Notes Made in the Dark

Feature by: Tan Chui Mui
Tan Chui Mui’s first feature Love Conquers All has on won prizes in Pusan, Rotterdam, Indie Lisboa, Fribourg and Hong Kong respectively, cementing her reputation as an important, emerging voice — something those that saw her beautiful short A Tree in Tanjung Malim knew already.

Quietly, Mui has been establishing herself as an key figure in the burgeoning Southeast Asian Cinema scene. Not only has she edited (for Ho Yuhang), acted (Woo Ming Jin, James Lee) and produced (Deepak Kumaron Menon, James Lee, Amir Muhammad and now Liew Seng Tat) for fellow Malaysian filmmakers, but she has also generously put the prize money her films have been receiving back into works by other filmmakers (something not uncommon for a select clique in Malaysia). An act of unselfishness all too rare these days, and that one wishes others would take as an example.

In 2006 Tan Chui Mui followed Raya Martin as the second Southeast Asian filmmaker selected for the prestigious Cannes Cinefondation residence in Paris. Criticine asked her to send a few notes while she was in France, and she obliged. Chui Mui’s notes are playful, sometimes innocent, but at particular moments, startlingly intimate as well. Just like her films.
Notes made in the dark

1. One of my greatest abilities is that I can write in the dark. Somehow I believe I am a genius.

2. I must admit, I always try too hard to appear more intelligent than I really am.

3. One of the first things I did during my residency: bought Robert Bresson’s Notes Sur Le Cinematographe, the French version. And I started to read it from cover to cover, without knowing much French. I had the strange belief that I would be able to understand it. Or at least I would be able to learn some French after reading it. But it didn’t work that way. Maybe I should have started with Le Petit Prince.

4. I learned most of my French in the cinema. French films are shown without subtitles, and foreign films are shown with French subtitles. I spend most of my time in Cinémathèque Française. I don’t even check what film is showing. I just go there at night, buy a ticket and sit in the front row.

5. Why do we love cinema? Because in the safe world of cinema, facing these fictional characters, we become more human than we really are. We become kinder and more sympathetic; we simply become better people.

6. Because in the safe world of cinema, we are merely observers. We stay safe from the danger and the emotional threat of life itself, safe from growing indifferent.

7. Because in the safe world of cinema, we experience many lives.

8. Why make films? Because film is the greatest art form of this century, and I want to be on the side of the greatest.

9. Because in real life, we can hardly understand each other.

10. Because that is the only way I can hang out with friends.

11. Because I don’t know any better way to live.

12. Because there is a part of me, sad and fragile, that can only be shown to you in the dark.