For the past year, award-winning director/actor Afdlin Shauki has been busy developing an international-scale film which tells the story of a Japanese-run POW camp in Sandakan, Sabah during World War II.
National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) gave Afdlin the task of producing and directing a film on this historical subject where thousands of Australian and British prisoners perished. It has been said only six people survived from the 2,500 held captive at the camp.
“The idea for the film was initiated by Finas,” said Afdlin in a phone interview with Star2.
“Finas is looking at a few projects that are meant to create credible Malaysian films that could enter the international market and ultimately the Oscar race. This is one of them.”
The film – with a working title Sandakan Tears – is reported to have a budget of RM67.2mil. Afdlin is looking at getting more international investors.
“We are hoping to rope in Australia (for finances),” he said. “The filming locations we are looking at are Sandakan, Australia and Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios (in Johor).”
The first draft of the script was commissioned to two Hollywood writers, who took a year to research and complete it.
Currently, Afdlin and his producer wife, Maria Christina Orow Abdullah, are working on the second draft of the script.
“We are looking at what works for us and what doesn’t,” explained Afdlin. “Once we’ve completed that, we will then send it to script doctors in Hollywood for further improvement because the main thing is to keep the film at the level of a Hollywood film. So, this film has to follow their structure.”
The majority of the cast will be Caucasian actors from the United States and Australia. “We have a wish list,” added Afdlin on the actors he wants for the film.
Nonetheless, Afdlin mentioned that he wants a local actor to play the film’s possible central role. “The main protagonist is a Kadazan woman, who helps the POWs.”
When asked if the goal was to land in categories other than the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, Afdlin replied: “The film is going to be in English. Our main target is to get a nomination, regardless of which category, be it Best Sound, Best Picture.”
The 45-year-old has won numerous awards at the Malaysia Film Festival over the years, including Best Original Story (Baik Punya Cilok, Papadom), Best Actor (Buli Balik, Papadom) and Best Comedy (Los And Faun).
Afdlin hopes to commence shooting at the end of next year. “It’s a challenge I am looking forward to,” he shared.
“Directors like Dain Said are already making international-quality films in Malaysia. This is something I want to be doing as well. I applaud Finas for making this happen and pushing our filmmakers to take on bigger challenges to further improve the industry.”