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Gavin Yap interview

Director-actor Gavin Yap tiptoes between love, chance and relationships in his hitman film ‘Take Me to Dinner’

Photo: Amir Rashid
Gavin Yap

Edward, played by the charismatic Patrick Teoh, is no ordinary triggerman. An over-the-hill assassin, he decides he's had enough of killing and requests for his retirement dinner from his equally messed-up colleagues. Romance, male bonding and violence make up this 'dark comic' drama directed by Gavin Yap, who populates his feature film debut with a remarkable cast: Susan Lankester (also the film's executive producer), Ben Tan, U-En Ng, Thor Kah Hoong, Michael Chen, Jia-Wei Loo, Chew Kin Wah and Na'a Murad. 'Take Me to Dinner' plays havoc with emotions as the dinner gives impetus to a series of life-changing events. 

You've amassed a list of credits as a stage and screen actor. Is it finally time to take the director's chair?

I've always wanted to make a movie but I had no idea what the movie was going to be. I've kind of fallen out of love with acting, and was figuring out what my next step was. As an actor, I always prefer theatre because I like that relationship with the audience but the only thing that bugs me is that theatre has no shelf life. And I felt that I've invested enough years in stories that have no shelf life. It was when I did 'Relationship Status' that I suddenly remembered, 'Hey, I wanted to make a movie. What happened to that?' Khai (Khairil M Bahar), the director, gave a thank-you speech during the shoot and said, 'If you guys need to shoot a movie, just let me know.' So I went straight up to him and said, 'Dude, you're going to shoot my next film.

What was the genesis of 'Take Me to Dinner'?
The way I made the movie was actually backwards. I booked my people and the shoot dates first. Then I tried to figure out what the script was going to be... which isn't the way you're supposed to do it. The only thing I did know was I wanted to do something about a hitman, and I wanted to use certain actors and people I've worked with before. So knowing the actors helped inform the script.

That explains the veteran cast in the film.
I've always been very fascinated with older people. People like Patrick, Thor and Ben - I find the people in their age bracket very real. Because they're at a time where there's no point pretending to be somebody else. There's a sense of honesty to them and they have a much more fascinating screen presence. Not just as people but as actors. Because of the profession I chose for the cast, it ended up becoming a story about the end of the road, about looking for redemption and reflection.

Did you write the story with Patrick Teoh in mind?
Would it be for Patrick? I don't know. But I knew I wanted Patrick to be in it. Whether it's going to be a starring vehicle for Patrick, I'm not sure. But I wanted him. Because for your first film, you want somebody you can trust. Patrick and I have been very good friends for a while but more importantly, he's a damn good actor. And I also have a very weird sense of humour. My sensibilities are different so I needed people who understood me the first time round. We shot everything in 12 days, which was ridiculously tight for a feature film. There wasn't enough time; I needed people whom I knew I have shorthand with. 

Would you say falling in love with Susan's character (Jennifer) marks the turning point for Edward?
Well, that's an easy way of seeing it. These hitmen don't lead a normal life. We're talking about people who kill for a living. When Edward meets Jennifer, he unexpectedly gets sucked into a sense of normalcy that he finds very attractive. 

'Take Me to Dinner' is a meditation on life and relationships after all. How would you describe your hitmen? Merciless?

They're brutal. But they're brutal because they're nonchalant about it. Not because they're thugs. They're not samseng. I wanted to portray them as ordinary people with fucked up jobs. Edward is probably the least 'hardened' of them all. Manny (Thor) is the most aggressive. Teddy (Ben) is the classy one and I based him on a kind of Ian McShane type of character. Hamm (U-En) and Elijah (Michael) are the younger ones - the 'speak when spoken to' kind of people. But Patrick has the biggest story arc so you get to see him be emotional, and merciless at work. 

It's not easy to cheer for a character who murders for a living. Do you fear that people will have a hard time identifying with the emotions?

When you make a movie like this, there's a legitimate fear because this is a character piece. This isn't a movie that has a bunch of explosions or special effects. It's very risky - you'll never know how people are going to respond to it. But I hope the characters touch them. There's a scene towards the end of the film that makes the whole filming process worthwhile because I completely identify with the hopelessness of the situation. It's a moment of raw honesty, and when you see an actor do that, it just breaks your heart. You see them as people and to me, that's kind of life. Life is a series of ridiculous highs and lows. Friendship among men is not portrayed often and that's a very unique thing - the way men treat each other. It's like a man killing you with kindness. 

What's next on your list?
I'm writing my first book with MPH, which will be released this year. It's a humour book about KL life told from the perspective of a vacationing Martian. It's the easiest way to dissect KL life by not being from KL yourself. I'm also working on several scripts and there are a number of things on the boil. In the future? Maybe I'll make a film about young people. You know, when I'm older. I'm now 37, and I think I'll make films about old people until I'm 40. And when I'm in my forties, I'll be like 'I think I understand youth better now.'

Watch the ‘Take Me To Dinner’ trailer

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