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Monday, February 24, 2014

SECOND LIFE: A Dialogue With Malaysian Filmmaker James Lee

From L to R: James Lee, Charlene Meng, Michael Chin, Low Chee Hong, Adrian Poh and Adrian Lai on the set of the upcoming martial arts action shortfilm SECOND LIFE

Independent filmmaker James Lee recently officially launched his content creation platform this year, Doghouse 73 Pictures, with a brand new website to host his YouTube channel, and a variety of other cool merchandise for fans and viewers. In covering this for my previous article, I was eager to follow up on a shortfilm project titled Second Life, succeeding his 2012 martial arts feature-length contribution with The Collector starring Sunny Pang.

With a new year just beginning, I took interest in sharing a dialogue with some questions for the director who shares some pretty insight on what he hopes to accomplish, and the people in his circles that are working with him to change the game for the Malaysian film industry.

Film Combat Syndicate: How did you get started in movies?
James Lee: I was originally trained as a graphic designer with a dream of becoming a comic artist back in the early 90s. And when the TV industry picked up in Malaysia in the mid 90s, I quit my job as a graphic designer and joined as a personal assistant and sometimes as part of the technical crew. And at the same time I was involved in the local theatre scenes learning stage acting & directing from the top theatre directors.
FCSyndicate: What motivated you to launch your own filmmaking platform and channel?
JL: The main reason was the unfavourable situation faced by smaller and independently produced films in the traditional marketing of films (cinemas, TV, Cables, DVD). Smaller films not only face stiff competition against big box-office blockbuster movies fighting for cinema screens and attention, even marketing and promotional budget needed to sell a small film would cost more than production cost. But with the emerging of various VOD platforms (VHX, Reelhouse, Vimeo, PivotShare, Distrify) and trends in the U.S. and around the world, it made sense that this is the best way for small budget filmmakers to sell their movies direct to audiences or fans.
FCSyndicate: You embrace several genres as a director. Is there a favorite you enjoy most? Any favorite titles?
JL: I don’t particular have a favourite genre that I enjoy making as a director or even watching as an audience. I believe if it’s a good movie with a solid storytelling and interesting characters, the genre doesn’t really matter to me.
FCSyndicate: Your previous fantasy action short, Atlantis Conspiracy generated a pretty positive reaction from a few of my readers who are active on Facebook. Has there been a response from investors?
JL: Response has been generally positive locally for the fact that no one actually believes we could pull this off in Malaysia. I mean, sci-fi is a genre that is very foreign to Asians productions. Rarely do we see an Asian region produced or made sci-fi. So when we say we want to make one, there were a lot of skeptics. But of course the 6 minute short was just a concept of showcasing our technical and production capabilities and handling of English language material.
FCSyndicate: Your next conceptual action short, Second Life releases next month. How did that particular project begin? And tell us about the cast.
JL: After “The Collector” I was more than ever hooked on making another martial arts action film. Okay, maybe this is a genre that I’m very interested at the moment, and also due to budget limitations of “The Collector” we could not pull off some of the ideas I have in mind. So with “Second Life” I’m exploring Western style fight scenes and more conventional Asians fight choreography. Both based on the capabilities of the cast. For instance, the fight scenes between Michael Chin a former national wushu champion, stunt performer and Chee Hong the choreographer and founder of Low Angle are more closely design to the familiar Asian style, flashy high kicks with fast hand exchange and actors have to pulled off 5-8 movies in one shot/take. As for the other fight sequence involving actress Charlene Meng (3 Doors of Horrors) and Michael Chen (an actor who also happens to be a martial artist), that fight was designed more similar to the Hollywood style multiple cuts with actors performing less than 5 moves in a shot/take before the next. This time round we added in a gun fight sequences.
FCSyndicate: Some of us may be new to Low Angle Productions who also worked on training Michael for his role in second life. What can you tell us about this particular indie stunt and choreography team? And how pivotal have they been in refining your vision for action?
JL: Low Angle Productions have been around for quite a while since 2008, the group members comprised mostly karate stylists. A fan of fight and action movies they then ventured into stunt fighting and stunt works. It was founded by Low Chee Hong, and like most indie stunt teams, they do a lot of stuff on their own. I met Hong on the set of “The Collector”, and because of his leg skills and with kicking being his specialty, all the people in the industry will refer him as the TKD (Tae Kwon Do) guy, but in fact he’s a karateka. As a choreographer, Hong is quite open in trying out stuff, and not just sticking to what he knows. For ‘Second Life’ he incorporates a little bit of Krav-maga, Kali and close-combat stuff for the fights and a little bit of grappling.
FCSyndicate: Your latest forwarded email says you're currently-developing the script for Doghouse 73 Pictures' first feature film, a horror thriller The Lives Of The Rabbit Men. What can you tell us about that film? And can you estimate when that will go into production?
JL: The film will go into a crowd fund campaign via Indiegogo first, and then we will shoot in late May or earlier with whatever we raise. The plot involves a group of men who kills people as a pastime, but unlike most slasher movies, this film is about them, told from their point of view; At the end of the day when they’re not killing their victims they’re all normal ordinary folks with a day job and family. It slight resembles ‘Fight Club’ in that sense, but instead of beating each other up they hunt and kill others.  
FCSyndicate: With the launch of Doghouse 73 Pictures this month, what lies ahead for film fans in 2014? Is there anyone you look forward to working with in particular?
JL: Well I’m trying to produce other young filmmakers' short films. I have produced an omnibus last year which is ‘3 Doors of Horrors’ and at the same time directing my own shorts and features. The one project I hope to work on is with Sunny Pang, after “The Collector". I feel there are more things we could do & explore in future projects.
FCSyndicate: Any words of advice for folks looking to get into film?
JL: My advice is don’t wait. Don’t wait for the money, don’t wait for the best cameras, don’t wait for the right opportunity, the thing I believe as a filmmaker is we make films with what we’ve got, then learn the business aspect of the industry if one intends to sustain in this industry. Art without a creative business mind will sometimes goes down into the drain. To quote from an old interview; “a good film doesn’t mean it’s a marketable film, and a marketable film doesn’t mean it’s a good film”. See the film business itself as one tough business.
Doghouse 73 Pictures is currently airing the latest new trailer for Second Life, which is poised for webseries treatment if the fans approve. So feel free to check out the trailer in the embed below, and as always, feel free to subscribe to the YouTube channel, and visit the official website for information.

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