"Sell Out!" may not have made a big splash among Malaysians, but it was undeniably good, judging by its reception overseas, where it world premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won, before going on to win awards at a festival Montreal. It was also the first and only Malaysian film to be commercially released in Canada and Austria. After four years, director Yeo Joon Han is back with "In The Dark", which marks his first film in the horror genre, and his second feature-length film. The film tells the story of lovers Joseph and May, who are separated when May dies unexpectedly and Joseph tries everything in his power to bring her spirit back to see him.
Recently, I got to sit down with Yeo Joon Han, executive producer Patrick Wee, and his cast, Taiwanese actor Wang Po-Chieh and Malaysian beauties Jennifer Foh and Candy Lee to talk about "In The Dark". We talked about how he derived the inspiration for his project, how the film title came about, his thoughts on the Malaysian film industry in general, whether Wang had any experiences with the otherworld and how newcomers Jennifer and Candy prepared themselves for their roles.
Q: How did you first came out with the idea for this story?
Yeo Joon Han: I just thought it's about time! [Laughs] At first, I had this idea that what if someone you love dies and comes back to you as a ghost? Shouldn't that be not scary since it is someone you loved after all? I started with that idea, but then I started to think that it should be a horror film as well, since it involves the supernatural. Basically, it has a little bit of everything, even comedy.
Q: Why did you choose to make it into a horror film?
Joon Han: I choose to do horror because I wanted to make a film that makes people constantly scared, not just for a second, like "Jaws". I'm not a fan of horror movies, but I really enjoyed "Jaws". Throughout the whole film, we rarely saw the shark, but we are constantly on the edge about it, like, oh my god, is it coming, that sort of thing. I wanted to make a movie that invokes the horror by building up suspense like horror movies in the 80s as opposed to the gore-filled ones of today.
Q: So, what is your favourite genre or film then?
Joon Han: I like comedies. My favourite sound in the world is laughter. I like Woody Allen's films, like "Annie Hall". I think Woody Allen is a master at cinematography. That split screen thing he did for "Annie Hall" is superb.
Q: What about the rest?
Wang Po-Chieh: There are so many. But I like Sean Penn's films the most.
Jennifer Foh:I like action films like "Transformers". A lot of people are surprised when I say that because I'm a girl.
Candy Lee: I like Chinese wuxia and historical films.
Q: Patrick, is it the horror element that attracted you to venture into production?
Patrick Wee: That, and many more. As you know, this is my first time producing a film. When Joon Han first approached me, I was a bit sceptical at first, but then he showed me the script and I was hooked from the first page. The story is full of twists and turns, and it really does go back to the roots of horror, with minimal CGI, depending only on lighting and sounds. I think it will appeal to both local and international audiences, which is also why I chose to be on board as executive producer.
Q: Joon Han, do you feel pressured about making "In The Dark" since "Sell Out!" was so successful?
Joon Han: Not really. I have absolutely no expectations for it. I mean, even for "Sell Out!", I didn't expect it to do so well overseas since Malaysians didn't really like it. There was even a time when an old lady stopped me in public just to tell me how I should've done so-so. If I try too hard to make it a success, I may end up plagiarising something, and people will know. What you'll see in "In The Dark" is me doing my best.
Q: How did you finally settle on the title "In The Dark"?
Joon Han: As you may already know, my movie was previously titled "Breathe". I'm pretty bad with titles. Before that it was called "Estate Agent"! But then GSC suggested to me that I should change the title "Breathe" as it didn't sound like a horror film, and that "In The Dark" is more appropriate. The title may once again change before I finally release the film, like what they did with "Kepong Gangster", it was titled "Kepong" for the longest time until about a month before its release. In the meantime, I'm happy with "In The Dark". My film is, after all, about ghosts, and they usually appear in the dark. It also means "to be kept in the dark", which is what happens with my characters; they discover many things along the way.
Q: Wang, you're playing the lead character in "In The Dark" who sees ghosts. Have you ever had any spiritual encounters before?
Wang: Yes, I first saw a ghost in Mainland China. I was sleeping in my hotel room when I felt something pressing on my chest at night and it was hard to breathe. I was so scared that I just kept apologizing to the ghost, and I even put on my talisman. Eventually, it went away. I quickly changed rooms after that.
Q: Jennifer and Candy, how did you both prepare yourselves for your roles? Both of you are fairly new to the acting industry.
Jennifer: Yes, I am. I have always wanted to act, but my job as a model was very demanding so I had no chance. So I was grateful to Joon Han for giving me this opportunity. He is very patient with us, and we rely on him to direct us a lot. For example, he made me stand on top of a table to say my lines in order to make me feel uncomfortable, which is the, how do you say it, state of mind that he wanted me in, since I am not easily nervous as I used to model.
Candy: Yes, Joon Han has a lot of innovative methods to get us to act better. He also made us practice by shouting at each other in the streets in public.
Jennifer: I also had to practice not to show my emotions so easily as my character is gentle and soft-spoken. Memorising dialogue is very hard too, so we prepared ourselves by working very hard.
Q: That's all for now. Thank you!
All: Thank you.