Yvonne Lim has spent a few weeks now talking to people about her directorial debut, Hope, a short film that’s based on the 47-year-old Mediacorp actress’ very own personal experience dealing with her mum’s death from gastric cancer when Yvonne was a young girl.
But no matter how many times she talks about the surprise project – a surprise because she didn’t tell many people she was working on it until the film was released in late November – she still gets overwhelmed with emotions.
Case in point: There were several moments during her chat with CNA Lifestyle when Yvonne admitted she was teary.
It’s not hard to understand why. The 13-minute film focuses on a young girl’s last days with her cancer-stricken mum.
The film reflects pretty accurately what happened to Yvonne when she was 13 – from the times she rebelled against her mum and the tender moments they shared to finding out from her principal while in school that her mum had passed away. Everything happened very quickly, as well – it was only about a month from the time her mum was diagnosed till her death at the age of 36.
Hope has been warmly received and has even collected several accolades for the first-time director, including Best First Time Filmmaker Short Film award at Cannes World Festival 2023 in April this year. It was also shortlisted as a Best Indie Short nominee. Then there was the Grand Jury Prize at the SEE Asian Film Festival 2023 and making the official selection list of the LA Shorts International Film Festival 2023.
LEARNING TO HEAL
Yvonne freely admitted that she shed “a lot” of tears during the project, which took a year to complete. “I’m really crying every part of the way. It’s really hurting. Up to now, it’s still hurting. Because I’m still trying to be at peace with myself over what’s hurting.”
“So maybe, my husband asking (me to work on it) in some way, or maybe, you know, the universe is telling me that I need to do this in order to let go of it. To heal.
“That is the reason why I designed the last part of the film to have a present me and young me – and the reason why I’m hugging her is to tell her that” – here Yvonne breaks to tell us that she’s crying as she’s talking to us – “look, Yvonne, you did a good job. You did well. Don’t blame yourself. Let it go.”
She revealed that while driving back after shooting that last scene, “I felt this thing that’s on my shoulder all along” lifted.
“I felt this sense of healing and I felt that this thing that has always been deep inside my head and deep inside me, is out. So yes, I feel less heavy. And relief that I’m actually telling my story because I have never told anybody my story.
“I’m still feeling it though, but it’s just that I feel it less.”
A particularly poignant scene in the film is when young Yvonne tells her father that she doesn’t want to go to school that day and she wants to visit her mum at the hospital instead. However, her father insists that she goes to school and so, Yvonne doesn’t get to see her mum when she passes.
Yvonne admitted that she has a lot of emotions, including regret, wrapped up in that moment. “Why didn’t I insist (on visiting my mother instead of going to school)?”
“This is a regret that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life till the day I pass on,” she shared.
“The regret is that I didn’t get to see my mum (in her last moments) and I did not manage to hear what she had to say to us. Not one of us managed to go to the hospital to see what she has to say.”
She also shared that she never did ask her father why he insisted on her going to school that day. “I still wonder why he stopped me from going to the hospital.”
“Being an actress, we do analyse characters. My assumption is that A, maybe he really wanted me to go to school; B, he did not want us to get too upset seeing my mum pass away and C, he thought that it was going to be okay because there were times when the hospital called but my mum turned out to be okay.
“So, three answers that maybe one day I’ll ask him: A, B or C.”
It’s no surprise that Yvonne has picked up more than a few tricks of the trade, having been an actress for more than 20 years with an impressive nine wins at the Star Awards in the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artiste category.
Working on Hope, she joked that she did have her “Wong Kar-wai moments”, referencing the renowned Hong Kong director of classics such as In The Mood For Love and Chungking Express, but she soon learned what was achievable in a short film and what wasn’t.
Editing the film also turned out to be much more challenging than she anticipated, largely because she wanted to keep so much of the film as everything felt personal. She ended up with 16 edits with the initial cuts clocking in at around 50 minutes long.
Reflecting on the experience, Yvonne let on that she did learn a lot about herself.
“Sometimes we do not know what we can do until we really try it, so don’t always say no, it’s not possible. Sometimes I think it’s possible if we really put our heart into it. If my husband hadn’t pushed me, I might not even think that one day I’ll be a director.”
She’s also glad that the experience has opened her up to new opportunities.
“What is most comforting is when the production crew members ask me, What are you working on next? So that’s very encouraging. So yes, I guess this has opened new doors for me and yes, I’m able to do something else besides acting.”