The men of Lelaki Harapan Dunia talk about sharing the weight during filming, literally and figuratively.
When actor Soffi Jikan heard that director Liew Seng Tat wanted to make a film centred on the little-practised tradition of angkat rumah, he thought “it was cute”.
Angkat rumah refers to how some Malaysians living in the East Coast migrate to a new home – instead of moving into a new place, they just uproot their own kampung house and carry it to the new location.
“(This practise) was mentioned in our primary school Bahasa Melayu textbook,” said Soffi at an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. “The most important essence of this tradition is of course, the gotong-royong spirit. It’s about how you share the burden to achieve the same objective.”
Soffi is part of an ensemble cast for the upcoming film Lelaki Harapan Dunia, which opens in cinemas on Nov 27.
Set in a kampung, Lelaki Harapan Dunia tells the story of a group of men coming together to relocate an abandoned wooden house in the jungle and place it in the village. In the process of carrying the house on their shoulders, Wan – the village outcast played by Soffi – claims that there is a mysterious figure inside the house.
This causes the other men to panic... and, naturally, hilarity ensues as they come up with different solutions on how to protect the rest of the villagers from this unknown figure.
Liew discovered this tradition when he came upon a newspaper article describing it. “I said to myself, I need to put this in a movie,” said Liew.
However, he was busy travelling the international film festival circuit with his 2007 debut feature, Flowers In The Pocket – which earned him the New Currents Award at the Busan International Film Festival – leaving him no time to develop his next film. It would be three years later that he finally had time to start writing the script for Lelaki Harapan Dunia, and two more years to get funding and begin filming.
Apart from Soffi, the film also stars Wan Hanafi Su, Harun Salim Bachik and Jalil Hamid. Rounding up the cast is Azhan Rani, who plays the young and enthusiastic character nicknamed Cina (given by his kampung mates). It is this character that convinces the rest of the men of Wan’s claims.
“Initially, I was not interested in the story,” recalled Azhan. “I remember asking ‘What kind of story is this?’ But after taking a bit more time to read the script, I just fell in love with it. When they confirmed the other cast members, I fell in love with the film even more.”
Sharing the weight
To prepare for the angkat rumah scene, the crew constructed a kampung house from scratch. Liew described it as a “tedious process”. After successfully building the kampung house, they tore it down and then brought the parts to the jungle in Padang Rengas at Kuala Kangsar, Perak. It was later rebuilt again for filming purpose.
The 35-year-old director said: “Every bit of material we used for the house was real and that made the scene very believable.”
To raise the reality factor more, Liew made sure the green location of the jungle remained as it is. “We didn’t want to disturb the trees and the bushes as we wanted the characters to find the house looking like it has been undisturbed and abandoned for a long time. So I’m glad we decided to do it this way.”
Azhan remembered the first day he got to the set in the jungle. He shared: “When I saw the house, I was really surprised. I thought ‘Wow, memang ada rumah (There really is a house)’.”
When it finally came to filming the scene, over 60 actors and extras – most of them being locals from Padang Rengas – were used.
This led to lots of unexpected events and fun happenings.
“I give you an example,” began Soffi. “The initial order was that only one voice would be shouting out instructions. When we got to the set and started filming, there were so many voices calling out instructions.”
Azhan added: “I loved the chaos of it all. I think the chaos made the story more interesting. I remember saying: ‘let’s go this way’. Then someone else said ‘no, it’s this way!’ Everybody wanted to say something. At one point, we actually forgot that we were filming!”
Liew said that filming the angkat rumah scene “felt like a documentary”.
“They (the ensemble cast and the extras from the kampung) forgot about acting. They just wanted to complete the mission. That’s the power of angkat rumah – this gotong–royong spirit,” said Liew.
The house had to be carried through the jungle, which involved
crossing a small river and going uphill.
Azhan said: “Going up the hill was scary. We also faced difficulties moving backwards with the house. But when we finally got the house to where it should be, we put it down slowly and felt relieved. Then, everybody clapped!”
At this point during the interview, all three of them burst into hearty laughter. Still laughing, Liew explained: “It was not part of the script!”
Perhaps it’s that spirit of working together and sincerity the cast and crew brought to the film that has earned Lelaki Harapan Dunia the attention of the international audience. Since its world premiere at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland in August,
the film has been accepted at various film festivals including the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival in Canada and Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.
Soffi said he was not surprised at the film’s international acceptance. “When I read the script, I knew that this film would be screened at film festivals all around the world. That’s how confident I am with this film.”
Meanwhile, Azhan is reeling from disbelief at what is happening. “I can’t imagine filmgoers in Locarno, Switzerland looking at my face on the big screen,” he said with a laugh.
For Kuala Lumpur-born Liew, he hopes the local audience will give Lelaki Harapan Dunia a deserving homecoming reception.
“The film festivals are just a bonus. I want to tell Malaysian stories. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters.”
Lelaki Harapan Dunia opens in cinemas nationwide on Nov 27.
Lelaki Harapan Dunia makes it to these film festivals:
Switzerland: Festival del film Locarno, Aug 9-12
Canada:Toronto International Film Festival, Sept 4-14
Japan: Nara International Film Festival, Sept 12-15
Canada:Vancouver International Film Festival, Sept 25-Oct 10
South Korea: Busan International Film Festival, Oct 2-11
India: Kolkata International Film Festival, Nov 10-17
Taiwan: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, Nov 6-27
Italy: Torino Film Festival, Nov 21-29
Singapore: Singapore International Film Festival, Dec 4-14