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Kinta is built on action

It is Malaysia’s first ever full-fledged martial arts movie. It’s been shown at the Cannes Film Festival, and headlined the recent KL Film Festival. Distributors in China, Japan and Europe have snapped it up. It’s even slated to be the first ever-Malaysian film to be screened in regular cinemas in America.

Yes, on paper, Kinta is set to be a big success. Unfortunately, it just isn’t the film that director C.L. Hor wanted it to be.

Rewind almost two years back (in January 2007, to be exact) to a press conference to announce the filming of “the first ever Malaysian Chinese martial arts movie”.

Then titled Kinta 1881 the film would star former world wushu champion Robin Ho in the lead role; along with three other national wushu champions (Michael Chin, Kuan Fei Jun and Shawn Lee), as well as world taichi exponent David Bao from China.

Back then, Hor had proudly proclaimed that the story would be about the history of the Malaysian Chinese – how they came here, how they moved on from the tin mines and continued living in this country after 1881. The martial arts and action, in his own words, were “merely there to increase the entertainment value of the movie”.
How things have changed since then. Now renamed Kinta, the production was over-budget by RM800,000 (eventually costing almost RM4mil), and its release was delayed thanks to the need for seven – yes, seven – months worth of cutting and editing.

As a result, the movie that will be opening in Malaysian cinemas tomorrow is now a far cry from Hor’s original vision for the movie. From the promised epic wuxia movie about the Malaysian Chinese’s historical past, Kinta has been reduced to an action movie with a barebones storyline that is more about a bunch of betrayed brothers seeking revenge than it is about history.
C.L. Hor: “There were originally seven story threads in the movie, but we had to cut it down to three to suit the international market.”

During an exclusive interview at his office in Damansara Jaya in Selangor, Hor sounded almost apologetic as he explained how the movie turned out this way.

“If I were making an art film like (previous film) The 3rd Generation, I would have full say on what I wanted to do (with the movie). But this was different. This is a commercial movie that we were marketing to international markets, and a lot of money was invested into this movie,” he said, adding that the turning point was when the movie was screened in Cannes and international film distributors expressed interest in buying the film.

“Initially, we never thought of selling to the Western market, because my own personal connections are based mostly in Hong Kong and China. Then, out of the blue, we were selected to screen at the Cannes world premiere, and we got a lot of interest from foreign distributors. “With such a big investment in it, the priority was to get back the money, and in this respect, we could not only depend solely on the Malaysian market.”

To date, they have managed to sell the film to 14 countries, thanks in part to the film being shown at Cannes. However, there was a catch to it all – to fulfil the criteria of these foreign buyers, the film had to be drastically changed.

“The final version is the seventh cut I’ve done. We had to fulfil a lot of criteria to sell it internationally – they wanted more entertainment value and impact. And they also wanted it to be below 90 minutes so they could sell it for cinema, DVD and TV as well,” he added.

“If you make a Hollywood movie, the executive producer represents the investors, and he has the say. I definitely have influence, but my hands are tied because I have to fulfil the investor’s wishes.”

As for the story (or what was left of it), Hor also had to throw out a lot of the plot to accommodate the 90-minute limit. In fact, by the time the final cut was done, his noble intentions to “show people outside Malaysia the roots of the Malaysian Chinese” had been whittled down to a mere action film about four brothers seeking revenge.

“There were originally seven story threads in the movie, but we had to cut it down to three to suit the international market. We had to sacrifice a lot of history and dialogue in the final cut,” he explained. “Finding a balance between a good action film that represents our Malaysian culture and also satisfying the demands of the Western market was very, very hard. Westerners only wanted good action, cinematography, art direction, and didn’t want too much historical story.”
Kinta has been sold to 14 countries but to fulfil the criteria of foreign buyers, the film had to be drastically changed.

Well, at least one good thing to come out of the movie is that the action scenes are relentless, brutal and extremely well choreographed. Hor roped in Hong Kong action choreographer Chin Ka Lok in to handle the action, and it is, without doubt, the best part of the movie.

“I’m very proud of the actors – they put everything into their fighting, to the extent that 14 of my actors were admitted to the hospital throughout the shoot. I’m proud that I got these bunch of young chaps who never gave up, and tried their best every time.

“And even Chin Ka Lok worked very hard – training them, and directing them,” he said, adding that two of the actors — Michael Chin and Shawn Lee – even caught the eye of Hollywood studio Lionsgate.

One last question remains: as a director, what does Hor himself think of the movie?

“I’m satisfied with movie, but am frustrated that it is not what I wanted to do in the first place. If I were to come up with a director’s cut, I would have more Malaysian history in it, to share the tale of Chinese immigrants coming down to Malaysia and how they survived. That was my original idea.”

Well, if the film is a success, he might just get the chance to improve on the movie, and perhaps tie up those dastardly loose ends with a prequel and a sequel in the future.

Until then though, Hor will always regard Kinta as a film where it was the journey that mattered, not the finishedproduct.

“I have to say I am proud of it. Whether I like it or not is a different matter,” he said with a laugh. “I’m proud because I’ve made a film that can be marketed all over the world. I’m proud that I can convince investors to buy the movie, even though the director is a nobody and the movie has no stars in it.

“I see it as a first step towards becoming a commercial director. We’ve managed to get our foot in the door, and hopefully we can go on from here.”

Source : TheStar

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