Mike Wiluan's directorial debut Buffalo Boys is Singapore's pick for the Oscars

Ario Bayu (left) and Yoshi Sudarso in Mike Wiluan's film Buffalo Boys.
Ario Bayu (left) and Yoshi Sudarso in Mike Wiluan's film Buffalo Boys.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

SINGAPORE - Mike Wiluan's directorial debut, period action adventure Buffalo Boys, has been picked as Singapore's submission to the Academy Awards in the Foreign Language Film category.

The chief executive officer of Singapore- and Batam-based media company Infinite Studios tells The Straits Times: "It was a shock and honour at the same time. Terrifying as well as it's a representative of Singapore, so it carries a lot on its shoulders."

Director of Singapore Film Commission, Joachim Ng, says: "It explores the universally resonating themes of family ties and justice, creatively expressed by Singapore film-makers. We believe that the film will resonate with audiences not just in Asia, but internationally, and will pave the way for more made-with-Singapore films to come."

Set in 19th-century Java, the film is about two brothers who grew up in the American Wild West and return home to seek vengeance for the death of their parents. It stars Indonesia-born actors Yoshi Sudarso (Power Rangers Dino Charge, 2015 to 2016) and Ario Bayu (Serangoon Road, 2013) and is in Bahasa Indonesia and English. The budget was under US$3 million (S$4.1 million).

Buffalo Boys has its gala premiere in Singapore on Sept 4 and opens in cinemas here on Sept 6.

Wiluan, 42, who co-wrote the script, says: "The idea (of buffalo riding) was a twist on the cowboy. If it's not cow, if it's in Asia, it's buffalo right? That's how it started."

The Singapore permanent resident's extensive production experience, including on films such as Boo Junfeng's Sandcastle (2010) and Eric Khoo's My Magic (2008), did not prepare him for the challenging task of working with animals.

"Nothing worked" when it came to getting the buffaloes to run in a specific direction. Then the production team realised that they tended to pair up. "We put one on one side of the field and blindfolded the other one and when they realise their other half is on the other side of the field, they would run towards him or her."

That was not the end of it as the stuntmen then had to be filmed riding the animals. Wiluan recalls: "We had some injuries to our stuntmen, who kept falling off the buffalo. We had a few broken bones. Buffalo poop was the least of our problems."

Perhaps anticipating questions of whether Buffalo Boys is a Singapore film, he says: "It's all about enhancing the industry to be sustainable, whether or not that content is in Indonesia or Thailand or wherever else in the world. As long as we are able to add value to Singapore, to give Singaporeans an opportunity to work on all facets of the production rather than only being able to work when a project is approved when it has to be made in Singapore.

"That I'm excited about because it opens up the world."

No local film has made it to the shortlist of the Oscars so far. The 91st edition of the awards will be held on Feb 24, 2019.

Singapore's previous submissions include Anthony Chen's family drama Ilo Ilo (2013), a Golden Horse Award winner for Best Film; Boo's psychological drama Apprentice (2016); and Kirsten Tan's set-in-Thailand road movie Pop Aye (2017).

Buffalo Boys opens in cinemas on Sept 6.

Watch the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWUONpOAHpY