Talking about James Lee & his films is a plunge into the excitement in Malaysian films. He’s considered a pioneer of the digital filmmaking in Malaysia, is incredibly prolific, and his dogged determination and dedication is an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers.
Instead of writing a thesis about the man, we trawled the depths of the Internet (and stalked him on Facebook – with his permission) to produce this 7-point brief :
#1 – FIRST, THE STATS: James has made close to 40 feature & short films ranging from arthouse films to commercial box office successes; he is a producer and director of photography for two dozen other works by his film comrades. He’s also active in theatre; he writes, acts, and served as juries at festivals. [filmography, biography]
The fantasy drama ‘The Beautiful Washing Machine’ is James’ fourth independent low-budget movie. It won two awards in 2005 at the Bangkok International Film Festival. [Full movie on Youtube]
James produced ‘The Big Durian’ in 2003, a docu-drama by Amir Muhammad that was the first (and the only) Malaysian film screened at the Sundance Film Festival. [Production notes on the vintage Tripod site, full movie on Youtube]
#2 – FILMS ACROSS GENRES AND LANGUAGES: James made his mark in both the mainstream commercial and indie art house films. His films are of many genres: stories with lots of romance, scary vampires, horror and thrillers, comedy, guns & martial arts, etc. He’s even made a period kung fu drama and has a sci-fi flick lined up!
James Lee on the set of ‘Tolong, Awek Aku Pontianak’ (“Help! My Girlfriend is a Vampire”)
…but rarer still and more remarkable is that his films are in all the major languages in Malaysia (Malay, Chinese, English) for a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual cinema audience.
#3 – HE WAS CALLED A “MAESTRO” [Variety]: He’s had glowing reviews in New York Times, The Village Voice & TIME Magazine; his films have travelled and won awards internationally, including at Oberhausen, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Cinemanila, Brussels.
#4 – ON PRESS & HYPE: Related to #3, but when TIME magazine declared this his “coming of age,” James replied: “It was okay. […] Well, it doesn’t get people to watch your films. It’s a very niche thing. It’s great to have writers write about it but it can’t get the kind of audience that we had with ‘Histeria.'”
‘Histeria’ was James’ first Malay-language horror flick, a mainstream commercial success. [Review]
#5 – THERE’S A PLAQUE WITH HIS NAME ON IT: In 2007, his films were honoured with a special focus the Deauville Asian Film Festival in France. In the same edition was also a focus on Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook. His name is commemorated on a plaque at Place du Marche.
James seen here with the Mayor of Deauville and Park Chan Wook
#6 – ‘ATLANTIS CONSPIRACY’ MAKES US NERVOUS AND EXCITED: His next feature film is a sci-fi flick, touted as a production with the biggest budget ever for a sci-fi film in Malaysia.
Dystopian future? Check. Mechas? Check. Warring clans? Check. All-Malaysian production? Check! [Watch the short film on Viddsee]
#7 – LOTS OF GOODIES AHEAD: James is ahead of his pack in making and premiering films entirely online. He released an accompanying Android app at his last short film premiere (‘The Girl from Tomorrow’ featuring Youtube stars Joseph Germani & Koe Yeet), a fun game and comic complement.
He’s also very active on social media, and shares behind-the-scenes takes and even sketches he makes on his iPad (with the sleek Paper 53 app).
Word is that his next feature ‘The Lives of Rabbit Men’ will have an accompanying graphic novel!
These were sketches of the set of ‘All for Love,’ the living room where Mr Fu (Mike Chuah) repairs his SLR cameras.
We just launched an all-new channel with James’ films & premiered his latest short film ‘All For Love.’