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Director Tsai Ming-Liang wants us to realize how lucky we are in Singapore.

Not only do we get to watch his ninth film I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone in its entirety, the Kuching-born auteur also feels that our Lion City is taking a more liberal stand on controversial films, like the ones he is fond of making.

“It’s my third work which is released commercially here, and that is a sign of progress,” says the 49-year-old filmmaker during a press conference for his latest work held at the cozy Picturehouse Lounge.

Dressed in a casually cool black shirt and a bright red scarf, Tsai states that although his movies might be different from what the commercial market has to offer, they won’t leave you empty after walking out of the theatre.

In fluent Mandarin, he tells the media: “It is a different concept altogether. It is not a consumer product out to make money. It may just make you a you more whole as a person.”

Tsai’s new film marks the first time he shot on location in his homeland, Malaysia. The movie about freedom and love was initially banned in Malaysia, but is currently under review by the local censorship board, with five cuts in consideration.

“I think we should give the system more time for evolution.”

Best known for her stage role in Emily of Emerald Hill, Malaysian actress Pearlly Chua takes on the role of a sexually repressed woman in her feature film debut. Totally unlike her loud character in the renowned play, this experience has been very different for Chua. She says in her articulate English: “Unlike acting in theatre, I had to tone down a lot for this character,”

Looking regal in her elegant sarong kebaya, the capable actress does not shun roles like this because of the challenges involved.

“It is a surprisingly pleasant process, if I can put it that way,” she smiles, referring to the saucier scenes in the film.

Fellow Malaysian Norman Atun was selling Malaysian delicacies before being discovered by Tsai to star as a Bangladeshi worker in the film. Having had no background in acting, Atun recalls the difficulties he had while filming.

“It was very uncomfortable when the director shot me at very intrusive angles. It often took many takes for me to play this emotional role,” says the 29-year-old good looker in Malay through a translator.

But the humble actor also has this to say when asked to comment on his good looks: “It’s not up to me whether I’m handsome or not.”

Atun shares a lot of screen time with actor Lee Kang-Sheng, who is Tsai’s protégé and the main lead of many of his works. The talented Taiwanese has also ventured into directing, making his debut in 2003 with The Missing. His upcoming cinema project Help Me was also named “Best Project” at the 2004 Pusan International Film Festival project market.

When asked about what he thinks about Tsai’s newest film, the sullen actor chuckles in Mandarin: “Shifu’s (Teacher’s) work is always the best!”

I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone opens 5 April and is reviewed here

Photos/Report: John Li
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