Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vagabond: Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

I just came back from watching the premiere of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa at The Curve. After which, I adjourned to Bangsar's Jalan Telawi for a birthday nightcap. I turned 31 today, and I feel like Miyamoto Musashi.

There are some great scenes in the movie. I remember writing the lines, and it still sends shivers down my spine when actors as good as Khir Rahman delivered them. Definitely, Khir delivered a standout performance as Kamawas, one of the main villains of the show. The rest of the cast also did good. Gavin had more life and panache, more character in Marcus than what his lines had on their own.

The female characters - I was initially worried at first about these characters. They had such little time to define themselves in the script, but the on screen performances of Nell Ng, Ummi Nazira and Jinglu more than made up for it.

I was also a bit concerned with the Chinese accent that was affected by the characters, but upon seeing the finished product, I don't think it was that bad.

The fight scenes - some of them were breathtaking. Yusry KRU did a marvellous job with some of the shots. They were great to behold and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Well, what can I say? I was involved in the production - as a stunt-cock - so anything positive would be deemed as patting myself and the team on our backs. Anything negative would ignite rumours of me not getting paid (for the record, I believe KRU has paid me in full a year or two ago).

What I can share with you is the fact that Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is the third movie I worked with KRU that is released.

Going back, when Norman asked me to write the script, I never thought it was ever going to be made. I was just happy to pocket the advance payment and get some experience and exposure in an epic action-adventure.

This is how I get my experience and sharpen my skills - I throw myself into the deep ened and do things I have never done before, and see how to solve problems along the way.

Little did I know that the experience would involve getting calls in the middle of the night for a pantun.

"Amir, I need a pantun."

And I was like, "What?"

I like pantuns, though, so it was no problem. I prefer pantuns to haikus as I think they make more sense.

And string enough pantuns together, and you get either a poem, a limerick or a sestina.

The research cumulatively took over a year, with additional information requested along the way. Tacking (the ability for a ship to turn - a vital element in sea battles), sloops and barges, and galleons and galleases. Met a ship builder - Rohani - who knew exactly what I was talking about.

I had no idea that my knowledge of ancient ship building would be called into play. In fact, there are some deleted scenes (from the script) that utilised some facts about Malay boat architecture using the sap of keruing to make the vessels seaworthy. In the west, they used tar.

It was cut because the story was getting too draggy. And no wants an ancient Malay hero to make the world safe for science, I guess.

The language problem was a joy to solve. If this was true to the period, the Romans would be speaking Latin, the Chinese would be speaking Mandarin and the 'Malays' would be speaking Bahasa Melayu Purba - a dead language.

So for the BM, I used the kind of language in the original manuscript, sans the more arcane words. The manuscript used some meters in some parts, iambic meters or pentameters, making lines have a lilting, almost rhythmic aliteration and whatnot. So the BM lines you see is basically a simplified Bahasa Melayu Klasik, because there was a concern raised if it was too classical, no one could understand it. Furthermore, Bahasa Melayu Klasik is long-winded and I sensed the scope and breadth of the story would be 'heavy' enough without the dialogues being mnore verbose than it was.

For English, since the film uses English for ALL 'foreign' characters, I went back to my roots - comics. I wrote the English dialogues, night after night, with a copy of Neil Gaiman's World Fantasy Award winning A Midsummer Night's Dream comic book on my lap.

You see, in order for me to write in a particular strong and defined style, I constantly need to read a piece written in that style.

I boast that I can copy any style - with differing levels of success - and the secret is simple. I just need a sample of the writing, and I can forge something similar.

This is why, if you are a writer, when you read something you like, try to get into the writer's head. Try to see it from their eyes. Will it be as good? No, it will be different. Because you're writing it. Not the original.

This, I learned from Neil Gaiman. He wanted to write an RA Lafferty story, and it didn't become an RA Lafferty short story. It became a Neil Gaiman trying to imitate RA Lafferty story. From there, emerged a new style. Gaiman is a writer of many styles. Like a copy-ninja.

The only writer NO ONE has ever been able to copy is Alan Moore. That man is a wizard and he should be burned at the stake.

As long as you don't lift phrases or whole passages - which is plagiarism, by the way - you can get in the mood or mode, and you can be as good as anyone.

This is why, a few weeks back, when an aspiring producer asked me, "Can you write a James Bond script?" I said "Yes."

So the languages were simplified classic BM, as well as some amount of Fakespeare.

I also did the subtitles for this movie, and most of them came out unscathed.

All in all, I do believe this movie to be one of my best film work, though considering I have only written three (actually, more, but three got made).

Congratulations to Yusry, KRU, the cast and crew of Merong Mahawangsa, as well as anyone and everyone involved in the production. I have learned so much from writing it and watching it on the big screen. Thanks for the opportunity.

Go and catch it at cinemas starting March 10!