'Abang Adik' director hints at Oscars submission for acclaimed Malaysian film

Jin Ong hopes the success of 'Abang Adik' will encourage more local film agencies to invest in social issue films. Photos: Handout

Malaysian filmmaker Jin Ong never imagined the level of success his directorial debut, Abang Adik, would achieve.

Although the flick was created with the intention of spreading a message of love rather than breaking records, it has somehow become a hit.

To highlight some accomplishments: Abang Adik is the first South-East Asian film to sweep the three top prizes at Italy's Far East Film Festival; the movie is also the highest grossing Malaysian film in Taiwan, achieving NT$90mil (RM13.5mil) in box office revenue since its premiere on Dec 1.

Abang Adik tackles the issue of poverty and statelessness by delving into the experiences of two undocumented brothers, Abang and Adik, whose quest to obtain citizenship in Malaysia is fraught with challenges.

'Abang Adik' tells the story of two undocumented brothers who struggle to obtain citizenship in Malaysia.'Abang Adik' tells the story of two undocumented brothers who struggle to obtain citizenship in Malaysia.

Ong, 48, previously told a news portal that it has always been difficult for him to get funding for social issue movies in Malaysia as most film agencies prefer “investing in commercial movies”.

Abang Adik was no different.

In 2017, Ong produced Shuttle Life which addresses poverty, and in 2020, Miss Andy which explores the life of a transgender woman living in Malaysia.

“We managed to secure our first investment by submitting (Abang Adik) to the Golden Horse FPP via the International Film Project Market.

“We also received funds from Finas (Film In Malaysia Incentive) and got some of our friends to be investors.

“It was a very tough process,” Ong told StarLifestyle, adding that Abang Adik only received full funding in November, just weeks before the release of the film.

Malaysian singer-actress Lee Sinje is listed as a producer and it was financed with the help of Lee’s friends, such as fellow Malaysian singer Michael Wong, better known as Guang Liang.

While Ong can’t say for certain the success of Abang Adik will encourage more agencies to invest in social issue movies, it’s a good start.

“I believe that Abang Adik can be used as a reference for agencies or investors. I always believe that a good story can attract potential investors,” he said.

Ong admitted that it wasn't easy to get funding for 'Abang Adik'.Ong admitted that it wasn't easy to get funding for 'Abang Adik'.

As Abang Adik continues making waves, plans are underway to bring the movie to Europe. It will also be submitted for the next Malaysian Film Festival.

On whether there are plans to submit Abang Adik for the Oscars, Ong said he’s keeping his options open.

“We weren’t able to submit the movie for this year’s Oscars as we couldn’t meet one of the terms (movie has to be submitted latest by Nov 15, 2023). But we’ll see this year if we want to submit (Abang Adik for an Oscar).”

Trophies aside, what matters more at the end of the day is to show that Malaysia is capable of producing such a meaningful film.

Taiwanese actor Wu Kang Ren, who won Best Actor at the 60th Golden Horse Awards for his role as Abang, said he wants those who haven’t watched Abang Adik to give it a chance as it’s a powerful story that touches the heart.

“I just hope people will remember that a meaningful Malaysian film has been released at the end of 2023,” he said.

Abang Adik is showing at selected cinemas nationwide.

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