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Angelica Lee, Hiroshi Abe talk about adapting a best-seller into a movie

Angelica Lee and Hiroshi Abe star in the movie adaptation of "The Garden of Evening Mists".

A beautiful leading lady and a dashing leading man make for an attractive and compelling onscreen couple. Throw in a scenic garden backdrop and we get "The Garden of Evening Mists".

The movie, an adaptation of Malaysia's Tan Twan Eng's best-seller of the same name, stars Malaysian actress Angelica Lee (a.k.a. Lee Sinje) and Japanese actor Hiroshi Abe as the lead characters, Teoh Yun Lin and Nakamura Aritomo, a couple who grows closer as they tend to the garden built by the former for the sister – Teoh Yun Hong (played by "Think Big Big's" Serene Lim) – she lost in the war.

Helmed by Taiwanese director Tom Lin, the Astro Shaw, HBO Asia and FINAS co-production is set in Cameron Highlands and expected to wrap up filming this year for a 2019 theatrical release.

We met with the stars of the movie at a press conference held at The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur and asked whether they read the book the project is based on to prepare for their movie, here's what they have to say:


Hiroshi Abe shares that his character speaks in Japanese English.

Cinema Online: Mr. Abe, can you describe your character to us?

Hiroshi Abe: Aritomo is a gardener. Garden equals to peace. This loving Aritomo, he also is suffering from the war so he lets Yun Lin build her own garden so that she can find peace.

You have to speak in English for this movie, how's that like?

Abe: 90 percent of this movie is in English. So it was hard for me but the director told me "Mr. Abe, please use Japanese English." Not like when I was in American Hollywood movie, they asked me to speak in American English. But practicing Japanese English was another thing, it was difficult too.

Ms. Lee, did you read the book in order to fully develop your character?

Angelica Lee: The novel is very in-depth and complete in describing the character itself. It describes the character's life when she was in the Japanese camp all the way to her 60s. And the script itself cannot be literally as long as the novel but reading the book beforehand really helped me understand the character further and take a personal touch from the book and apply it in my acting.


Are you worried that audiences who've read the book might compare your character in the movie with the one in the book?

Lee: I'm not worried that the audiences who've read the book, it would affect how they see my acting because as long as I've understood the character well enough, the way that I deliver the character it will be strictly according to the character that I developed. The similarities between the novel character and the movie character, they complement each other.


Angelica Lee is not worried that her character in the movie will be compared
to the character in the book.

Mr. Abe, did you read the book too to prepare for the movie?

Abe: The novel is very thick and in English so I couldn't read it, I couldn't understand but I got the background from the director. At first, I was very worried about the art because this is related to Japanese garden and culture. But the set was setup by the staff very wonderfully, I'd like to thank them for making this beautiful set. I think they researched quite in-depth about Japanese culture.

I read the script but Ms. Sinje acted as Yun Lin more than the script, so I can understand her feelings more than what the script told me. More than what I read in the script so I thank her very much because her acting was superb.

What was the toughest scene to shoot?

Lee: We haven't shot the scenes yet but already I can feel the toughness. I remember that when the director showed me the model of the camp, I was so shocked. "Are you sure I sleep here?" [Laughs]. There's no room at all to sleep in the camp.

[The production] knows that it's going to be very tough for me so the director arranged it to be shot at the end. They want me to look very skinny in the camp, very tired, exhausted. So I think when we shoot that, I will look like that also, after our very hectic shooting schedule.

How's it like to be working in a Malaysian movie again?

Lee: I'm a Malaysian actress based in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I only worked in a Malaysian movie once, ten years ago. I always look forward to working again in a Malaysian movie because I want to act as a Malaysian, it's something I most relate to. So when I received the script, after I read it, I was so elated and deeply moved by the story, the character. And it's a new and exciting opportunity for me to work with an international production team.


Look forward to Angelica Lee and Hiroshi Abe's performance in "The Garden of Evening Mists".

Cinema Online, 29 July 2018