Ray Lee living his dream as a filmmaker

Malaysian film director Ray Lee.

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, April 30: Malaysian film director Ray Lee’s main focus now is to make as many local feature films as he possibly can to show to the world that we (Malaysians) have something good, different, acceptable and unique for the cinemas.

With his first full feature film `Dendam Gadang’ under his belt, this young, jovial and enthusiastic personality has just completed his second feature film, which is a horror movie entitled `Belaban Hidup — Infeksi Zombie’. It is likely to be released this December.

Lee, who majored in photography and videography before venturing into filmmaking and sitting on the director’s chair 10 years ago, said apart from directing feature films, he wanted to produce all of them, too.

DayakDaily caught up with him recently when he was attending the Asean International Film Festival Awards (AIFFA) 2019. He related how he started by producing films for local broadcasting stations before shifting to making feature films.

Lee during his interview with DayakDaily.
Lee speaking to a crew member.

“In television films, there is a lack of creativity. Since I felt that this will hamper what I wanted to do, I decided to take the challenge and ventured into producing films for the cinema.

“The difference is that you have more choices in creativity, the level of actions, you are not confined and there are no limits. With that, you can do anything you fancy in feature films.”

This change in direction led to the birth of `Dendam Gedang’ and now `Belaban Hidup’, a horror zombie flick where the `living dead’ are up against tribal warriors.

Belaban Hidup

Lee revealed that his first horror feature film `Belaban Hidup’, which he directed and produced, has four elements — horror, ethnic, action and love story — to capture a wider audience.

In fact, `Belaban Hidup’ started as a short film in 2016 in what was a joint venture of sorts with his Iban wife, Misha Minut.

“I gave the whole idea to my wife and she drew up the whole script. So, in this film, we inserted the element of an Iban warrior versus the living dead. In 2017, we applied for grants from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas), but we ended up collaborating to produce a full feature film. That’s how this film came about.

“It took one to two years to prepare as my wife took one-and-a-half years to write the script. And even until shooting days, we still need to modify the script. It kept changing all the time due to budget constraint, too.”

Lee (seated) checking his work and surrounded by his crew at the `Belaban Hidup’ film set.
Actors acting their part in the `Belaban Hidup’ film set.
Group photo of crew and casts of `Belaban Hidup’ film at a shooting venue.

Lee said the film was shot in Kampar, Perak, and in Miri. In fact, only 30 per cent of it was done in Miri as Sarawak don’t have strong technical support.

However, Lee was quick to add that he could not totally ignore Sarawak as the film depicted many cultural aspects, like `miring’, the `bebiau’, the use of the Iban’s `parang ilang’ or the `Mandau’ blade, as well as the forest sounds of the traditional sape music as background in our scenes.”

“This fictional film has many differences when compared to other horror thrillers done locally or elsewhere. The synopsis is how humans are in conflict with each other, how they dealt with those they loved who were infected with the disease that turned them into zombies — the living dead, and the bravery of the tribal warriors in facing these issues.”

`Belaban Hidup’, Lee pointed out, was different from films such as `World War Z’ and `Resident Evils’ as they are all modern horror flicks, whereas his masterpiece would feature tribal warriors fighting zombies instead.

Sarawak’s film industry

Lee opined that Malaysian films are at par with those from Asean countries, but he believed that for Sarawak filmmakers to emerge and shine, the state government must step forward to give them a push.

He noted that the state had many talented filmmakers, and they should be given the opportunities to show it to the world.

A scene in `Belaban Hidup’.

“All that needs to be done is for them to be polished and be given a platform. You group all those who are talented in the field of arts, meaning those who are good in music, literature, arts and films, and I am sure someone will emerge from the lot to be filmmakers and actors of reckoning as these fields are interrelated.”

In addition, fellow Sarawakians who are already in the industry could lend a helping hand by taking local talents under the wings.

“If one goes up and make it, then others they brought along will also move up. This will also create jobs for those who are good in areas such as making film costumes, music, make-up artist, cameramen, technicians.”

Lee prefers to use local elements and resources for his films to make them unique, adding that he is the kind of person who is very open to criticism as they are lessons to make better films.

He observed that Sarawak does have something unique to offer to the world and it is up to the people to explore and turn them into realities to capture a global audience.

“Presently, besides films made in Hollywood, Korean films and dramas have made much impact on Malaysians. Many Malaysians adore the Korean way of life. Previously, it was Indian films, Indonesian films, Chinese films and Japanese ones.”

Challenges and advice

From his experience thus far, Lee advised young upstarts to start from the bottom.

“Young filmmakers have to do everything themselves in the industry, including as technologists as the film environment evolves.

“They have to be humble and, like me, start with short films. Don’t give up and do mix with those who are talented and experienced. I am still learning the trade. You must take action on what you want to do, not just talk about it.”

Lee (right) with his wife Misha (to his right), in a photocall with Minister of Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Rahman Karim Hamzah (third right) and others at AIFFA 2019.

Lee, who has a few accolades in film makings, is a member of the Film Directors Association of Malaysia. He hoped to get the chance to work with James Wan — the Sarawak-born Australian film director behind several Hollywood blockbusters, including `Aquaman’.

He hoped `Belaban Hidup’ would be a blockbuster not only in Malaysia but also in Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore before he thinks of a sequel.

“I hope to make it through this second feature film, or I go bust without trace.” — DayakDaiky