GETTING REEL IN MALAYSIA: An Interview With AYEZ SHAUKAT FONSEKA
The Hit List a weekly article I run on Mondays listing all of the various test fights and shortfilms I spot online for the previous week, is a feature on my blog that has done a great service to my own continued discovery of online action – something I became fascinated by close to ten years ago. It’s often intriguing what you find online as you never really know what is happening beyond your own borders unless you look, which is what I do a lot of these days because of the vast amount of talent that has spawned throught the online netizenry of up-and-coming filmmakers.
Actor, martial artist, stuntman, fight choreographer and stunt coordinator Ayez Shaukat Fonseka is one of those inspired artists I speak of whose channel I bumped into a few weeks ago prior to sharing one of its recent action shorts, Kejar (Chase), and as it turns out, his work has already taken shape in Malaysia’s mainstream film industry, just two years after starting his own online action and stunt film company, Laksamana Stunt Team. Now with a lucrative career working under the likes of prominent film producer Major David Teo over at Metroweath (MIG) while partnering at Malaysia’s own mixed-martial arts facility, Harry Gym Warrior, Fonseca‘s prospects are continually increasing, and with any luck, he’ll be able to spread his wings much more with possibilities beyond borders, and hopefully it happens.
The action film scene is boundless with talent around the world, and among other territories, I have always been a little bit curious about Malaysia’s own standing as I’ve promoted plenty of Malaysian movie trailers before. So you can imagine how fruitful it is to be able to get a lead-in with one of its own, especially with Fonseca building on the momentum of his current successes. He’s someone who’s got plenty of potential and time on his side, and after this, I certainly hope the rest of the world takes notice.
Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Ayez and thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Tell us about yourself!
Ayez Shaukat Fonseka: Hi there! I should be the one with gratitude for having me over for this chat. My name is Ayez Shaukat Fonseka, and I am a full time action director, choreographer, stunt coordinator and action actor in the Malaysian mainstream and indie action film industry. I’ve been doing this since 2006 and I’m pretty established as a choreographer and action director here. But also, I’d like to go one step further and start establishing my name internationally.
ASF: I have always been a story teller. I have loved writing stories all of the time even when I was a kid. Up until high school, I had never let anyone read my work because I was so self-concious, but that all changed when my teachers, Miss Shima and Mrs Suriani told me I had talent. So, I started writing screenplays when I was in high school as a hobby, upon later realizing that it was high time to try and visualize them and turn them into movies. I rounded up my best friend, Zul, who has always supported me, and together we shot our very first trailer. We’ve shot a lot of short films since, and quite a bunch got discovered. Some were screened at festivals and others had gone viral, and so as a result, here I am.
ASF: My favorite actor, hands down, is Denzel Wanshington. He puts in so much life into his characters, and not to forget that he is a total badass when it comes to action sequences! He really has that “You don’t want to mess with me” aura that lingers around him. Action wise, Jackie Chan inspires me a lot. And not only is he a great screen fighter, but he also does crazy stunts on his own. His heart, determination and skills definitely make him a legend up there. Others that have my attention are people like Jason Statham for his tough and rugged style, Keanu Reeves who has definitely proven that he is not just a pretty boy, Tony Jaa for blessing the industry with his groundbreaking stunt and fighting action, Yayan Ruhian for his unforgettable cool roles in all the movies he has appeared in, Hong Kong stars Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, and definitely Bruce Lee for introducing modern screen fighting. Moreover, Scott Adkins who I feel should be given more roles with depth in better movies, oh, and Mel Gibson too. He is a different kind of action star
For filmmakers, I am a huge fan of indie action, people like the folks at Thousand Pounds Action Company and Movie-Do for their amazing choreography, performance, visuals and cinematography for example. I’ve always been a huge fan of the raw fast cuts style you see in Hollywood movies, and the Hong Kong Style fight cinematography, but these dudes, they introduce this whole new way to present a fight sequence and I would love to work with them sometime.
As for commercial filmmakers, there’s just too many for me to mention, but if I have to throw a name out there, I’d say I’m a HUGE fan of Gareth Evans of Merantau/Raid/Berandal fame.
FCSyndicate: You said you’re pretty established in your field. If you could throw us a few titles worth looking into, what are some you could recommend for action fans? And who are some directors worth keeping
ASF: I have been doing professional stunts since I was 18 years old, which was almost 9 years back in 2006. I’ve been a stuntman and body double for many feature films here, but only started in choreography and stunt coordinating about 4 years back and the started action directing two years later. Now, I am a fully-fledged licensed director, who is often called upon to direct action sequences here for films and series projects, and recently signed as director for one of the biggest production companies in Malaysia, Metrowealth (better known as MIG) by film Tycoon, Major David Teo. Two upcoming film projects that I’ve action directed so far that I think will be enjoyable for action fans are Juvana 2 and Juvana 3 (Juvenile 2 and Juvenile 3) produced by Filmscape, as well as 7 Dimensi Aliff (Aliff and the 7 Dimensions) produced by Astro Shaw.
For both films, I worked together with legendary Singapore-Malaysia director, Faisal Ishak (who had also recently directed an MMA series in Singapore). For Juvana 2 and Juvana 3, I instilled plenty of raw and brutal fighting, but for 7 Dimensi Aliff, there are plenty of CG’d fights which will be groundbreaking to the Malaysian film industry.
As for local directors to look out for when it comes to the action genre, I’d say they are Faisal Ishak, the Yusof Brothers (Shamsul and Syafiq) and most definitely, me.
ASF: Juvana started off as a TV series in 2011, directed by Faisal Ishak. It is about a young boy named Daim who was wrongly accused of murder, and was sent into a juvenile detention center. There, he befriends some of the boys and also faces adversity with the bullies among them – a great drama that invokes reality and illustrates how tough it could be to survive such a facility. The series became popular and eventually garnered status an award-winning phenomenon locally, and in 2013, Juvana the Movie was released. The reception was so great that the director and production decided to make it into a trilogy, and having not been involved in the first installment, this is where I was roped in by the director and producers to direct the stunts and action for the remaining two films, in addition to playing one of the main villains.
ASF: The stars of the franchise are Johan Asari who plays Botak, Zahiril Azim who plays Daim, Adam Shah who plays Ayam, as well as Nad Zainal who plays the daughter of a mob boss. These stars are among the most popular young actors in the industry today, and I had the pleasure to train each and every one of them for this particular movie. During pre-production, I was first handed the scripts of both Juvana 2 and Juvana 3. I dissected the scripts and made my own action breakdown, taking out all of the action sequences and designing them together with the director. The both of us worked very closely to design each sequences, and he would brief me about the goals and the story to be told behind each action sequence as my job is to make it happen, to make the fights look real good and appealing – Really, my main goal was to top the action sequences from the first film. After I designed the sequences, we started training with the stars. Only a handful were able to carry out my choreography convincingly while others struggled, but it was my duty to make them look as good as possible.
|Laksamana Stunt Team member Riki Rikando and founder Ayez Fonseka with Juvana director Faisal Ishak in the center|
FCSyndicate: Will the choreography be stylized in any way? Or is it more geared toward brute force and close quarters like some other movies (like the Equalizer for example)?
ASF: What I like the most about working with Faisal Ishak is that he knows what he wants and that makes it a lot easier for me to design a sequence based on his needs. He knows how to make an action sequence visually interesting, and how to differentiate each of the fight scenes in the movie. For example, there is a scene he wants it to be shot in silhouette. This means that I have to design a sequence that will look good on silhouette by utilizing the space and giving bigger movements. One of the scenes was shot on high speed, which means I have to give movements that will look good in slow-mo. As for the physical style, Juvana is set to be as realistic as possible, so it is mainly gritty, brutal and realistic street fighting, with exception to my character, Shah, Nabila played by Nad Zainal and Karrel played by Chee Hong, these characters are heavily martial arts influenced. Shah wields a kerambit and fights in the lian padukan style of Silat, Karrel is a karate/kung fu expert, and Nabila has a more superheroic style ala The Black Widow in the Avengers.
ASF: Juvana 2 is set to be released in Malaysian cinemas October 2015, and we can expect for Juvana 3 to be released next year.
ASF: Honestly I feel that Malaysian films don’t get enough attention internationally. I can’t really put my finger on it as to why, and even if we make it internationally, it is usually within the South East Asia region. Perhaps we need to be more brave, like approaching international distributors and learn the ropes of international film marketing.
ASF: There certainly is interest, and there are certain studios who have successfully done so. After all, who doesn’t want their films to be released internationally too, right? I, for one, would love it if one of my indies or short films would make it to international festivals, and that is certainly an aim that I’ve set this year. And I dare say that it is not impossible. Whether we start big or small, we always have to start from somewhere.
|Laksamana Stunt Team founder Fonseka with designers Juliana Evans and Kaka Azraff|
FCSyndicate: Speaking of your indie projects and seeing as how I discovered you for myself on YouTube, are there any concepts you have in store for more content your channel? And can you offer any information about what you might be developing in feature-length territory, if anything?
ASF: I have actually planned out a whole lot of stuff to be shot and shared on my channel, but unfortunately due to work commitments in the film industry, I have not been able to find time to do so, and this can be pretty upsetting. I need my “release” once in a while, to shoot something that I have total control of, and to share with my subscribers. It is a joy for me, a passion and most definitely something that makes me feel… fulfilled.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m signed by Metrowealth (MIG) under Major David Teo, an extremely well known film producer and tycoon in Malaysia as a director for the company, so I have a few action projects that I just cannot wait to shoot with the company. I dare to make a bold statement, one that will make a change and leave an impact on the local film industry, action-wise, together with MIG. I have a great company backing me, an awesome team, and all the facilities that any filmmaker would die for, so there is no excuse for me to not do my best. So sit tight! There will be a few action-packed and martial arts feature-length projects coming from us.
ASF: Most definitely, I would love to work with Gareth Evans. Definitely Gareth Evans, ever since I watched Merantau. And, I would love to work with other sensational indie action groups like Thousand Pounds Action Company and Movie-Do!
ASF: This year, I am looking forward to Furious 7, Mad Max, Terminator Genisys, Mission Impossible 5, The Transporter Legacy, Dragon Blade, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, and The Kickboxer. I am pretty sure there are many more, but these are among the titles that are on the top of my head right now.
ASF: I’ll definitely let you know once I have action projects that begins to develop!
Thank you so much for having this chat with me, and to other indie action filmmakers out there: If you want to come over to Malaysia, I have the keys to the industry. Give me a buzz! Who knows what possibilities may come?! Regards and best wishes to all!
Loud and clear Ayez, and thank you for sharing your continuing story with Film Combat Syndicate. You’re on my radar now!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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