Film production in ASEAN countries on the rise

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Something interesting is happening all across the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). An evolution of sorts.

Comprised of 10 nations (Thailand, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Brunei, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia), ASEAN was set up to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region while promoting regional peace and stability.

Asia did not really start to come together until the Hong Kong Film Financing Forum (HAFF) in 1999, which was an initiative of the Government of Hong Kong that set up a HK$100 million fund (US$12.9 million) to stimulate the domestic film and production industries. That program helped unite filmmakers and others from around Asia to discuss how the funds should be dispersed.

From that first HAFF meeting, a sense of pan-Asian cooperation was generated. “Why don’t we work together, combine resources and move forward with developing projects that would gain fame across the region?” was the cry of the Asian filmmakers.

Problem is, with over a dozen languages spoken, and disparity in fiscal resources and Asian cultures which one would think similar, co-productions/joint projects to this point in time have not been viable.

But this is where the evolution comes in. Recent anecdotes show that film projects are beginning to take place across country boundaries, using the best resources from each nation to develop projects that have excellent breakout possibilities for the international film and TV market. And these projects are getting their start in ASEAN.

Take, for example, acclaimed Singaporean director Eric Khoo, who has produced and/or directed features and made-for-TV films, music-videos and television commercials. He’s best-known for his four feature films that were screened at film festivals all over the world: Mee Pok Man (1995), 12 Storeys (1997), Be with Me (2005) and My Magic (2008). Be With Me opened the 2006 Director's Fortnight at Cannes and My Magic was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and was voted as one of the top five films of that year by French magazine Le Monde.

Ever since he was a child, Khoo loved Japanese manga—most notably that of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who in the late 1950s introduced a bold form of manga called gekiga, which was darker, more realistic and often violent. Tatsumi is one of Japan’s most important visual artists.

Inspired by Tatsumi’s autobiographical book A Drifting Life, in which he not only tells his own story but marks Japanese cultural milestones from World War II to topics like its first domestically manufactured washing machine, its Miss Universe contestants, maritime disasters and taste for Coca-Cola—ground-level pop Japanese history—Khoo is crafting an animated feature film due for release by his Zhao Wei Films later in 2011.

With an early international distribution deal with Germany’s The Match Factory and partial support from Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA), Khoo took his animation work to Indonesia’s Infinite Frameworks Studios, a short 40-minute ferry ride from Singapore to Batam Island.

I caught up with Khoo at Technicolor Asia (Technicolor Thailand Co. Ltd.) in Bangkok, where he had taken his film for color correction and sound mixing. I asked why he is spreading work on his production to shops in various countries. He smiled and answered, “Why not? Production houses around the region have advanced, so it is easy to pick from the cream of the crop. With transportation costs low thanks to budget airlines, and ‘concierge services’ such as Technicolor has here in Thailand helping find very reasonable accommodation costs, producing region-wide has become a reality.”

So will we be seeing “Made in ASEAN” credits on film and TV by 2015, when full ASEAN integration is supposed to take place? With lofty ASEAN objectives like “promoting the development of cultural industry resources by facilitating collaborations and networking between and among small and medium-sized cultural enterprises” and with innovative, visionary directors like Eric Khoo taking advantage of the best the region has to offer, “Made in ASEAN” may soon become a household word.

Miyazaki Won’t Alter New Feature

While we are on the topic of Japan’s pop icons, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on March 31 reported that Studio Ghibli topper and award-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki announced there was no need to change the studio’s upcoming movie Kokurikozaka Kara (From the Kokuriko Hill) despite Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. Hayao is credited with writing the script directed by his son Goro.

The animated feature, based on a 30-year-old comic series for girls, depicts the life of a high-school girl and a boy from the sea in Yokohama around 1963, a period when Japan experienced spectacular economic growth.

“The biggest concern for the animated movie was whether the film to be released July 16 across Japan would be able to withstand changes to the world as time goes by,” Miyazaki said at a press conference in Tokyo. “But the heroine's desire and the boy's will to live in the film are definitely needed in our time from now on.”

Miyazaki is currently preparing for a new movie project in which he said that "people will be portrayed realistically."

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news stories at prdivision@gmail.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @scott_cos or on Facebook: D Scott Rosenberg.