Have you ever indulged in a one-on-one conversation with an artist? It could be a painter, writer, filmmaker, singer…
If you have, did you notice the unadulterated passion that weaved its way through every aspect of the conversation? The glow in their eyes when they spoke of their art form? The eloquence and inherent drive as they animatedly discussed the nuances?
These conversations are, without a doubt, some of the most priceless. When an artist talks about his or her art, you can’t help but be caught up in the whirlwind of emotions – passion, happiness, courage and inspiration. They make you feel like anything is possible – as long as your heart is in it.
Recently, I had the pleasure of partaking in such a conversation and it was absolutely awe-inspiring.
The Award-Winning Filmmaker
A few weeks ago, we heard that Lai Kah Chun, a 23-year-old IACT College alumnus, won 3 awards under the Film category of Short+Sweet Malaysia 2020. To our amazement, he won Best Script, Best Director and Best Overall Production for his short documentary film, Tip Toe.
Wanting to learn more about the artist behind the movie, we arranged for an online interview with the young, award-winning filmmaker.
As soon as we started chatting, I realised there was a certain comforting familiarity about Kah Chun. He laughed, grinned and answered each question with uninhibited enthusiasm and honesty.
“Well, I’m a storyteller, photographer and I dabble a bit in poetry. All this sort of led to filmmaking,” Kah Chun narrated, sharing details of his artistic background.
Although he was in the science stream during his high school years, Kah Chun mostly spent his free time pursuing his artistic inclinations. And when the time came to pick a career option, he chose his passions – visual arts and storytelling.
As he went on with his story, I was curious as to what exactly interests him about storytelling and filmmaking.
“I loved going to the movies as a kid – it was the most interesting activity! But despite the number of movies I watched, I only really remember Star Wars!” Kah Chun laughed in spite of himself.
His excitement grew as he explained how Star Wars was extremely “cool and beyond anything we could imagine.”
But his interest in filmmaking took different turns over the years. As he grew older, Kah Chun realised he was more intrigued by the storytelling aspect of filmmaking, rather than “fancy editing and action.” He indulged in the raw emotions that emanate from each character within a film.
Understanding his roots, I then asked Kah Chun where he sources his filmmaking inspiration from. His answer was simple – music and poetry.
“I love Tom Rosenthal and Bruno Major. They’re both soulful musicians but Tom’s a little more quirky while Bruno is more lyrical,” Kah Chun thoughtfully explains.
TipToe – it’s accomplishments and impacts
TipToe is based on Kah Chun’s best friend, Douglas Philip Labadin, a Sabahan native. It follows his struggles as a plus-sized dancer.
The idea behind this film was to break down stereotypical body images people have of dancers – tall, lean and shapely.
When speaking to his best friend prior to filming, Kah Chun realised how hard he had to fight to carve his way as a plus-sized dancer and make it to centre stage. Now, his best friend is always front and centre during performances.
“This has nothing to do with his size but everything to do with his character and soul. He enthralls the audience. Yet, despite his natural talent, my best friend is never the first option because of his physical appearance,” the filmmaker lamented, hints of frustration layering his tone.
Kah Chun realised that he had to do something to alter this narrative and that’s how TipToe was born.
Production began at the end of 2019 and they wrapped up filmmaking before the start of 2020.
The awards came as a complete surprise to Kah Chun, especially since the rest of the entries were short films and the creative flexibility they have surpasses that of documentaries.
“Funny story about the event night itself – I wasn’t sure Tiptoe had actually won anything until after the whole event,” Kah Chun humorously recalls.
The creative artist had missed the first part of the Awards. If he had not asked audience members seated beside him, he wouldn’t have known he won!
Pandemic woes, aspirations and artistic perseverence
Kah Chun was studying while working part-time at a cafe and freelancing as a production assistant when the pandemic first hit.
He personally felt how much the industry was affected by the movement control orders. His freelancing gigs had stopped completely and even as things gradually started up, he had to deal with lots of last-minute cancellations.
However, Kah Chun is determined to keep persevering. He has been working on his personal craft and writing to ensure he continues to improve. Having just completed his degree at IACT College, Kah Chun is currently interning and looking to join bigger production houses.
The TipToe director expressed how fortunate he is to have the constant support of his friends and family. Although Kah Chun’s parents are both not in the artistic field, they have always been silently supporting his ventures.
When asked what he has to say to those who may be facing discouragement from pursuing their artistic interests, Kah Chun stated that it all boiled down to passion.
“You need to have an undying, unrelenting passion about your work. You also really have to practice and keep improving yourself. Passion fuels your drive and with practice and patience, you’ll just keep soaring to greater heights. Nothing and no one will be able to hold you back,” Kah Chun strongly asserted, drawing attention to how hard he must have worked over the years.
When Kah Chun isn’t working, he spends his free time collaborating with his artistic friends. They trade skills and play off each other’s strengths in producing their art. TipToe was a collaborative effort amongst his friends, with each of them contributing their unique skill sets.
At the end of our interview, I asked Kah Chun how he plans to leave his mark on the Malaysian film industry.
He chuckled and said, “When you google the top 10 movies in Malaysia, they’re mostly horror comedies. I’m not at all condemning – some of them are really good and that’s our unique Malaysian style. But nowadays, more and more Malaysian directors are releasing impactful movies like Jagat, You Mean The World To Me and the like.”
The filmmaker describes how these movies depict emotions, experiences and human nature. Kah Chun sees himself working on films with these themes – inherently raw and unapologetic.
“Like TipToe!” I quipped, smiling at how Kah Chun had already begun leaving his mark.
Throughout our conversation, I realised that Kah Chun’s passion and drive for his artistic pursuits are beyond measure. It’s as if he and his work are one and the same, inextricably linked at their core.
Remember how I spoke of artists who inspire just by conversing about their art? Kah Chun is undoubtedly one of these individuals.
With talents like him in the forefront, releasing productions like TipToe, it is without a doubt that the future of our film industry is in good hands.
If Kah Chun’s story has inspired you, check out his documentary film – Tip Toe – on YouTube!
Pictures courtesy of Lai Kah Chun