The film follows the mighty warrior, said to be a descendant of Alexander the Great, as he assists the Romans in bringing their Prince Marcus Carpenius to meet and wed a Chinese princess in Southeast Asia.
The film received a financial grant from the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra contributed to its soundtrack. Celcom is its exclusive sponsor. The filmmakers also received financing from Perbadanan Kemajuan Filem Nasional Malaysia to make a coffee-table book on the subject. After its success with Cicak-Man, Duyung and Magika, KRU Studios wanted to attempt a project with an international appeal, one with a universal theme.
“With the presence of the Romans and Chinese in the Merong Mahawangsa tale, we knew we had the right combination. And we also had the creative freedom to make the film bilingual,” says Norman, who produced the film with his brothers Yusry and Edry. Work quickly started, with research and writing of the screenplay by Amir Hafizi in 2008. Yusry took up the director’s mantle and cast talents with theatre background.
“Theatre actors are more expressive. Their body language and facial expressions are dynamic. As our cast comprises various nationalities, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, we’ve got a good mix,” says Norman.
Stephen Rahman-Hughes was picked to play the titular character. This London’s West End actor, dancer, choreographer and singer is best known on our shores as Hang Tuah from the successful theatre production Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. Hong Kong-born British actor Gavin Stenhouse plays the Roman prince while British actress Jing Lu takes on the Chinese princess. Other actors include Craig Fong, Henrik Norman, Datuk Rahim Razali, Ummi Nazeera, Nell Ng, Mano Maniam, Wan Hanafi Wan Su and Khir Rahman. Filming took up 52 days in 2009, at locations which included Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan and mostly Terengganu.
“We were working with a host of challenges — limited budget, a small team of animators, outdoor shooting with unexpected conditions. As it was our first time embarking on a project of this scale with extensive CGI effects, I’d say we did quite all right,” says Norman. I caught up with Norman again later — this time, with his two brothers and some of the cast — at a media event in Kuala Lumpur. Yusry stresses that while the film is based on the book Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, what’s on the silver screen is very much KRU Studios’ interpretation. “Despite the creative adaptation, we have remained true to the tale. In the past, the penglipur lara (village storyteller) would add new elements to an existing storyline to make it more interesting to listeners. Films, in a way, are the modern-age penglipur lara.” And judging from the trailer, which has been making its rounds on TV and the Internet, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa may just have what it takes to woo today’s discerning audience. The film will open in local cinemas on March 10. Merging literature, myth and history KRU Studios has come up with a documentary to complement its latest flick, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.
The documentary, which is also part of the film’s promotional initiatives, presents the viewpoints of various experts on such matters as Malaysian and Kedah history and the background of the book Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.
Panelists featured include Professor Datuk Khoo Kay Kim (Malaysian historian), Datuk Dr Siti Hawa Salleh (philologist), Datuk Dr Wan Shamsudin Mohd Yusof (Kedah historian), Datuk Wira Mohd Shaariff Abu Samah (Kedah palace representative) and Mohan Shanmugam (Hindu Sangam Malaysia president).
“The aim of this documentary is to provide the audience with a better understanding of the story of Merong Mahawangsa,” says KRU Studios executive president Norman Abdul Halim.
Viewers will learn about the warrior and his role in the oral history of Malaysia.
The documentary includes interviews with film director Yusry Abdul Halim and scriptwriter Amir Hafizi, who elaborated on the steps taken to merge the elements of literature, myth and history to bring the film to life. “While we didn’t detract much from the basic storyline of the book, our big-screen adaptation may not carry a literal interpretation of the events,” says Yusry. The documentary, which cost RM40,000 to produce, was completed in November last year, immediately after the filming. The 42-minute documentary was first aired on TV3 on Feb 25. It will be included in the DVD and later made available for download online. — By LILI LAJMAN