Rajah film to debut at Cannes Film Festival next year, will feature Sarawakian ethnic actors


Rob Allyn has described the movie as a “big, swashbuckling romantic adventure”.

KUCHING: ‘Rajah’, the upcoming Hollywood feature film on the first White Rajah of Sarawak, Sir James Brooke, is expected to make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival next year.

Margate House Films chairman and chief executive officer Rob Allyn said the studio is targeting to complete the film in time for the most prestigious film festival in the world before it hits the big screen.

“We’re hoping to have Rajah finish in time for the Cannes Film Festival next year which is around May 2020.

“After that, it will be a worldwide release which will probably be around the middle of 2020,” he told The Borneo Post.

Rajah, which stars famed Hollywood actors Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the titular role as well as Dominic Monaghan as Colonel Arthur Crookshank, has been described by Allyn as a “big, swashbuckling romantic adventure” film.

“It is a story about Sir James Brooke and how he fell in love with Sarawak not only for its culture, wildlife and beauty, but also its people.”

Shooting for the film starts today and will be entirely shot in Sarawak until the end of October.

“The whole movie is entirely shot on location in Sarawak and around 90 per cent of it will be shot outdoors which makes Sarawak a truly natural studio,” said Allyn, who also serves as the film’s producer.

Among the locations which will be featured in the film include Santubong, Bako, Bau and Siniawan.

“In fact, we are building an ‘Old Kuching’ up in Siniawan where we’ve taken the old historic wooden shophouse buildings and we are going to clad the back of these buildings with bamboo thatches (‘attap’) made by women from villages all over Sarawak.

“We are also building Brooke’s house, his palace and audience hall, the mosque of Prince Bedruddin – who is a major character of the film – as well as a whole Malay village in a jungle near Siniawan, which we have to burn halfway down so it looks like it was destroyed by pirates.”

Apart from the outdoor shooting locations, Allyn also shared that the production team has also taken over the entire Borneo 744 warehouse in Bintawa to serve as its production offices, workshops, sound stages, production design, wardrobe and props.

“We are building sets there and are also using the interior for sound stages.

“All of the interiors of the movie such as the Palace of Brunei and the bedrooms of the prince for example, are being shot inside.”

On the casting of the actors and actresses, Allyn, alongside Rajah director Michael Haussman, wanted to make sure that they cast authentic actors for the film.

“It’s very important for us to have authentic Sarawakian ethnic actors who have Malay, Dayak and Chinese features.

“So all of the characters who are meant to be Malay, Bruneian and Dayak, they have all been cast from Sarawak, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“It is only actors who are playing either the English or Chinese characters, they are from outside Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said, adding that auditions took place in London, Los Angeles, New York and Sydney.

Besides Meyers and Monaghan, Rajah will also star Hong Kong actress Josie Ho as Brooke’s former lover Madame Lim, Indonesia actress Atiqah Hasiholan as Brooke’s love interest, and Malaysian actors Bront Palarae and Shahezy Sam who will be playing as Pengiran Indera Mahkota who was Brooke’s principal rival for power and Subu, Brook’s long-time Malay clerk and companion.

Meyers (left) and Peter go through the script while on set at the Sarawak Cultural Village today. Photo by Chimon Upon

Allyn also revealed that two Sarawakian actors will play key roles in the film, namely Peter John Jaban and Kahar Jini.

“One of the characters is Orang Kaya which was the name he was known as and he was the most important Tribal Dayak chief whom Brooke was very close to.

“Peter came and auditioned for the role and Michael (Haussman) just loved his performance in the audition as he’s very authentic, has great dignity and gravitas.”

As for Kahar’s character, he said the local theatre actor would be playing Datuk Patinggi Ali, a Malay noble who became the number one ally of Brooke when he became Rajah.

“The character, who is coincidentally the direct ancestor of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, was originally in rebellion against the Bruneian sultan and Brooke defeated him in battle.

“Prince Mahkota wanted to cut off his head but Brooke stopped him from doing so and gave mercy to Ali.”

Rajah is made with The Brooke Heritage Trust serving as the film’s technical advisory and the support of the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Film in Malaysia Incentive’s rebate on Qualifying Malaysian Production Expenditure.