Finding it tough to penetrate the local box-office market with English-language Malaysian films, director Julian Cheah decided to make a truly Malaysian film. His latest, Judi-Judi King Boss does not only feature English, but five other languages spoken in our country – Bahasa Malaysia, Hokkien, Mandarin, Tamil and Punjabi.
“I found that Malaysian audience is not keen on watching English-Malaysian films even when a Hollywood star is acting in it! Michael Madsen starred in Prince Of The City, which also had top local stars, but it didn’t work,” explained Cheah.
The 2012’s Prince Of The City was produced by Cheah, who starred alongside Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Jehan Miskin and Aaron Aziz.
The 54-year-old Cheah added: “As a businessman, it didn’t make sense for me to push forward with making more English films.”
In the case of Judi-Judi King Boss, Cheah was originally asked by a friend to write a screenplay for a film on illegal gambling, with only Malay and Chinese in the dialogue.
When the friend didn’t want to pursue with the completed script, Cheah decided to direct and produce the film himself. That’s when he decided to include the other languages as well.
But then, he was faced with a new obstacle. “There aren’t many actors who can speak Punjabi for example. In the end, I did get 20 people to participate … most of whom have done some acting, although not in leading roles.
“Also, this is a comedy, so the actors didn’t need to do much intense acting that a drama would require. It was easy for them to be funny,” he explained.
Besides Cheah, the film also co-stars Gana, a local Indian actor whom Cheah first worked with when they both guest starred in a Kopitiam episode back in 2002.
“I had to track him down. Luckily, he was keen,” shared Cheah.
Others in the cast include Zhi Qian, Syalmizi Hamid, Syarmila Rastam, Sean Ho, Al Chan, Franciscus Nithya, Narvinderjit Singh and Tasvinder Sandher.
Since Cheah only speaks Hokkien and English, how did he even write the dialogue in other languages?
“I wrote in English, and let the actors change it themselves. If the other actors who spoke the same language had no problems with what was said, I was OK with it.”
The film marks the first time Cheah is venturing into comedy, something that he said was fun to do. His previous films Killer Clown (2010) is a horror flick and The Hired Killer (2005) falls in the action genre. Cheah also directed an Australia-made flick ala zombie-style titled Infected Paradise, which was nominated for Best Picture at the West Australian Screen Awards in 2014.
Judi-Judi King Boss revolves around Cheah’s character named Ah Boon, whose primary job is to find work for other people. When temporary work become scarce, Ah Boon has to think of other ways to make money for himself and the people who look at him for jobs.
He then chances upon the idea of starting an illegal gambling den at his neighbourhood.
After some resistance from his family and friends, Ah Boon forges ahead … only to discover his new business encroaches on another illegal gambling outfit within the same area. Needless to say, things go south pretty fast from that point.
Ah Boon is also in the deep end where his relationship is concerned: his girlfriend finds out the money she gave Ah Boon for the purpose of her new restaurant has been turned into the gambling’s startup cash.
“All these confrontation scenes borne from Ah Boon’s action are presented in a comical way,” said Cheah. “I was going for slapstick comedy for Judi-Judi King Boss, similar to The Three Stooges Show style.”
Filmed in just two weeks in Penang, Judi-Judi features a majority of Penangites – including Cheah. “This is not a complex film,” attested the filmmaker who has been in the industry for 30 years.
“I want to test making a film like Judi-Judi King Boss, to see how it will be received. I have a feeling that it will work.
“From the response I have seen of people watching the trailer, I think I am on the right track.”
In the meantime, he hasn’t totally given up on making English films or trying out other genres. “I want to make an English love story with British actors next. I am developing a story that I want to film in Cornwall (England),” stated Cheah.
Judi-Judi King Boss opens in selected cinemas today.