Launched in 2006, Malaysian’s most prestigious short film competition awards have chosen its 11th Grand Prize winner for the year 2017. After all, BMW Shorties aims to support local filmmakers and provide a platform for talents to showcase their art. Now, for his short film NEVER WAS THE SHADE, Lim Kean Hian received a production grant of RM75, 000 from BMW Group Malaysia.
As of now, he is receiving guidance and mentorship from the panel of judges for his next professional short film, Langit Budak Biru. Moreover, his winning short film also claimed Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing in the highly competitive short film BMW Shorties Awards. Furthermore, NEVER WAS THE SHADE is also nominated in the 2nd Malaysia International Film Festival (Short Film) this year.
Here, SINI KAKI has the rare opportunity to catch up with the 38-year-old director behind NEVER WAS THE SHADE, Lim Kean Hian. He worked behind the scenes of The Innocent Desire (2013 short film) and You Mean The World To Me (2017). For this talented director, each filming project is a learning experience. Also, he thinks that movies should reflect the diversity of values found in the real world.
Growing up in the small town of Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan, the 23-year-old Lim Kean Hian would go to Taiwan to further his studies. There, he majored in Film in the Shih Hsin University. He would then serve as an Assistant Producer and Director’s Assistant with Director Tsai Ming-Liang’s film company in 2007. Meanwhile, in the year 2009, he furthered his studies at Taipei National University of Arts (TNUA) for an MFA in Film Making, this time, majoring in Directing.
Moving on to the year 2013, he directed a short film titled The Innocent Desire. He even received a nomination in the 15th Taipei Film Festival for this short film. Finally, in 2015, Lim Kean Hian returned to Malaysia and is currently an Assistant Director and a Video Editor. Other than that, he has a long list of work experiences, from working on TV commercials for brands like Watson’s to feature films directed by Jack Neo.
Q: Share with us the difference between the working environments in Taiwan and Malaysia’s film industry.
A: After returning to Malaysia, I find that those working in the Malaysian film industry are blessed indeed. Basically, you would spend more than 10 hours working to shoot a film in Taiwan. In contrast, the local industry is more inclined towards the culture in USA. If you work more than 12 hours, it is working overtime. So, the production team is worried about working more than 12 hours. They would try to finish everything within 12 hours or shoot the next day. The Taiwanese will work very hard and in the end, it’s extremely tiring. Besides, the working cultures are different, so I have to learn to adjust.
Q: You worked in Taiwan for many years, why do you decide to return to Malaysia?
A: I lived in Taiwan for 12 years and came back in 2015. I returned to find that the religious matter becoming more sensitive and the whole society has changed. Everyone gets upset easily when talking about this. Hence, this gives me the inspiration to film a story on tolerance and acceptance. After all, there is no one exact solution to a problem in our life. We have to tolerate and understand each other to promote harmony.
Q: Is there any local directors which you want to work with?
A: I hope to work with directors Tan Chui Mui and Ho Yuhang as I have always admired them.
Q: Do you have any thoughts to share regarding the highly influential Malaysian directors such as Yasmin Ahmad and Tsai Ming-liang?
A: I have watched all the movie directed by Tsai Ming-liang while only some movies by the late Yasmin Ahmad. Actually, among all the films I have watched, the works of Tsai Ming-liang left the strongest impression on me. I especially like his movies and having worked with him for 2 years, I’m very close to him. His thoughts and perspectives have affected me a lot.
Q: Which of Tsai Ming-liang’s movies leaves the strongest impression on you?
A: Vive L’Amour (1994) and The River (1997). I first watched Tsai Ming-liang when I went to Taiwan. I remembered that I slept while watching What Time Is It There? (2001). After I went to the university, the lecturer remarked that one must watch the Vive L’Amour. But I also slept halfway through as the scenes were very long. In the end, I woke up shocked by the crying scene of the main actress. The movie showed a cut of the woman crying for 6 minutes and I finally realised the message of the movie. Tsai Ming-liang’s films are not the same as those from Hollywood. They aren’t straightforward but you need to experience the stories. After some days, I rewatched it and understood the message. Tsai Ming-liang’s films are really artistic indeed!
Q: Share with us a movie which has affected you since you were young.
A: When I was 17 years old, I watched The Soong Sisters (1997) and was deeply affected by it. Back then, I mostly watched Jackie Chan’s movies on police and most of the films have male actors as the mains. When this movie came out, I was moved by it. Of course, other than that, it is also a film with healthy values.
Q: Why did you choose to go to Taiwan to learn filmmaking?
A: Actually, I was inspired by The Soong Sisters. In the movie, there were the characters of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. They are parts of the Taiwanese history. Moreover, as I have heard about the democracy and freedom in Taiwan, I moved there.
Q: Share a recent movie which you have watched recently and would highly recommend to everyone to watch.
A: Crossroads: One Two Jaga (2018) is the bravest local movie I have watched so far. The movie details corruption among the police accurately and it indicates the freedom of expression in society. Definitely worth a watch!
Q: Can you tell us more about your future work?
A: I’m currently busy working with a short film under BMW. The film is a story about growing up, and there are some bullying scenes, as I have often heard these kinds of news when I return to Malaysia these few years. For me, films are not just for entertainment. We also need some films to reflect the current society. I believe there is an audience who needs these kinds of films. I hope I can direct a full-length feature as the short films are not that popular. This is especially so in Malaysia where there are not many film festivals. On the other hand, BMW has provided a platform for us and support us, the new directors. It is great that they also allow the talented locals to showcase the abilities!
Indie filmmaker Tan Chui Mui said, ‘NEVER WAS THE SHADE’ has all the makings for an award-winning short film. It has compelling acting and cinematography, thoughtful production design, and above all, a powerful story. All of this is done with only two actors, one location and on a tight budget. My hats’ off to the director!”
Q: Give a brief introduction to the short film NEVER WAS THE SHADE.
A: The film tells the story of two half-brothers with different beliefs, arguing about their father’s burial. This occurred on a quiet and serene night at a hospital.
Q: What do you intend to highlight through your short film?
A: I want to showcase the concept of differing visions leading up to one path which goes down to the very bare roots of family relationships. In this case, the struggles of differing opinions and faith between the two brothers.
Q: What is the greatest challenge when filming NEVER WAS THE SHADE?
A: While communicating with Pablo Amirul, there were some awkward interactions. This is because I have difficulties in finding suitable words with my less-than-perfect proficiency in English and Malay.
Q: Discuss your feelings when working with the two main actors.
I am a new director while both of them are highly experienced, especially Steve Yap who has won awards before. Thus, we have different opinions, but I’m glad that they chose to trust me in the end.
Award-winning creative producer Nandita Solomon said, “The minimalistic production design for ‘NEVER WAS THE SHADE’ is impressive for a short film produced under a low budget, and through a single prop, managed to capture the minute details that expand into multiple layers of stories and motives to bring the story to life.”
Actor and writer Redza Minhat remarked, “The essence of the story lies in the writing. While it was a sensitive topic, the director has cleverly told his story to leave a deep resonance amongst the audience.”
Lastly, don’t forget to check out the short film NEVER WAS THE SHADE below!