Second wind
Ho Widing, a Malaysian director based in Taiwan, is taking his
career in his stride.
By ALLAN KOAY

WHILE the big news for South-East Asia this year was Singaporean
filmmaker Eric Khoo entering the main competition in Cannes with
his independent feature My Magic, few are aware that a Malaysian
filmmaker had his second short film compete at the same film
festival.

Ho Widing, a Malaysian director based in Taiwan, won two prizes in
Cannes in 2005, with his short film, Respire (Hu Xi).
The tale of the final days in the life of a young girl, set in a world
devastated by an airborne virus, won Ho the (Very) Young Critics
Award and Kodak Discovery Award for best short film. This year, he
returned to the festival with Summer Afternoon, a story about three
friends on a road trip.

Going back to the festival this time wasn’t just about competing

there; Ho also has a project in development, a feature called Pinoy

Sunday, that he brought along.

The result of being prepared with a feature in development on his
second trip to Cannes, he said, was “fruitful.”

“After Respire, I had been working and seeking funds for two years
for my debut feature, Pinoy Sunday, “ Ho explained in an e-mail
interview. “I wasn’t going to suffer from this two-year inactive period
so I quickly made another short hoping to keep up my creative
energy and motivation to make films.”

He likens his first trip to Cannes to “going on a high school trip,
fresh, fun and exciting”; and his second as graduating from college,
“no more horsing around.”

“The second trip was more purposeful,” he said. “I was prepping
(Pinoy Sunday) when I made Summer Afternoon. So it’s always
good to talk to a potential producer in Cannes about your feature
while you have something screening there.”

Although it didn’t pick up any prizes, Summer Afternoon was,
however, the only Asian short film in Cannes this year. It premiered

in the Directors’ Fortnight section, and Ho said the response was good.

“Fortunately, the audience responded accordingly,” he said. “In other
words, when I wanted them to laugh, they laughed, and when I
wanted them to feel uncomfortable, they did. To me, I’ve
accomplished something as a storyteller.”

Summer Afternoon was inspired by something that has regularly
intrigued Ho about life in Taiwan – the sometimes-outrageous
newspaper reports. He found that news in the usually sensational
tabloids often read like film synopses, and are mostly melodramatic.
He put together the story based on different elements from various
news sources.

“The story is about two lovers playing a joke on the girl in the
backseat,” said Ho. “But once the car stops, the afternoon drive in
the country takes a wrong turn as the girl in the backseat now
controls the fun.”

During a recent trip to Malaysia, Ho showed me footage from
Summer Afternoon, which was at the time still in post-production.
What I saw was impressive; the film is shot in gorgeous black-and-
white, and consists of a series of long takes. This is the complete
opposite of what Ho did with Respire, which had some fast and
jumpy cuts and is in bleak colours. Respire had 120 cuts in just 15
minutes, while Summer Afternoon has four long takes with a
Steadicam moving camera, the longest of them at a whopping four-
and-a-half minutes. He said that there were some who complained
that Respire is too “cutty” and “too MTV,” so he decided to go the

other extreme.


“I remember I was mesmerised by the black-and-white image in
Cinemascope when I watched Eureka (by Shinji Aoyama) on big
screen years ago,” said Ho. “When the opportunity of making
another short came along, I told myself if I didn’t do a black-and-
white film now, I would not have the chance to do it with features.
Short filmmaking is the ground for experimentation and trial-and-
error; feature-making tends to have many limitations. Making a black
and white feature film is deemed commercially risky.”

But he still thinks winning awards for a short film in Cannes hardly
makes anything easier for a filmmaker. In fact, he said it could mean
one has to work 10 times harder, as some people might think
winning the first time was just beginner’s luck. A second film in
Cannes is just what a filmmaker needs to prove that he isn’t a one-

trick pony.


“People will be surer and more impressed with your talent and your
hard work as a filmmaker if you go to Cannes with follow-up work,”
said Ho. “This time, it becomes an irrefutable credential. It’s always
harder to go back a second time.”

As for Pinoy Sunday, Ho said it’s a dramedy about two friends, a
couch they’ve found and a long Sunday through Taipei. “This is a
different kind of journey movie,” he said. “The film is inspired by
Roman Polanski’s 1958 short film, Two Men and a Wardrobe.”

06/18/2008 12:10 AMThe Star Online: eCentral: Movies: Reviews
© 1995-2008 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)

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