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Sunday March 25, 2007
Story and picture By JOSEPH LOH
Kuih seller Norman Atun has not
let his role in an international
movie get to his head.
He remains down to earth
and gets on with his business.
Norman Atun is going places. He
has been in Venice, Bangkok and
Taipei, and will soon be heading
off to France. Not bad for a man who sells
assorted kuih at a roadside stall in Taman
Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
For all intents, Norman is the average
man-in-the-street, but his life took a massive
turn when he was asked by internationally-
Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang to
appear in his movie I Don’t Want To Sleep
So how does a roadside vendor – who
has a basic education and speaks mostly
in Bahasa Malaysia – find himself acting
in an international movie?
“It was purely by accident,” Norman
“I was spotted by Tsai at my stall when
he was in the area. He then sent a representative
over who informed me of Tsai’s
interest, and invited me to meet with the
“To be frank, I had never heard of Tsai
Ming-liang before, neither was I familiar
with the movie scene, least of all a
Chinese film director. In fact, the first
thought I had was ‘who is this person?’
“Of course, I was sceptical. I was wondering
if this was for real and if he was
serious about using me as an actor. I went
through all sorts of emotions – doubt,
surprise, confusion and disbelief – and it
took me about a week before I finally met
up with him.”
Norman had no acting experience prior
to landing the role, and in the meeting
spoke at length with Tsai.
Curiosity got the better of Norman, and
he was intrigued by what the movie
industry was really like. And so he
thought there was no harm in trying.
In no time, Norman found himself not
only acting in a movie but also working
under a famous director. The entire shoot
took about 20 days.
“It was easy working with him, even
though we spoke different languages. It
wasn’t much of a barrier, as someone was
there to translate,” Norman says.
“In terms of the acting itself, my role
was easy because there wasn’t much dialogue
But acting had its own set of challenges.
“The challenge was understanding
what Tsai wanted me to do. For example,
he asked for a more natural feel to the
acting, as if the scene we were portraying
was actually happening to us,” says
Norman, who admits that acting naturally
in front of the camera was a bit awkward
“It was also not easy reacting to direction
instantly, especially since it had to go
through an interpreter. I had to figure out
what he wanted on the spot, and if I didn’t
get it right, we had to shoot the scene
Norman’s commitment to the movie
did not end with the completion of the
shoot, however. He soon discovered there
was another aspect to movie making –
publicity – and he was asked to be part of
team representing the movie at the
Venice International Film Festival.
But Norman took it all in his stride.
“I’m not quite sure how significant my
role was, but it was important enough for
me to be there promoting the film.”
Describing further how much of this
was new to him, he says.
“Until I went to Venice, I had never
travelled overseas – the furthest I had
ever gone was to Borneo. All of a sudden I
found myself in Taipei and Bangkok,
although it was only in transit.”
So does Norman intend to hang up his
wok and pursue an acting career?
“No,” he says.
“I will continue with my business for a
while yet, because I do not think acting is
my full-time job. I will take on more acting
jobs if the chance arises.”
His life will never be quite the same
again, and he is discovering what it is like
to have some measure of celebrity.
“People look at me differently. Some
actually recognise me, and ask if it is really
“Once, some people working in a nearby
office bought kuih from me because
they said they wanted to eat food prepared
by a movie star!”
Despite all that has happened to
Norman, he remains down to earth and is
reticent to give details about his personal
“I would rather not speak about my
personal life, but sometimes I feel like I
am split into two people – the actual person
that I am and the one who has acted
in a movie. I still want to be the same
person. It is difficult, but I do what I can.
“When you enter the film industry, the
real becomes fake and the fake becomes
real. We have to measure ourselves and
not do more than what we are capable of.
“We have to accept where our limits
lie. We want to be the best, but we may
not always achieve that. Life really is full
of ups and downs.”
Norman still finds the events over the
past year a surreal experience. “It is difficult
to believe what has happened to me.
All I can say is that I am a very, very lucky
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