Wrapping up the filming of Miss Sunshine on Penang Island after 21 days, celebrated Hong Kong producer-cum-director, Clifton Ko Chi Sum, only had high praises for his local crew. He said, “All my crew members were Malaysians – their professionalism surprised me; from camera crew to production designers, art designers and costume designers.
“They dedicated time to do their homework thoroughly before coming on set and they were meticulous. They were passionate about their job and carried the right attitude to the workplace. Our initial schedule was to film for 22 days but we managed to save one day of shooting despite having two days disrupted by tropical thunderstorms. Needless to say, I am very impressed with the talent and hard work of the Malaysian crew and I have to say that their standard of work is comparable with those from Hong Kong, Mainland China and Singapore, where the film industries in these countries are more matured.”
Ko’s opinion was shared by his Hong Kong cast, too. When Ko made the decision to shoot the comedy drama, Miss Sunshine, in Penang, it raised eyebrows among his associates in his home country. In fact, Ko had narrowed down two other locations: Hainan Island in China and Hong Kong Gold Coast. Penang was to be Ko’s first time filming in Malaysia, although he was no stranger to the country having visited numerous trips for work since 1984 when he promoted his top-grossing “Happy Ghost” movie.
“I remember visiting some places in Penang when we were there to stage Wild, Wild Rose: The Musical in 2015. The island is a very peculiar place in the sense that it has a very tropical feel which gives off the feeling as though one was in Hawaii. At the same time, it is distinctly Chinese. It really is not easy to find a location like this anywhere else in the world. Besides, we would face no communication barrier as everyone could speak English, Mandarin or Cantonese,” he explained.
Ko made his friends worried when he decided to engage an entirely local crew. “Are you really serious?” they had asked. After three weeks in Penang where eighty percent of the movie was shot, Ko could proudly say that he had made the best decision. “Basic crew alone numbered some eighty people and it was a very well-put-together team. Also, the locals were very welcoming. They might have been curious but they were very respectful when we were working. All in all, it was a very positive experience which I will share with my industry mates in Hong Kong and China. I plan to return to shoot another movie soon,” Ko promised.
After work hours, it was one gastronomic adventure after another for Ko and his ten Hong Kong cast. Roti canai, traditional kaya toast, offal noodles and nasi lemak were just some of the local fare that Ko recalled offhand. During his sojourn in Penang, Ko was also thrown a surprise 58th birthday party by his team, making his stay all the more memorable.
The rest of the filming of Miss Sunshine is done in China for eight days, while post-production will be in Hong Kong. According to Ko, more than fifty percent of the movie’s budget of RM5 million was spent in Penang, where shooting was carried out in Georgetown’s Khoo Kongsi, Youth Park, Penang International Airport and in hotels, namely Eastern & Oriental, Lone Pine and G Hotel.
The movie, which was also scripted by Ko himself, is based on a Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre stage play, 中女解毒, loosely translated as “Zhong Nuis’ Antidote” in Hong Kong. It is about a wedding banquet that spans 3-day/2-night. During that period of time, four couples are faced with conflicts in relationship and career.
Miss Sunshine is the Hong Kong version of Hugh Grant’s Love Actually. It stars Maggie Cheung (张可颐), Alex Fong (方力申) and Annie Liu (刘心悠) as well as Malacca-born actor, Christopher Lee (李铭顺). Miss Sunshine, Ko’s 39th movie, is scheduled to release for Chinese New Year in 2017 and a worldwide distribution is planned.
Note: An edited version of this article [Pleasure to film in Penang] was published on 17th September, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.