The Bruneians joke that if you’re not shopping, driving or eating, you’re most likely watching a film. With live music and alcohol banned, there’s not much to do in the tiny sultanate – except to visit one of its five movie theaters. Hollywood blockbusters, as well as films produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, dominate the screens – but that could change in 2014 with the release of Brunei’s first commercial feature film, Yasmine: The Final Fist.
The $2 million project, which includes $100,000 from the Brunei government, is the brainchild of the nation’s first female director, Siti Kamaluddin. The action film is about a young girl, Yasmine, who initially wants to become a champion of silat in order to win over her school crush. Her father, a single parent, disapproves of his daughter’s interest in the traditional Southeast Asian martial art.
The film came with many challenges. With a population of around 400,000 and no film industry to speak of, Brunei had to import foreign actors and even equipment in order to shoot it.
“I’m Bruneian, my line producer is from Malaysia, and it’s been a challenge getting extras. Normally you’d go to talent for this stuff but that doesn’t exist here, so we have to do it all ourselves: advertising, calling schools, sending text messages,” said Kamaluddin.
Some of the international cast includes Indonesian talent such as screenwriter Salman Aristo, actors Reza Rahadian and Agus Kuncoro, and actress Maharasyi Hanza. All were required to master the Bruneian dialect. Action director Chan Man-Ching – known for his work with Jackie Chan – oversaw stunts.
However, the lead role is played by Bruneian rookie actress, Liyana Yus. She spent an entire year “getting into character” and five hours a day training in silat.
“All of my friends have been asking me, ‘How did you get the part?’ Being an actress never crossed my mind, but I thought I'd go for the audition and I got the part,” she told The Guardian.
Although the nation has the second-highest quality of life in Southeast Asia and an affluent population thanks to rich oil and gas reserves, Brunei remains a country with a deeply conservative culture. The country’s last film, made in the 1960s, was a guide on how to be a good citizen produced by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Radio Television Brunei (RTB), the nation’s only TV broadcaster, still airs government campaigns and religious programs.
Despite the challenges that came with bringing the four-year project to life, the producer of Yasmine, who happens to be the director’s brother, Khairuddin Kamaluddin, stated earlier this year that he hopes that the movie will “kick start new industries such as film schools.”