Four vignettes, four mother-son moments, one unspoken truth.
Interview with Writer/Director/Editor King Yaw Soon
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
This was actually my undergraduate thesis film at San Francisco State University back in 2018! But I treated as the last film I could make in my life and I knew if I could leave one story to the world, My Mother, Myself & I was the exact one I wanted to tell. The film was inspired by my single-mother and my upbringing in the Chinese culture in South East Asia. At the same time, I was very inspired by some of the slow cinema film that I watched during the writing process. Carlos Reygadas’s “Silent Light”, Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels” and Qiu Yang’s “A Gentle Night” short that I had the privilege to watch at Cannes 2017. I wanted to make a film with only long takes, minimal manipulation and a contemplative pace. And that’s how I came up with this film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think this short set out to achieve something unique and very minimalist – it’s seven minutes long and it only consists of four long takes. The film offers a glimpse into the four moments of brief but intricate interaction between a single-mother and her son. It’s like I pry open someone’s diary and can only read four chapters of it. The film definitely offers a different viewing experience as an audience like myself are so used to watching films with quick cuts and a fast pace. And it’s a coming-of-age film! I think the genre has a certain charm in cinema and I was lucky enough to find three male actors at the age of 5, 10 and 20 to bring the story to life.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I started writing this as a self-reflection on my Chinese culture and my mother’s love. The Chinese family culture, which is heavily influenced by the Confucian philosophy, emphasizes devotion to parents, emotional restraint, and authority. But where does love fit in to this ideology? Has love been sacrificed at the expense of Confucian ethics for centuries in Chinese families? A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional, but it tends to be expressed very differently in a traditional Chinese family. It doesn’t consist of hugs or “I love you”. Words are constrained and sometimes it means shying away from the truth. Family members shield each other from the inconvenient truth and history in the name of love because we know how much the truth hurts. But what if that’s exactly the thing that pulls us apart? In this film, I explored the struggle of a son to behave in propriety in a traditional Chinese setting while coming to terms with the brokenness of his family and his mother’s unspoken love.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The original script has seven scenes in four acts, and yes that means, seven long takes to capture the whole life of the main character. We filmed all seven long takes and my favourite shot was the 4-minute long take of the mother and the son at the graveyard. During editing, I pieced all seven shots together and it was 12 minutes long. But I found the story more powerful when I cut it down to only four scenes, which what makes My Mother, Myself & I now. It was definitely hard to take out all those shots but I felt the story is better when it’s more ambiguous, like life itself!
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The film was shown at the 58th SF Film Finals, an annual film festival for the top short films produced each year at my school. And I’m very happy to share that it won the Jury Award of the night. A lot of people came up to me to say how simple yet poignant the film is. The film form is very bare and at the end of the film, they actually wanted to see more. They wanted to know what happens to the relationship between the mother and the son. All in all, the positive feedback was more than I expected as I first set out to make a film with slow cinema, which could be deemed hard to watch for certain audience.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Yeah, I had my doubts about the film. I just wasn’t sure how the audience going to react to such a minimalist film. And with the recognition that it is getting now, I felt more confident about my direction and my art. I would definitely push my style further in my next film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Often times we see a film and do not get what happened behind the scene, and to me, it’s actually more interesting for me to read about this stuff, especially as a filmmaker. The journey of getting a film done has great stories within the process itself. And I felt We Are Moving Stories is a cool platform for me to share this experience and my thoughts about this film. It might be a good five-minute read for an audience or a filmmaker in the future and that’s all I hope for in sharing my experience.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Well I’d like to see my film getting into more international festivals for sure. But a personal message from an audience who liked my film would mean the world to me. As long as it could inspire someone out there, I’m content with my film.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
The key question that my film asks is "When you know how much the truth hurts, why would you ever tell it to your loved ones?" I think the question applies not just to a familial relationship, it can apply to any romantic relationship as well.
Would you like to add anything else?
The craziest story I’d like to tell others about this film was that my original five-year-old kid actor bailed on me two hours before the shoot. I received the text from his mother and it was the worst news you could get on a production day. I reached out to my cast and crew about the issue and I had to cancel the day of production and reschedule the scenes. Fortunately, my actress, Yin Yin Liow knows a friend who has a five-year-old kid and we were able to get that scene shot that weekend. The kid is Korean and doesn’t understand any Chinese, but it all worked out in the scene. I couldn’t thank Yin Yin enough for saving the production and my fellow crew members for being flexible!
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’m on the pre-production on my next drama short film named “When I See The Wind”. This might sound heavy, but it is inspired by the moment in my life where I saw someone jumped off the bridge in front of me. Yeah, it’s a pretty heavy scene but ultimately I want to tell a story about human connection. I co-wrote it with a very close friend of mine and I was able to get Andrés Gallegos, a very talented cinematographer to be on board. The short films he shot was shown at Cannes, Raindance and Mill Valley. So I’m very excited for this collaboration and see how far we can push with our art.
Interview: February 2019
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My Mother, Myself & I
Four vignettes, four mother-son moments, one unspoken truth.
Director: King Yaw Soon
Producer: Lukas Rohrer, Tino Novello
Writer: King Yaw Soon
About the writer, director and producer:
Award-winning filmmaker and graphic designer, KING YAW SOON was born in Tawau, Malaysia in July 1992. Graduated summa cum laude from San Francisco State University with a BA in Cinema in 2018, KING has produced and directed several short films. His first documentary, Something Carved And Real, won the National Best Picture at Campus MovieFest 2016-2017 Season as well as an opportunity to represent the organization in the Campus MovieFest showcase at the Cannes Court Métrage 2017. His undergraduate thesis film My Mother, Myself, and I won the coveted Jury Award at the 58th SF Film Finals in 2018. He currently resides in San Francisco and works as a video editor at Electronic Arts.
Key cast: Yin Yin Liow (Mother), Tony Chou (20yo Son), Antonio Wu (10yo Son), Jake L. Pien (5yo Son)
Looking for: film festival directors, distributors
Facebook: My Mother, Myself & I
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? CINEQUEST Film Festival