01 September 2009

'It was really hot and scary'

They were neither silat practitioners nor were they prepared for the task of dipping their hands into boiling oil, but there they were, inches away from the ’mandi minyak’ wok.

For Justin Ong and Khairun Lamb, their dedication to their documentary, Fight Masters: Silat, meant they were prepared to go the distance, work wise.

But this was quite something else.

The two were commissioned by the National Geographic Channel to produce a documentary about the traditional martial art, and had just filmed the scenes where a group of silat practitioners had finished going through the ritual.

The silat master then asked Ong, the director, and Khairun, the director of photography, whether they had filmed what they needed.

"When we said yes, he then announced that it was our turn to mandi minyak! He looked pretty cheeky about it and everyone was smiling and laughing in anticipation," Khairun said.

Both, as well as their film crew, stepped up to perform ritual, and it was a hot affair.

Ong said: "I thought perhaps the oil had cooled down, but as I got closer I felt the heat. And then I thought, 'Maybe I shouldn't do this'."

All, however, completed the ritual, and said it was as scary as it looked, and felt "just like boiling oil".

It was to cement the camaraderie and goodwill for the filming team and the silat exponents, as the latter believe that the ritual cannot be completed successfully if there are bad intentions around.

The documentary follows American navy serviceman and silat's highest-ranked westerner, Joel Champ, who has practised silat seni gayong for 15 years in the US, on his quest to obtain his final third stripe on the martial art's home ground.

Champ's journey to Malaysia was a subject of curiosity and contention as there were silat practitioners who were doubtful about allowing a foreigner access to the martial art's secrets.

Silat after all, was also a martial art that had not been really documented as it had only been passed down from master to student, Ong said, making this a unique and educational experience.

Held earlier during the intense two-weeks of filming, the mandi minyak ritual also allowed Ong and Khairun to see how their lead character would face the tough challenges he had to go through.

"If it was so scary for us, imagine what it was like for him," Ong said.

The American also had to contend with the heat, as well as the misgivings of other Malaysian silat exponents around him, added Ong.

Champ didn't flinch during the initial tests, and was determined to go through the tests to prove his mettle.

In the course of telling his story, the film team would also learn more about the martial art themselves, and were fascinated by the moves, weapons and traditions of silat.

"It had never been done justice, and even when we told people we wanted to tell the silat story, people would roll their eyes. 'The dancing-dancing one?', they would ask us."

The deadly moves in the documentary would convince disbelievers otherwise, added Ong.

Both wanted to tell the silat story respectfully, and are proud that the documentary, which will premiere on Merdeka Day tomorrow, is 100 per cent Malaysian-made.

There was a National Geographic adviser who turned up during filming to check on the quality, but barring a few suggestions, he was keen to let the two tell their own story.

Khairun and Ong were also thrilled that they found local talents, Young Jump Animation, to create the high-tech motion capture scenes in their documentary, affectionally calling them the 'Cheras CGI guys'.

"Here we had a bunch of young, fresh graduates, who were so passionate, and they were doing work for these Japanese gaming companies.

"Their work was of international standard. We were blown away."

Ong had also made a documentary about the Thaipusam festival at Batu Caves.

The filming of the silat documentary was also a touching experience for the two as they saw Malaysians opening up their hearts to Champ first hand.

Ong said: "They were going, 'Who is this guy?', at first but then they ended up treating him like one of their own. I was touched by this welcoming and acceptance into their family, and the sharing of their knowledge."

Khairun said he was moved when shooting the final and vital match scene where Champ had to fence with top Malaysian martial arts fighters.

The local audience were shouting at the fighters to attack or get Champ at first, he said, but as the rounds went on and the American took a heavy beating, the Malaysian sense of empathy and warmheartedness kicked in.

"They felt for him and rooted for him, and as I was filming I could hear the shouts of 'Come on, Joel!' or 'Go Joel!' all around me."

For Khairun, who has worked as a videographer on international documentaries, the hard work and pressure to finish the production in time for Merdeka Day was worth it.

That their work is also being shown on Aug 31 is a source of pride, and inspirational fuel to make more documentaries about their country.

"This is it. I need to focus on our own people.

"I want to make my own country look good."

By Koh Lay Chin
Sourced from http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/natgeo/news/It_was_really_hot_and_scary_20090901012820/article.html


dancefloordrama said...

salam.. why mandi minyak when u can mandi laut or mandi sungai ...heehhe

Mohd Nadzrin Wahab said...

Salam hormat Dance Floor Drama,

Mandi minyak in many traditions, it not a mandi for cleansing as in water. Water cleanses, but oil is believed to penetrate the skin and provide health benefits, depending on the type of oil used. I have not heard of any medical studies that corroborate this.

Salam persilatan,