In conjunction with Autism Awareness Month in April, Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) has embarked on a campaign themed Autistic People Are Not Broken to raise awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The Autism Awareness Campaign kicked off with the launch of a special film titled The Wayang Kids (Xì Qu Zong Dong Yuan in Mandarin) at GSC Mid Valley.

The screening was attended by Penang-born film director Raymond Tan and the movie’s young Singaporean star Austin Chong.

The Wayang Kids, which is supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, tells of a bunch of primary schoolchildren training to represent their school in an international Chinese opera performance. The kids come from diverse backgrounds so they have to deal with cultural and language differences while they learn positive social values, such as resilience and racial harmony.

Austin makes his film debut in The Wayang Kids as an autistic schoolboy nicknamed Open, who gets a chance to prove himself by portraying The Monkey King in a stage play when a Chinese-Canadian exchange student named Bao Er (Lorena Gibb) strikes up a friendship with him.

autistic Open Austin Chong The Wayang Kids

Autistic student Open (Austin Chong) portrays The Monkey King Sun Wu Kong during a stage performance in The Wayang Kids. Photo: Filepic

A bona fide martial arts champion who has won three individual gold medals at Singapore’s National Youth Wushu Competition (2016), Austin took to Chinese opera training rather easily. As a newcomer to acting, Austin focused his efforts on research about autism and other special needs people to deliver a convincing portrayal.

“To get a general feel, I watched lots of YouTube videos. Also, I observed other special needs people while taking public transport. It is important that we help to promote awareness of autistic people in our society,” said the 13-year-old, who still trains regularly in order to be in tip-top condition for his martial arts competitions.

The movie’s director Tan (Wayang Boy, 2014) says the producers visited over 20 schools and auditioned over 500 students to cast the five children in the main roles. Apart from promoting bilingualism and a traditional art like Chinese opera, Tan hopes his second feature film will help shed some light on autism.

The Wayang Kids director Raymond Tan with child actor Austin Chong. Photo: The Star/Shaari Chemat.

“We hope to plant a seed in people’s minds, so that they can learn more about heritage art, and at the same time help raise awareness on autism and the challenges experienced by special needs individuals and the people around them.”

The movie also co-stars Taiwanese actor Eli Shih as Open’s father and Canadian-Taiwanese TV host Christopher Downs as Bao Er’s father.

The month-long campaign will also see GSC’s website and social media sites bathed in blue for the cause, while on-ground cinema staff will wear a blue button badge in support of autism awareness.

For every ticket sold to The Wayang Kids, RM1 will be donated to the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom) to fund its activities. Additionally, cinemagoers who purchase tickets to The Wayang Kids will be given a button badge.

The Wayang Kids will open in selected GSC cineplexes on April 5. The list of participating cinemas includes GSC Pavilion KL; GSC 1 Utama, Petaling Jaya; GSC Mid Valley Megamall; GSC Klang Parade; GSC MyTown, Cheras; GSC IOI City Mall, Putrajaya; GSC Gurney Plaza, Penang; GSC Sunway Carnival, Penang; GSC Aman Central, Alor Setar; GSC Ipoh Parade Mall; GSC East Coast Mall, Kuantan; GSC Aeon Bandaraya Melaka; GSC Palm Mall, Seremban; GSC Paradigm Mall, Johor Bahru; GSC Suria Sabah, Kota Kinabalu and GSC CityONE Megamall, Kuching.

Catch The Wayang Kids at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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