A Tribute to Penang Hokkien

Whether you know him as the director of the acclaimed 'Puteri Gunung Ledang', 'Hoore Hoore!' and 'Chow Kit Road! Chow Kit Road!', Saw Teong Hin will delve deeper into a Penang Hokkien play titled 'Hai Ki Xin Lor' (You Mean the World to Me). The Penang boy himself teams up with co-director Jason Ong Han Yee to produce an almost-biographical play about a filmmaker Sunny who is haunted by a shocking incident from the past and travels back to Penang to shoot a new film about his family without their knowledge.

The play is set in the late 1970s and 1980s to the present day and features a string of local actors such as Frederick Lee and Chelsia Ng, alongside Singapore actress Neo Swee Lin of the Phua Chu Kang fame who is also Saw's university mate. 'It's a real gift for me to shoot in Penang because I really love this island,' said Neo. 'I used to come here as a child because my uncle lived here. Plus, it was an amazing opportunity for me because I have known Teong Hin for many years.'

With a line-up of actors from different states (and islands), script reading practices pose a set of challenges. 'To meet up with other actors is tough but we are confident we can pull it off,' said Saw. 'Jason is co-directing, so he works with the Penang cast while I work with the KL cast. Half way through, the cast will travel to KL and meet.'

'Hai Ki Xin Lor' is set to take place on a massive two-storey stage in Khoo Kongsi and without revealing too much, Saw shared that there will be a mix of sad and funny moments. 'At the end, this piece is about forgiveness, reconciliation, love and those sort of things. It'll be relatable to everyone,' he explained.

What does this Penang Hokkien play mean to him? According to Saw, the idea was hardly about preserving the language and this is because Penangites already speak it all the time.  Instead, he said, 'It is a tribute (to the language) and there's nothing like showcasing it on a big stage. I never realised how different Penang Hokkien is to other Hokkien dialects.'

'Living so many years away from Penang, I have come to acknowledge how special the language is and I recognise how much Penang has shaped myself into the person I've become,' Saw shared before adding, 'No matter how far you've travelled and where you lived, you always go back to what draws you as a person.'

'Hai Ki Xin Lor' will be held on 28, 30 & 31 August 2014 at Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi during George Town Festival. Tickets are now available for purchase at Air Asia Red Tix. For more details, click here.