Bruneian newbie lands dream role in Yasmine
It was an audition for coming-of-age Brunei silat film Yasmine.
Untrained in the martial art form, actress-wannabe Liyana Yus decided to unleash her wushu moves instead.
To be precise, a kick, a punch and what little she knew after a year of wushu classes as part of her school's co-curricular activity in college in Brunei.
"I'm not even sure if they were correct," Liyana, 21, told The New Paper in a telephone interview from Brunei.
PACK A PUNCH
The newbie must have packed a punch because she landed her first-ever acting role as the titular character who pursues her passion for silat against her father's wishes, while grappling with matters of the heart.
Yasmine, which stars regional actors such as Indonesian actor Reza Rahadian, Malaysian actress Nabila Huda and Singapore-born singer-actor M. Nasir, will be in theatres here from Aug 21.
But even before its premiere, the first commercial film for Brunei had already gained massive attention in international film festivals around the world including Korea, Canada and Switzerland.
Liyana is one of two Brunei actresses in the movie - up-and-coming star Nadiah Wahid plays her classmate and silat buddy Nadia Malik.
Liyana has put her pre-university education on hold since taking on the role in 2012.
Despite initial reservations, she soon decided it was a career worth pursuing.
She said: "It helped that my father gave me his support. He told me that academic success is to land a good, well-paying job.
"For me, I'm lucky and grateful to be given a possible 'shortcut'. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
On sharing screen time with established actors, Liyana said she initially felt "very small".
But bonds were quickly fostered on set and she looked to her reel-life father, Reza Rahadian (he plays Fahri), for imparting useful acting tips.
"For example, he advised me that in portraying anger, the trick is in the eyes, even without having to frown," she said.
Liyana, who has a passion for singing, had initially thought she'd follow in the footsteps of her musician father.
But a Facebook post on audition details for Yasmine in 2012 changed everything for the oldest of five children.
Her mother, who had spotted it on the social networking site, then told Liyana to "give it a shot".
Her foray onto the silver screen proved challenging.
"Crying, bruises and blood," said Liyana, succinctly describing the experience.
Recalling an accident on set, she said: "I was too slow and the opponent was too fast, so she hit my face. But life goes on and five hours later, we were up and running."
Before filming began, she went through an entire year of training six days a week to brush up on her skills in martial arts and acting. Among her instructors was Jackie Chan's stunt choreographer, Chan Man Ching.
Nonetheless, Liyana admits that the confident and headstrong character she plays cannot be further from her shy self.
Neither has she ever had a love rival like her on-screen persona. "I'm just not boy-crazy!" she said with a laugh.
But one thing is for sure - they are both equally determined.
"I aim to do more action films. I want to learn silat properly and am open to learning other forms as well, like Muay Thai. Who knows? It might open up more doors for me," she said.
For me, I'm lucky and grateful to be given a possible 'shortcut'. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
- Brunei actress Liyana Yus feels she has been fortunate to have her parents' support in her career choice
I don't think about being first
HAPPY: Brunei's first female film director Siti Kamaluddin is overwhelmed by the attention her film Yasmine has been getting at international film festivals. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Brunei's first woman film director is now set to release Brunei's first-ever commercial feature film since the 1960s.
As if that's not enough to give director Siti Kamaluddin full bragging rights, her upcoming film Yasmine has been making waves in international film festivals ahead of its Aug 21 release.
It won the Best Asian Movie at Switzerland's Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival last month.
The action-drama flick has also made the rounds at film festivals in South Korea, Canada, Hong Kong, Shanghai and France.
And Siti, 36, has described herself as being "happy and overwhelmed".
"I don't think about being the first... anything. I just wanted to make a movie where people can have a first look at Brunei and then laugh along with the characters and have a great time," she said in a telephone interview from Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.
It has given her more confidence to dream big.
"Hollywood's the dream, isn't it? I really wish to make it there some day," she added.
Siti, whose day job is producing and directing TV commercials and documentaries under her production company Origin Artistic Management, said that working with Real Steel and Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy would be her dream.
For now, she remains content that Yasmine will not only be screened in Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore come Aug 21. It is also slated for a North American release in November.
"In some parts of the world, like Canada, people have never even heard of silat or know where Brunei is," said Siti, whose mother, retiree Hajah Rohaiyah Sulaiman, 57, is Singaporean.
Of the film that was shot entirely in Brunei, Siti said it was a vehicle of showing off a little-known slice of the country.
"(Critics) have also said that it's refreshing because most action films are about revenge and violence. But Yasmine focuses on the sport," she added, saying she chose silat because it's a sport many in the region are familiar with, but still isn't as well known as judo or karate.
The film took over a year to complete on more than a US$2 million (S$2.5 million) budget with cast and crew that includes her producer brother Din Kamaluddin, action director Chan Man Ching and well-known regional stars.
Over US$120,000 of the film's budget came from the state.
"I don't want to limit myself to just Brunei, I want to set my sights further. I'm very keen on co-productions, working with people from many different countries to share knowledge and experience," she said.
While she looks forward to Yasmine's release date later this month, Siti will take a short breather to complete three TV commercials.
But she will not sit still for long - she is already looking at scripts for other movies.
"Maybe a comedy next? Who knows?"