特别的冲击,很影响我,我想赶快透过这种可以把画面和声音保留下来的媒介(电影)把这份感情记录下来,因为我知道,这种关系是假的,我们始终都不会是真的母子,一辈子也不会是。所以,电影里有很多的日常也许对观众来说是无聊,或者普通的。但对我来说,是我在20几岁后才感受过的母子关系。所以,《一时一时的 SometimeSometime》是我对母子关系的一种投射。

这片中有很多自发的瞬间,您能分享塑造电影故事情节的过程吗? 拍摄过程中,会紧跟着剧本吗,还是有很多现场的即兴创作?





您如何对待扮演Zi Kien的角色? 另外,考虑到角色和自己之间的年龄差异,您是否曾感到扮演角色时有任何脱节或困难之处? (顺便问下你今年几岁)


演员(就是指您和陳翠)在多大程度上在扮演自己呢? 记得有一幕,那位小女生把你叫成“ Jacky”,而不是Zi Kien

某种程度上我们确实在扮演着自己的一部分。我觉得演员和电影里的角色是不可能分开的,互相影响着,电影开拍前,我们让角色进入自己的身体,电影拍摄完毕后,角色的某些部分成为了现实的我们,这是我相信的东西。至于电影有一场戏是女配角喊了“Jacky”这个名字。对不认识我的人来说,也许会认为这是陈子健的英文名字。但认识我的人,就知道,或者隐隐约约可以察觉到,这是一种我对我自己的电影的一种回应,自己和自己说话的感觉。选择设计这场戏是因为我想让观众跳出来,其实,你们只是在看戏,这些都是假的。其实不只是这场有导演的出现。在电影的中段,他和母亲,爸爸,公公婆婆在素食馆的聚会。爸爸对儿子说,如果他用手机拍的影片可以加音乐应该会更好。接下来,电影就出现了Non-diegetic sound

制作短片和长片有什么区别? 制作长片的过程毕竟比较有挑战性,你在过程中有遇到什么意料之外的困难呢?

一开始我很有自信,加上我们是低成本制作,资金都是来自辅助金,所以没有压力。我确实把它当作短片来制作,这只是一部比较长的短片罢了。加上自导自演,也非常有自信。电影开拍两天后,面对最大的苦难是疲惫。我发现原来演戏的时候会消耗很多精神和体力,当副导演喊cut后,些许疲惫的我必须去看monitor check playback,几次后,我开始感到累了,无法专注太多岗位。最后,我决定相信我的副导演,因为他是我长期合作的朋友,也很了解我和陈翠梅,所以表演上的好与不好,我基本上都很依靠他,而我就专心表演就好。

Interview by Timothy Ong and Jeremy Sing


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