Ever since he burst onto the Malaysian entertainment scene in 1997 with the quirky Dui Mien De Nu Hai Kan Guo Lai (Look Over, Girl Across The Street), Aniu has been one of Malaysia’s best-known celebrities, both locally, and in the international Chinese entertainment scene.
From his very kampung-like stage name (which means “cow” in Mandarin) to his famously crooked teeth (which have since been straightened out), Aniu (whose real name is Tan Kheng Seong) is perhaps one of the most, er, Malaysian-like of all the Malaysian artistes that have made it big in Taiwan.
His songs regularly referenced Malaysian culture and scenarios (one hit song was titled Using Malaysia’s Weather To Say I Love You), and when Aniu eventually achieved his dream of directing a feature film – Ice Kacang Puppy Love in 2010 – he not only filmed it in Malaysia (specifically in Tronoh, Perak), he even roped in all his fellow Taiwan-based Malaysian stars to star in it.
Aniu’s latest movie, Rembat, sees the 39-year-old actor from Penang starring alongside Shaheizy Sam in what is his first ever Bahasa Malaysia film.
1. How did you come to join Rembat?
Last year, I did Huat Ah Huat Ah which fared quite well in the box office. So, the producers invited me to join Rembat as well.
It was a great experience – the production process was quite unique, and I enjoyed working with Sam, someone I was familiar with but not close to at first.
This is my first Bahasa Malaysia film, and in the beginning it was very confusing, because I had to figure out how to communicate a lot in BM. It’s funny, because the only times I used to speak a lot of BM was when I played football with my Malay friends as a kid.
Outside the football field, I seldom spoke the language. But when making the movie, I learnt a lot about their culture and language, which I never really had a chance to fully understand in the past.
2. Your first film, Ice Kacang Puppy Love, has been credited with kickstarting the Malaysian Chinese film industry. What do you think of that?
There had always been local Chinese films, but I think it was only in 2010 with Ice Kacang Puppy Love and Great Day (by The Journey director Chiu Keng Guan) that there were more regular and bigger Chinese local productions.
I think we still have a long way to go. Compared to Singapore, we still have a lot of catching up to do. It is still a young industry, especially in terms of script and directing. But we have a lot of good technical people like directors of photography and so on, who have even moved out to other countries like Hong Kong and China.
Many of our talented crew members have been recruited to work in China, so if we want to make even better films in Malaysia, we have to figure out a way to get them back!
3. What do you miss most about Malaysia when you are overseas?
I can’t live without cili padi! It was better in China because they have a lot of spicy food, but when I am in Taiwan, I get very depressed because the food is not spicy enough!
4. You’ve not released an album since 2010’s To All Men, It’s Been Hard Work. Have you stopped making music altogether?
Actually, music is still a big part of my career. I just had my first solo concert in Malaysia in February, and recently joined a reality show in China called Sing For You, where I have to go to a rural village and pretend to be an ordinary person, and write songs at the same time.
I also wrote the theme song for Rembat, so as you can see, my music career is closely related to my TV and movie work.
As for a new album, I’ve finished some songs already, but have not decided what format to release them for now. Releasing albums don’t seem very feasible these days.
5. Do you consider yourself a musician, or more of a filmmaker these days?
I used to wonder about that as well. I enjoy both music and making films. When I was just making music, I did get a bit bored. But when I started making movies, I realised singing actually makes me happy too!
So, I like doing both, and TV as well, so I’m just taking it one project at a time, no matter what it is.
In the future, I hope I can continue to make my own brand of movies and music, and use my own unique viewpoint to talk to the world.