It’s always great to learn about people who find a way to do what they want to do. Kah-Wai Lim just happens to be one of these people. A former network engineer in Tokyo, after 6 years, Lim left behind his career in IT to pursue his artistic passions and hasn’t looked back yet. I connected with Kah-Wai shortly after seeing Fly Me to Minami at the 2014 Your Kontinent Festival in Richmond. Below are questions and answers from our recent interview:
We Share Interests: Thank you for doing this, Kah-Wai. Let’s start with “How did you find yourself in Osaka?”
Kah-Wai: Well, I studied in Osaka University from 1994 to 1998. After graduation, I worked as a network engineer in Tokyo for 6 years and moved to Beijing in 2004.
In fact, I never thought I would come back to Osaka after all these years until I received a cinema fund from the city in 2010. The funding and support I received gave me a chance to make my third feature “New World.”
We Share Interests: How was New World received by the Osaka audience when it was released?
Kah-Wai: Actually, the film has taken on a kind of cult status in various circles after having screened in theatres across the nation. I have met a number of viewers who have watched the film more than 5 times. This has really encouraged me.
There’s an art house theatre in Osaka that even promised to show New World every Christmas season.
We Share Interests: A lot of times Japanese films are set in Tokyo. Yours are set in Osaka. How would you compare the two cities?
Kah-Wai: Osaka has its own culture and different style of life, somehow. Its spirits and point of view are closer to other Asian cities more than Tokyo which more resembles western countries.
After living in Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, and also backpacking and drifting through other Asian cities the past few years then coming back to Osaka, I can really feel its unique atmosphere and I feel more comfortable and at ease when I am here.
We Share Interests: Most filmmakers do not involve characters from different areas in Asia. Instead they usually just use domestic actors from one cultural background. Why did you decide to be different? And how did you get the idea for this story?
Kah-Wai: I made my first feature in Beijing 5 years ago. Since it was an independent film, I had to ask all my friends there to make it happen. The many actors and staff members happened to come from different countries including Japan, Korea, the US, France, Hong Kong among others.
Afterwards, I made my second film, “Magic & Loss” in Hong Kong. The main actors and crew were also my friends and came from different countries. So, not really on purpose, I was making films with actors and crews from different backgrounds already and this became a theme of mine.
When I got the chance to make New World and Fly Me to Minami, I became more conscious of developing this style. At the same time, I started realizing the relationships between different countries in Asia have become more complicated and interesting. Not many films explore this kind of stuff. And I think the continent should be explored more. There is much waiting to be discovered. And through this discovery there is perhaps solutions to the rising geopolitical problems in the region.
We Share Interests: Will all your projects have a pan-Asian theme? Or will this be just for your trilogy?
Kah-Wai: Well, most of my projects so far have involved a pan-Asian theme, but the larger theme I like to play with is that of the outsider in an unfamiliar world or some kind of drifter in a wonderland. My next film won’t have a pan-Asian theme since it only takes place in Mainland China and also only uses Chinese actors and staff. It’ll be quite different from other films I have made, but the outsider or drifter theme will still be there.
We Share Interests: You have a great looking cast for Fly Me to Minami. How did you get them for the project?
Kah-Wai: The 2 main actresses are my friends. In some ways, I wrote the script for them. The other actors and actresses were chosen through a couple of auditions.
We Share Interests: Would you change anything about the film? If yes, and you could change one thing about the movie, what would it be?
Kah-Wai: Basically, I am satisfied with the result at this moment. The film itself was a kind of Mission Impossible since I started writing the script in the beginning of November 2013, then started preproduction and auditions in mid-November, started shooting before Christmas, wrapped up shooting end of January 2014, and finalized post-production around mid-March 2014. So we’re looking at about a 5 month turnaround for everything.
Of course, a person is never satisfied with their films, and they always think they can do something better, but I’d like to move beyond this kind of regret and focus on my next project. I never forget that film-making is the art of comprise.
Kah-Wai: Oh! Takezai Terunosuke is pure Japanese. He couldn’t speak any Korean before acting in Fly Me to Minami. If you think he might be an ethnic Korean-Japanese, it shows how hard he prepared for the role and in learning to speak the language.
We Share Interests: The character of Momotaro is oddly interesting. Is he a real-life entertainer? If not, where did you get the inspiration for him?
Kah-Wai: Ya, the actor playing Momotaro is a real-life entertainer. I know him through other films he acted in before. I figured his character and presence would make the film feel more like Osaka.
We Share Interests: Last, how did you hear about the Your Kontinent festival?
Kah-Wai: Before I was invited by the festival, I didn’t know about it. It’s been great being a part of a multi-cultural festival like that!
We Share Interests: Thank you once again, Kah-Wai. We all look forward to the completion of your follow-up to Fly Me to Minami. Best of luck!
I saw a movie called Midnight in Paris a while back. In it, there’s this idea that people would rather live in a different time in history if they had that choice. Not me. The present is not “a little unsatisfying,” as Owen Wilson’s character describes it. There is no amount of feeling in me that makes me want to be in some other time other than this Information Age. Within minutes, I went from watching a film made on the other side of the world, to contacting the creators of that film (also on the other side of the world), and obtaining answers to all the burning questions I had for it, thus allowing me to learn, in depth, about all the characters both in front of the camera and behind it. The character opposite Owen Wilson’s at 1:19:00 believes that being in another time is indeed better. She says writers are full of words and that’s their problem. Ms. Character, this writer may be full of words, but there is no problem. And this present is good.asian diaspora stories, asian film, beijing, china, inter-asian relations, Inter-Asian Relations in Film, Japanese Film, Kah-Wai Lim, osaka, Terunosuke Takezai, tokyo, Your Kontinent Festival