KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 — Like many other local film buffs, Malaysian-Indonesian director Tony Pietra Arjuna has a special place in his heart for the iconic Kuala Lumpur institution that is Rex Cinema.
It was in its velvet-lined halls that he first took in some of his favourite movies of the 1980s that would, in turn, spur him into pursuing filmmaking.
So it’s poetic that Tony is set to have his first solo film Shadowplay screened at the legendary location, now known as REXKL, in conjunction with Urbanscapes 2019’s ‘Tayangan BMW Shorties’.
“Whenever I visited Kuala Lumpur as a child, I’d often go to Rex Cinema and I saw some of my favourite movies there, like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
“I feel quite sentimental about things coming full circle and I’m glad that there’s a support system like Urbanscapes to make this possible,” he told Malay Mail.
Shadowplay tells the story of Anton, a private eye who is forced to confront demons from his past while investigating the mysterious disappearance of a college student.
Shot in Kuala Lumpur, the film transforms the city into a neon-saturated landscape and weaves 1980s pop culture aesthetics and tropes with Shadowplay’s Malaysian surroundings.
With its dream-like narrative and surreal imagery, Tony was initially concerned that the film’s niche qualities would prove to be a miss with local audiences.
“It’s probably the most personal thing I’ve ever made. I believe that any filmmaker who wants to establish their signature is entitled to at least one exercise in self-indulgence, and that’s what Shadowplay was for me.
“I took the risk on the notion that most audiences might not get it, but I wanted to stay true to my vision and hope that there would be audiences on the fringes that we could build traction on.”
The advent of digital streaming has provided a much-needed sense of optimism for local indie filmmakers, many of whom find themselves walking a tightrope while trying to balance creative liberty and economic risk.
“It’s still difficult to get a theatrical release for Shadowplay because cinemas here feel like they can’t position this film for local audiences, and they don’t want to make the effort.
“Digital streaming is a new frontier for filmmakers as cinemas get increasingly conglomerated by big studios in place of indie films.
“Video-on-demand services are breaking the wall that separates direct-to-video releases with direct-to-cinema films.”
Despite being influenced by the works of Western directors like David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, Shadowplay is continuously driven by Malaysian culture throughout the film, resulting in a neo-noir piece that pays tribute to the east-meets-west upbringing many of its creators and cast members have experienced.
The architecture of Kuala Lumpur provided a treasure trove of inspiration for Tony, who sought out its colonial-era shophouses and futuristic skyscrapers to form the film’s backdrop.
“The film was basically me projecting my aesthetics onto something that already exists, like the city skyline and its buildings.
“I’ve always seen a lot of cinematic potential in KL and in films like Zahir Omar’s Fly By Night, we can see how noir it can be and I wanted to tap into that.”
Shadowplay is available on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/Shadowplaymovie?autoplay=1) for a fee and stars Tony Eusoff, Juria Hartmans, Radhi Khalid and Stephen Rahman Hughes.
The film will be screened for free on November 19 at REXKL. For more information, check out the Urbanscapes website (https://www.urbanscapes.com.my/event/42).