Brunei's first commercial feature film to be released next year

Yasmine, a coming-of-age tale about a girl, is being directed by country's first female director

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 4:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 4:01am

There is a joke in Brunei that if you're not shopping, driving or eating, then you must be watching a film. In this small, Muslim-majority sultanate where alcohol and live music are banned, the cinema is often the most exciting place to be.

The Southeast Asian country's five cinemas almost always showcase Hollywood blockbusters and Malaysian or Indonesian dramedies. But next year something entirely different will be hitting the screens: Brunei's first commercial feature film.

Yasmine is a coming-of-age tale about a girl who wants to become a champion at silat - Brunei's hypnotic and dance-like answer to kung fu. It represents a number of firsts for this country of 406,000: not only is the US$2 million project Brunei's first box-office movie, it is being directed by the country's first female director and stars a number of first-time actors.

"Everyone is going through a learning process," says Siti Kamaluddin from her director's chair on set, where she is filming a silat scene in a university auditorium near Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.

"Working with inexperienced crew is challenging, and it's my first time directing a feature film, so all of us are going through this," she adds. "It's been a wonderful journey, but I'm not going to kid anybody by saying it's easy."

Although Brunei boasts the second-highest standard of living in Southeast Asia (just behind Singapore, according to UN data) and its population is among the richest in the world - thanks to vast oil and gas reserves - its culture remains, for the most part, deeply traditional. The last film made here was a 1960s how-to guide by the ministry of religious affairs about being a good citizen.

Half a century later, not much has changed. The nation's only TV broadcaster, Radio Television Brunei (RTB), still airs government campaigns and quiz shows among its educational, religious and drama programmes, and there exists an apparent chasm between those who want to protect Brunei's family-oriented culture from outside influence - some ministers even fear Brunei could be "diluted" through tourism - with others, such as Siti and her producer brother Khairuddin, seeking to promote it instead.

"We are creative people," explains Khairuddin during a break on set. "We're full of poets and writers and I want to showcase Brunei in ways that haven't been done before."

The siblings - who together run Brunei's first film company, Origin Films, and its sister company Origin Artistic Management - have spent the past four years working on Yasmine and have drafted in expertise from all over the region due to Brunei's lack of local technical and creative know-how.

Silat stunts are choreographed and directed by one of Jackie Chan's right-hand men - Hong Kong stunt veteran Chan Man Ching - with other crew and actors hailing from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.