Full Circle
Tatler Malaysia|February 2021
The award-winning Malaysian director Chong Keat Aun was a youth who lived a simpler life, surrounded by the lush paddy fields of Kedah and the local stories that would soon shape his entire career as a filmmaker
Koyyi Chin

Clutching his award for best new director after the reveal of his first-ever feature film, The Story of Southern Islet, with both hands, Chong Keat Aun’s voice was tremulous as he began his acceptance speech on the night of the 57th Golden Horse Awards, which took place just last year on November 21st in Taipei, Taiwan. “Movies themselves aren’t extraordinary. In fact, what’s most extraordinary are the people who made them happen,” he begins.

THE STORY OF SOUTHERN ISLET

Set amidst the backdrop of an idyllic countryside in Alor Setar, Kedah during the 1980s, Chong’s debut film tells the story of Yan, a woman desperately seeking a cure for her husband Cheong, who, after quarrelling with a neighbour, suddenly falls ill and spits a bloodied, rusty nail. According to the director, the premise of the film had been based on his own childhood events at the age of 10; particularly, the vivid memory of when his own father had succumbed to an unknown, incurable disease that left him weak and bedridden for almost a year.

“Nothing we did could explain what he was sick with, or how he’d gotten it in the first place,” the now 42-year-old explains. “At the time, clinics weren’t readily accessible, and I remember my mother just trying her best to help him get better because my father was so sick that he couldn’t even get up—every day, she’d wake up at 6am, paddle the bicycle to the morning market to sell anchovies, rush back home in the afternoon to cook lunch, take care of my father, then she’d be out the door again to look for help. She never stopped to rest. In the end, when there was no other way, she went in search for Chinese or Malay bomohs.”

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