THE beauty of Tawau, Sabah, is set to greet international audiences, thanks to its famous son.A labour of love from award-winning filmmaker Soon King Yaw, work on the story that takes place in his hometown has started.The United States-based filmmaker is developing a tale that unfolds in Tawau to translate its beauty and serenity into film, and share it with the world.
Besides his passion-driven project, Soon is currently busy with post-production work for When I See The Wind, a short film he is producing in collaboration with Bay-Area cinematographer Andrés Gallegos. The 29-year-old, who hopes to make feature films one day, attributes his success to his single mother’s perseverance and strong work ethics, which he said have shaped him to become who he is today. Do your best or don’t do it at all, she would say. Living by those words of wisdom, The One Academy graduate made headlines when his animated documentary was chosen as the opening film of the KQED Homemade Film Festival last year.
Out of 500 submissions, his short flick All I Did Was Smile and Say Hello bagged one of the Top Five finalists’ spots. It also drew praise from guest judge and former president of the San Francisco Bay-Area Film Critics Circle Randy Myers.
The film sheds light on the increased discrimination faced by Asian Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Soon’s other short films include My Mother, Myself & I, The White Crow, and Something Carved And Real – all of which have gained accolades and recognition.
Currently residing in San Francisco, the creative talent with a keen interest in drawing, painting and music draws inspiration from the environment and the people around him.“I’ve learnt to be open-minded and receptive to all these nuggets of inspiration hidden in the monotony of everyday life. Sometimes when I walk by a scenic place, I would stop and imagine what kind of story I can tell there,” he said.
Despite his success today, things have not always been rosy for him.
As a teenager, he was forced to face the reality that most educational funds in the country did not offer financial assistance for students pursuing the arts.Upon completing his secondary education, he seized the opportunity to be an exchange student in the US for half a year through the American Field Service Youth Exchange & Study (AFS-YES) programme.
It was there that he decided to pursue a career in art, thanks to inspiration drawn from his foster father, who is an artist. Exposure to a culture that appreciates and values the arts spurred him on as well.
Upon returning, Soon was bent on securing a scholarship at The One Academy – he knew his mother could not afford the fees. He thus joined the Malaysia Top 10 Outstanding Young Artists Awards organised by the academy in hopes of winning the grand prize of a scholarship.On his first try, Soon clinched the third prize. A year later, he tried again but barely secured a placing, leaving him feeling disappointed.
Although he had his mother’s support, he had to put up with scepticism from his relatives and teachers over his choice to study art.
“I was told that I had wasted all my SPM A+s to pursue a hobby as a future career and an insecure one at that. Their disapproval made me doubt myself a lot, especially when they compared me to my friends who pursued technology, medicine and law,” he recalled.
But his efforts proved to be worthwhile – on his third attempt, he was awarded the Best of the Best award, along with a scholarship to study digital animation.
Soon cited Visual Storytelling as among the courses he found most inspiring at The One Academy.
“It was here that I was introduced to the beauty of filmmaking. Upon the recommendation of a lecturer, my friends and I formed a team and joined a local competition. Despite having no prior experience in it, we won it.“I’m forever grateful for the lecturer who saw something in me that I didn’t at the time. I’m a filmmaker today because of him,” he shared.In a press release from the academy, Soon credited his technical skills to the industry-oriented syllabus at the academy that gave him a competitive edge over others.
Upon graduating, he went on to further his studies in the US and later secured a job as a video editor at Electronic Arts (EA) in Redwood City, beating over 1,000 applicants for the position.
Still holding the position now, he spends his free time producing and writing short films focusing on topics close to his heart.