Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Retrospective of 10 years being an Artiste

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It's a tricky thing to write about my career.

There's a possibility I may sound too arrogant and my readers would label me as narcissistic. Or I may downgrade my own achievements too much and appears too bitter. Either way, I'm fucked! But I'm still going to write here about my career entering its 10th year now. Gold is not produced in a day. Who's going to blow my horns unless I do it myself? The government-controlled media? They don't give any attention to artists like me. Or those hunky man, stylo-mylo magazine with their hi-falutin, self-glorified front covers? I don't think I fit their stereotypical view of a man. I'm not your so-called "mainstream" artiste. In the beginning, I may have foolishly thought I could be mainstream but the ugly reality born out from the race-based system of our local entertaiment industry is too hypocritical for my liking. Mainly because mainstream doesn't exist here!

Appearing on magazine's covers or main starring in a local movie are what you label as success? No, slap me the label as some "talentless" artiste if you want to - I don't really need to live up to any hypocritical fool's definition of success. I'm glad Malaysia don't focus on my talent as an actor - it just frees me up to do my own thing. Don't get me wrong. I'm still hopeful. The feeling is still like a struggling artiste trying to survive in an industry that makes itself so "high and mighty" until it's hard to carve out a career or even a living - when in actual fact there's virtually no market for its films anywhere else. We are not big even by Bollywood's level, yet the ego and pride from our filmmakers are simply too hard for me to swallow. Most are full of their own self-importance and false pride. The so-called "mainstream artistes" in Malaysia are already rich to begin with. They were never poor before like you and I. If I have RM10 to spend either on their movies or local food, I'll choose to spend on a local Malay hawker stall. Malaysian audiences are not stupid. These 10 years of hibernating from the "mainstream" truly makes me better in my art form. Why better?

Because I don't rely on any special status or rights to come to where I am today. I will never be subservient and never be anyone's puppet for control propaganda.

A Star is Born (2005)

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Until today, I still got audience (I respect them enough to not downgrade them to being just "fans") years younger than me reminiscing me being that contestant that wears the Golden Shorts in Malaysian Idol! I still cannot fathom the mysteries of how powerful a person's facial recognition can be even after all these years - or maybe my unique beauty do makes an impression that'll lasts forever? That performance became headlines in all the country's major newspapers. The video went viral and hit over 100 million viewers online! In that year alone, I received another 2 offers to star in another 2 reality-based competition shows: Malaysian Top Host in which I was a finalist and Gillette Vector Challenge which garnered me the Most Favourite Contestant title. I must be the only contestant to have starred in 3 reality TV shows in one year! It was never my intention to be this famous. I hated it because of the attention. To me, any shallow person can be famous. From then on, I've quickly decided to channel this fame into something more substantial. The media often ridiculed my art as a joke, so from then on there was much to do to stay away from the ugly labels like one-trick-pony, fry-in-the-pan and fame seeker. These TV stations don't care about hiring my talents except to exploit me for their ratings. I have no other options but to decide quickly. Either I sink.....or continue to swim.

Bordering beetween Model and Porn Star (2006)

And swim I did. All the way north! I knew I had to shed off this comedic image associated with my brand as an artiste after starring in all those ridiculous local productions. So when an offer came for me to model as one of the calendar poster boys in a Bangkok-based talent agency, I quickly jumped on the chance. I wasn't surprised that I have to model in underwears due to the sexy nature of the calendar. During that time, I'll strip to nothing even to star in a movie. Also I get to move out from this "stain" of being the laughing stock in my own country and put my foot out internationally. I almost got myself into being a porn star, but thankfully, I didn't. For your info, an average porn star in Bangkok actually makes more money than any actor in our local TV dramas. And I respect these porn stars and their craft! They are not to be villified or judged. They are just normal human beings like everybody else trying to make ends meet.

Serious Acting Beckons (2006-2007) 

That was the year I willed myself into being a serious actor after almost succumbing into the dizzying lights of Bangkok's porn industry. I got myself an agent and was committed in taking any roles given to me locally. The best one I got was for a Japanese soldier where I have to talk in Japanese. I love challenging roles because it's not me at all - and I get to learn a foreign language. It's was a Singapore-based production called "Wings of a Butterfly". Soon after, I lobbied hard for an upcoming "national movie" where all races are invited to audition for. I got the controversial Communist role for "1957: Hati Malaya" in which I regretted doing because it was based on false history especially the aspect on local ethnic Chinese. The scenes were deleted anyway. Prior to that, I got my first commercial gig - playing a sitar musician in Telekom Malaysia's Deepavali-Hari Raya commercial.

Stereotyped, Discriminated and Lowly-Paid (2008-2009) 

The roles I kept getting from my agent frustrated me. The pay was low and the characters I was playing were all stereotyped in some kind of inferior and second-class status. The production crew were also inexperienced youngsters who are rude and disrespected the talents like some cheap herd that can be used as they like. It was during this period I came across people who wanted to see me fail. The only "well-paying" and professional jobs were from commercials - and it's not easy to get them because of how specific the advertisers wanted the characters to be. The TV commercials' pay for talents has gone down and that means the general quality suffers too. Finally, I've decided to leave the Malay-language TV drama for good! Of course, when I leave an "industry", I always want to leave with a bang. That gay character role I played in "Ampang Medikal" was the best goodbye or more like a fuck you to the whole industry. That gay episode scored the highest-rated episode for that series to date. So far in total at that time, I've acted in over 20 Malay-language TV dramas and telemovies.

Fully Featured Star (2010-2012) 

Finally, I got a much better representation of my talent as a commercial star. 2010 was the year that really pushed my artistic brand to the strastophere with the KFC Black Pepper Chicken commercial. It was aired during the peak of the World Cup season. I've finally stopped playing second fiddle to any talentless actors - be it in commercials or films. At least with this widely-watched commercial, my face was put in a proper light as the main actor talent. Prior to this commercial, I've starred in other commercials like Digi and Telekom Malaysia - but they were all just a few seconds of my shot. This KFC commercial features me in its entirety and the audience watching that time was huge numbers. Currently, I have starred in over 10 TV commercials.

Portrait of a Discriminated Artiste (2013-2015) 

The short film "Talent House" in which I was the main star garnered many accolades in the BMW Shorties - especially the Best Actor for me. From here on, I felt a form of validation unlike others. This validation means so much to me because I felt so betrayed in many ways that my own country often turned a blind eye to acting talents like myself due to my physicality: height, race and religion. Why do I even learn BM language when I can't even make a living out from it? Is it the national agenda to turn local ethnic Chinese into dumb consumers of Malay media? It infuriated me, giving me no choice but turned my attention to other countries for work. It's now or never to go international worlwide.

French photographer Francois Huguier was looking for talents to model for her photo exhibit. I was featured in a few of her potraits that went showcasing around the world! That feature got me a few acting parts for a few European movie shoots.

Most of the times as an artiste, it feels like all I do was waiting. Contrary to popular belief about the reason of my success was due to my active attendance in casting - the real reason for my so-called success is really about timing. For many people who enquired about my "secret formula", sadly to inform you there's none. Waiting is the key to having it all. To my audience who see me as success - I'm truly thankful for the complimentary view. But I don't see myself that way at all! I'm still waiting for the next big thing. It's certainly not in Malaysia, but hopefully from some other part of the world. There's actually 3 people that makes up an artiste - his sponsors, audience and ultimately the artiste himself. Like me, I don't have millions of fans liking my social media. Seriously, I don't want "fans". Don't idolize me please! I'm the most imperfect bastard. There's a vast difference between fans and audience.

And I do have my audience - majority not Malaysians.

My sponsors. And my artistry. These 3 components have always stay with me these past 10 years no matter how discriminating my country's film industry can be. For that, I will continue on for another 10 years in the biggest way imaginable. Just wait and see...

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