A runaway teenage girl seeks shelter in an old hostel, only to discover that the building has a secret past guarded by a strange janitor.
Set in Kuala Lumpur, the Ruby is a short film about friendship, lost history and the power of shared stories.
Sharifah Aleysha is Intan, a girl who’s trying to figure out life while dodging its punches. Having run away from home, she finds herself in Chinatown, among the hustlers, tourists, dreamers and survivors of the city. Here, not everything is as it seems.
Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Ling Low, the Ruby’s cast is led by rising star Sharifah Aleysha (Muallaf), veteran screen actor Chew Kin Wah (One Two Jaga), acclaimed comedian Phoon Chi Ho and emerging talent Aznie Azmi. The film is supported by funding from INXO Arts Fund.
Q&A with the Writer / Director
Why did you decide to set the film in Chinatown?
When I wrote the script, I had a very specific idea of the building I wanted to find, but I was open to shooting in various neighbourhoods. It so happened that there was a building in Chinatown that fit perfectly with the idea. When we went to recce it, we met some the community in the area and I observed the life on the streets around it. There is such a range of people who move through Chinatown - migrant workers, tourists, stall traders, young professionals, homeless people, school kids, elderly wanderers, and various combinations of all the above. I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and so the script evolved: I rewrote it to reflect the neighbourhood, or at least a glimpse of the neighbourhood.
Why is the film in multiple languages?
In Malaysia, there’s a lot of borrowing between languages. I wanted to represent this patchwork of languages even though it might be confusing for those who don’t know the diversity of Malaysia. In reality, it’s not unusual to hear friends speaking two or more languages within a single conversation or throwing in words from another language. Depending on the customer, traders in Chinatown might switch between Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese dialects and English, while languages like Bengali and Myanmar are also spoken.
Your previous films and music videos have often featured relationships, whether dysfunctional or mythical. Is The Ruby is a departure?
I’m always interested in the characters that people invent for themselves: how they present themselves to the world, and how that might contrast with their more “secret” self. In The Ruby, everyone is trying to survive, and they’ve learned to bury a part of themselves to cope with life. But when do those hidden selves get revealed? How do we overcome the distance — the defence — between strangers?
Even though The Ruby doesn’t centre on a romantic relationship, it’s still scratching at the idea of how connections are made, but this time through the lens of friendship. The Ruby also explores another long-standing obsession of mine, which is the hidden history of places. This is something I’ve worked on as a journalist for years, but the first time I’ve worked it into a narrative film.
What were the choices behind the music in the film?
The score is composed by Joseph Chua, who did a wonderful job in creating a theme for the building. I wanted the building’s theme to be wistful and layered, like its faded and fragmented history. The rest of the soundtrack features music by different Malaysian bands, who graciously allowed me to use their songs. The main character, Intan, loves music and I chose contemporary artists that I think she’d like in real life. The Malaysian music scene is bursting with talent so it was a privilege to include these songs.
Is the film about nostalgia?
While the film might be seen as nostalgic, to me it’s more about survival and resilience — both for the people and the place. It’s about how people have to adapt to make their lives work. In one scene, Intan tries to pawn off a necklace with a ruby gemstone, and she is told that it’s not real, just a cheap imitation. But she still tries to make the best of the situation.
Kuala Lumpur is a city of reinvention. Chinatown, at the heart of the city, is always in progress and under construction. You see layers of buildings, and a mishmash of signs: some faded and dating back decades, others brand new. This is what I wanted to capture in The Ruby. The colour palette often contrasts the washed-out, tired pallor of old places with persistently vivid pops of colour like orange, yellow and red.