entertainment

Meet The 25-Year-Old M'sian Filmmaker Who Has Won Multiple Awards Internationally

Born and raised in Melaka, the young cinematographer now heads lighting and camera crews in Los Angeles, California.

Cover image via Mario Michael Gonsalves (Provided to SAYS)

Meet Ong Rui Jiang

He is a Malaysian cinematographer based in Los Angeles who has been receiving worldwide recognition for the stunning visuals he directed and brought to the big screen.

The 25-year-old recently won a handful of awards for his work in Patroon - an indie film based on the life and struggles of an immigrant teenager living in the Netherlands

As the director of photography, Ong brought to life the film director's vision and conflicting experiences as a Dutch Caribbean youth living in the country.

With the premiere of Patroon in 2019, Ong has since been awarded Best Cinematographer of the Month and Best Cinematography of a Short Film in the 2020 Asian Cinematography Awards in the Philippines.

He has also received an honourable mention for Best Cinematography at the 2020 Prague International Indie Film Festival.

The film itself has also been given nods at the 2019 Netherlands Film Festival, 2019 HKU Awards, and the 2020 New York Cinematography Awards.

Born and raised in Melaka, Ong said he incidentally stumbled into filmmaking in the first place

After most of his schooling in Malaysia, the opportunity presented itself just as he completed his last two years of high school in New York.

The former national water polo player was accepted to a few pre-college courses at Brown University which included - among the subjects of economics and sports physiology - an introduction to filmmaking.

"After taking the film course, I knew I wanted to pursue filmmaking," he told SAYS despite having only studied sciences in school.

With no previous experience, Ong was also initially discouraged when he was rejected by seven out of the eight universities where he applied to study film.

"Eventually, I studied visual and media arts at Emerson College," he said, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Since then, Ong has delved deeper in the film industry, where he started off as a camera assistant in Los Angeles before actually venturing into cinematography

In the first few years, he worked as a camera and lighting technician with companies such as Disney, Vogue, BuzzFeed, Samsung, and even with Netflix in the series Lethal Weapon.

"As the years progressed, I moved further into the field of cinematography, thus leading to where I am now," he said.

"As a cinematographer, I am responsible for the lighting, composition, and visuals of what you see on screen," he explained his current profession.

"Imagine painters with their brushes and paint. Cinematographers paint with light, shadows, and colour."

The young Malaysian now heads lighting and camera crews, giving direction and making crucial calls on a production's lighting and aesthetics.

Ong has also since worked on music videos that have garnered millions of views on YouTube for world-renowned celebrities such as Lebron James, Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, and Chris Brown.

Currently, Ong said he aims to spur social change and make an impact on society with his art and collaborations

When he was approached by Patroon's film director Mario Michael Gonsalves, who he had previously met in a summer video course in 2015, he said the script gave him the authenticity and purpose he was looking for.

He said the film seeks to highlight the normalised subtleties of discrimination that happens on an individual level, from family to friends, and the expectations of growing up in the Netherlands.

As a Malaysian Chinese living in the United States, he was able to navigate the nuances of being a minority living in a different part of the world, as well as relate it to the discrimination back home.

"Patroon highlights the negative bias and treatment towards minorities locally and from other countries, which has always been an existing issue there and, unfortunately, also in Malaysia," he said.

"In Malaysia, we are guilty of our own unconscious and normalised biases towards each other, and towards foreign workers," he added.

Asked if he has advice for other budding filmmakers, he said that it is crucial for a person to get involved with film in any way possible from the beginning

"Even if you are hired as a production assistant or an art assistant or even a runner, do your best because, with a stroke of luck, someone might give you a chance to be their mentee and bring you up along the way, which is what happened to me," he said.

He further stressed that networking is a huge part of the industry which is as important as attending film school, for you can meet people who might want to collaborate with you in the future.

"Malaysia has a lot of untapped potential and stories. With the right resources and support, I believe the Malaysian film industry can flourish both domestically and abroad," he concluded.

Check out the official trailer for Patroon:

Recently, a Sabahan director also received critical acclaim for his short documentary at a film festival in the US this year:

These other Malaysian filmmakers also received international recognition for their art: