Growing up in Batu Pahat, Johor, around the 1980s, Quek Shio Chuan saw how difficult things were for his brother, Quek Shio Gai, who has autism.
“Back then, there were no special schools or special centres, especially when you come from a small town like Batu Pahat. There was nowhere to send him to help him,” recalls Shio Chuan, 33, who is two years younger than Shio Gai, in an interview with StarLifestyle.
“He was forced into the system that we had. He attended a normal school. He entered remove classes. He was forced to play to our rules,” he adds.
Shio Gai also experienced his share of bullying as a kid, but thankfully, not a great deal more than other kids. “He did get bullied sometimes. People would stare at him or talk bad about him in front of him. Those kind of stuff. It was verbal abuse at most. In terms of getting beaten up, no.”
Despite the odds stacked against him, Shio Gai is an assistant math professor at a local university today.
The family first spotted his aptitude for numbers when he could do Form Five math when he was only Form Two. “For a person with autism, when you see that there is something he or she really likes, you should nurture it,” says Shio Chuan.
Despite excelling in math, things weren’t smooth-sailing. “Anything that has to do with numbers, he’s exceptional. Anything without numbers, he’s not so great.”
Hence, core subjects involving languages were difficult for Shio Gai but he needed to pass them in order to graduate. “It was his core subjects that was holding him back. In college, he got deferred quite a few semesters because of them. At one point, we got quite worried because we didn’t know if he was going to make it.
“When he did make it after three to four tries, it was this moment that inspired Guang.”
Guang, which won four awards at the recent Malaysia Film Festival, marks director Shio Chuan’s first feature-length film. Previously, he was best known for directing a spate of well-received Raya TV commercials such as TNB’s Rumah Epik Fantastik, Astro’s Gaya Raya Paling Ori and Lazada’s Buah Hati Raya.
The film, released late last year, follows the journey of protagonist Wen Guang (Kyo Chen), who has autism, as he tries to find a job to support his family.
But the job hunt isn’t going well and his younger brother Didi (Ernest Chong) berates him, not knowing that Wen Guang has an exceptional musical talent.
Needless to say, Shio Gai’s life story inspires Guang a great deal. But while his math prowess was not captured on screen, his musical talent became the backbone of the film.
“My brother does have perfect pitch. He can identify any musical note without external guidance just like the character in the film,” Shio Chuan shares, adding they first discovered this musical gift during music classes in primary school.
Asked how his family members felt about putting such a personal story on screen (an estimated 80% of the film was based on true events), Shio Chuan says they couldn’t have been more supportive.
“We usually don’t see each other often. But during the shoot, in that one month period, everyone came to the set. Everyone was behind Guang. My sister even wrote the theme song and my father had a cameo role in the film,” he offers.
Of course, Shio Gai himself was also on set. “He enjoyed himself on set a lot. He’ll talk to my cameraman about the kind of lenses he used, how many millimeters he’s using, what’s the setting of the camera. He’s a very numbers person.”
Guang is now in cinemas in Singapore and there are plans to bring the film to Taiwan and Hong Kong next.
“I hope when people watch Guang, when they see others who are different from themselves, they won’t simply judge them and treat them negatively.
“Even though they are different from you, what they want is basically the same, which is for people to understand them and communicate with them. And to express him or herself. Everyone deserves a voice.”