It took director Chong Keat Aun (張吉安) nearly a decade to complete Snow in Midsummer (五月雪), a deft chronicle of Malaysia’s May 13 incident told through one woman’s search for her brother and father.
Although only his second feature, it led the field at yesterday’s Golden Horse Awards with nine nominations.
Chong said it had been a struggle to get people to share their memories of the intercommunal violence following the 1969 national election, known among the country’s ethnic Chinese community as “513.”
Photo courtesy of Swallow Wings Films via CNA
“My father, for example, would shut the conversation down if my mother or grandma even mentioned the topic,” Chong said in a recent media interview.
Although a “symbol of fear,” Chong said, “513” was more akin to an “invisible monster,” alluded to by adults to instill obedience in children.
“My grandma would tell me in Cantonese that if I continue to misbehave, that ‘513’ would come and get me,” he said.
Chong said it was only in high school that he became aware of the history behind the term.
Even then, relatives painted the gravity of what occurred in broad strokes.
“I remember when I started to vote in college in Kuala Lumpur, my parents would tell me to vote for a certain party so that I wouldn’t be targeted,” he said.
Chong added that he remembered his mother developing a habit of stocking their house with supplies before a major election and telling him to do the same when he moved out of the family home.
The Malaysian government says that only 196 people died in the May 13 incident, characterized by successive governments as a spontaneous outbreak of violence and a matter consigned to the past in the interest of racial harmony.
However, the official record remains contested, not least by those whose relatives seemingly vanished in the chaos.
Chong said that many of the registered missing ended up in mass graves marked “Unidentified Chinese.”
One such burial site, in a former leper colony in the town of Sungai Buloh on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, serves as a backdrop for the events in Snow in Midsummer.
“We started doing field interviews at Sungai Buloh in 2009, waiting until Tomb Sweeping Day to try and see if they [those visiting the graves] would share their story,” Chong said.
However, Chong said that most at Sungai Buloh were reluctant to share their stories, conscious of the lingering societal tensions and fearful violence might once again erupt.
Eventually, Chong and his team convinced 14 people to give personal accounts of the events of 1969, almost all of whom were women.
“It is conversations between women that family stories are often passed down from, as they, unlike men, are also not afraid to share their feelings and observations,” he said.
Chong said the sensitive subject matter prompted his producers to discourage him from making Snow in Midsummer.
Harder yet was the process of casting and subsequently convincing actors to stay on board, the director said.
“We wanted to have all 14 women appear at the end of the film, but actresses backed out,” Chong said.
“An unfortunate example is the actress who was originally cast to play young Ah Eng [the protagonist], the older version of whom is played by main actress Wan Fang (萬芳). After we put the young actress through acting classes, she had to quit five days before we started shooting because her grandfather, a public servant, found the script and was furious,” he said.
In the end, Chong himself had to condense characters and recycle actors.
He said he is driven by wanting to face history and facts and present them fearlessly so that wounds can be addressed, allowing forgiveness and progress to be cultivated.
“I think it is important that someone needs to take the first step,” he said. “Otherwise it will be something that no one will talk about. Then, no lesson or progress will be made, not for the government or Malaysia’s film industry.”
WAR FUNDING: A report by UK and Ukrainian defense analysts said that Taiwanese exports of a compound used in gunpowder have been helping Russia propagate its war About 20 percent of nitrocellulose — a compound used in gunpowder — imported into Russia has been sourced from Taiwan, a joint British-Ukrainian investigative report showed. Nitrocellulose is a key component of smokeless gunpowder, and the EU has banned export of the compound to Russia due to its ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine. The report said that nitrocellulose produced in Taiwan makes its way to Russia by passing through other countries such as Turkey. Only one company, T.N.C. Industrial Co (台硝), was named in the report, which also named China and Germany as key sources of the compound for
A Singaporean social media streamer who goes by the pseudonym Kiaraakitty faked an egg attack by an alleged passerby during a livestream in Kaohsiung on Feb. 9, the city’s police department said on Saturday. The department was responding to the streamer’s claim earlier this month that a stranger had thrown eggs at her during a recent visit to Kaohsiung. Kiaraakitty is known for posting provocative content on livestreaming sites such as Twitch and Discord, as well as other social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. She also posts on paid adult content Web site OnlyFans. In the video dated Feb. 9,
ROAD SINKING: The road surface of Qingcheng Street near the intersection with Xingan Street in Taipei’s Songshan District collapsed on Friday at about 9pm Grouting was yesterday used to repair a section of road in Taipei, after work on a construction site caused the surface to partially collapse on Friday evening, the Taipei Construction Management Office said yesterday, adding that nearby buildings were not affected. The road surface of Qingcheng Street near the intersection with Xingan Street in Taipei’s Songshan District (松山) collapsed at about 9pm on Friday. When police arrived they found four cars parked by the roadside tilting to one side. Police estimated the area that had subsided was about 4m by 30m, and was about 1.5m deep. They cordoned off the surrounding area
HOT TOPIC: The Taiwan-born founder of a restaurant in the Japanese city is generally credited with creating the super spicy dish, which was originally intended as a staff meal For Taiwanese, ramen is one of the dishes that most represents Japan; for Japanese, its origins are in China. Then there is “Taiwan ramen,” which can only be found in Japan, but not in Taiwan. It is almost impossible to reach a consensus on the origin of any dish, but a brief look at its history might be helpful. Not many people who are not Japanese question whether ramen is really Japanese. Yet think about it — ramen is often unctuous and rich, unlike most other must-try Japanese foods familiar to foreign visitors to the country, such as sushi and soba noodles. According