Astro Shaw along with HBO Asia is currently producing a film based on Tan Twan Eng‘s novel The Garden of Evening Mists. The project is still in very early stages, and flyers are being handed out at the Cannes Film Festival to build and seek interest for the upcoming adaptation.
“The script is still being written at the moment,” informs Najwa Abu Bakar, vice president of business development at Astro.
“Right now, we’re on the second draft.”
According to details on the handouts at the Malaysian booth, the film is set to be an intimate and melancholic piece that chronicles the “ordinary reality of people who have undergone extraordinary pain”. Trauma, pain, guilt and loneliness will be central themes in the upcoming adaptation.
Twan Eng’s novel was awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2013.
“We wanted to champion a Malaysian story. It just so happens that this one was written by a Malaysian writer, and one that is acclaimed too,” states Najwa on Astro’s intention with adapting Twan Eng’s novel.
“For us, we also wanted to have a project that can bring Malaysia to an international audience.”
When asked if the film was targeted at an international market as opposed to the Malaysian market, Najwa explains that it was made with international audiences in mind, but hopes that Malaysians will respond to it as it is rich with Malaysian elements and is going to be a Malaysian film.
The Garden of Evening Mists tells the story of Teoh Yun Ling, newly-retired judge who is faced with aphasia, a condition that is characterised by progressive language and speech difficulties. She goes to Cameron Highlands to seek solace, and starts writing her memoir which she shares with a Japanese professor, Tatsuji, who is interested in the works of artist Nakamura Aritomo.
Along the way, we discover her past relationship with Aritomo, who owns a Japanese garden in Cameron Highlands and who once took Yun Ling in as an apprentice so she may design a garden in tribute to her sister. The story spans several decades and is written in first person by its protagonist.
Perhaps most uniquely, its protagonist comments on the writing and rewriting of the book which is intended to be read by herself as a mnemonic.
According to Najwa, claims that Michelle Yeoh was due to star in the project were merely rumours.
“I believe she did state her interest in an issue of Italian Vogue, but in all honesty we’re not even close to that stage yet. The project is still in very early stages and it’s too soon to make those calls.”
Despite that, Najwa acknowledges that having Michelle on board would be a very positive thing.