“Returning Home” – An Interview with Filmmaker, Mr Don Hoe

We were thrilled to hear that one of our own, Mr Don Hoe, the Public Relationship Officer of Penang St. John Ambulance, Malaysia had been honoured at the esteemed Golden Orchid Awards in China for his work as a filmmaker.

“Returning Home” tells the story of the dedicated heroes from the Civil Defence (APM), St John Ambulance (SJAM), Lions Clubs as well as Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department (PBS), who put their lives on the line to save others. Sometimes people forget that they have families, too. They often sacrifice much of their time away from their own families, whilst their families await anxiously for their safe return. During this Chinese New Year, will the heroes return home safely? 

We had to get in touch and hear from Don directly what had inspired the story of his film, and – even more excitingly – what it had been like to receive the award for not only “Best Foreign Film”, but also “Best Foreign Director”!  

Returning Home film

Don, in your own words, what inspired you to make this movie – and to tell this story?
A few days ago, the Communications Team at St John International in London contacted me for an interview about our film. They asked why I had the idea to create a movie that promotes the St John Ambulance. This brought back memories of an incident that happened 30 years ago when I was just a middle school student. At that time, I was already a cadet in the St. John Ambulance. I remember it was Flag Day, and my fellow cadet and I were walking on the street in our uniforms, selling small flags to the public. I had just passed my basic first aid training. 

On that day, we witnessed a hit-and-run accident involving a motorcycle and an elderly woman. The lady fell and hit her head on the ground. At first, I was scared and froze for a few seconds. I felt anxious and kept asking myself what I should do. But then I realized I couldn’t wait any longer and hurried to assess her condition. I saw a lot of blood flowing from the back of her head, and we didn’t have a first aid kit with us. I knew I had to stop the bleeding and needed a cloth! I noticed a kopitiam (coffee shop) nearby and asked my partner to stay with her, talking to her to prevent her from fainting. I ran to the kopitiam’s uncle and borrowed a clean cloth with the words “Good morning” on it, saying it was clean. I rushed back, and with blood-soaked hands, I pressed the cloth against the back of her head. At that time, mobile phones were a luxury, so I asked my partner to flag down a passing car because the bleeding was severe, and she needed to go to the hospital. Luckily, a church van stopped and helped take the aunty to the hospital. 

We were quite frightened at the hospital, where the nurses exclaimed, “Wow, you’re so young, yet you saved a life!” They wanted us to wait for a report, but we were scared and thought we should go back to the headquarters to report and let the officers handle it. In the end, we decided to walk back. When we met a fellow cadet sergeant around our age, we told him everything and asked for advice. He was also just a kid and afraid. He advised us not to tell the officers because he wasn’t sure if there would be any legal issues. He told me to wash the blood off my hands and stay quiet. Thankfully, there were no bad news reports in the newspapers for two weeks, and aunty was okay! 

“I always wanted more people to see these unsung heroes and their dedication. And that’s how “Returning Home” came to be!”

Mr Don Hoe, the Public Relationship Officer, St John Ambulance, Malaysia

Years later, as I grew older, I always felt that this story should be shared, not for praise, but to let more people know the importance of learning first aid. Look, a child of just over ten years old could save a life! This experience sparked a sense of duty in me—I wanted to promote the importance of learning first aid because you may save the life of someone you love at any moment. So, naturally, when I joined the film industry, I always wanted more people to see these unsung heroes and their dedication. And that’s how “Returning Home” came to be! 

Can you tell us more about the story of the movie itself?
Jing Jing, a dedicated St John Ambulance member, also works as a full-time nurse. Despite her compassion and expertise in helping others, she always struggled with unresolved issues with her father, leading to feelings of frustration and avoidance. These unresolved emotions stem from a tragic incident years ago when she went out to buy a birthday cake for her dad. Upon returning home, she discovered her mother had suffered a fatal heart attack. Jing Jing blames herself for not being there to save her mom, even though she was away at the time and couldn’t have prevented the tragedy. This guilt has haunted her ever since, and she fears her father might hold her responsible for what happened. 

The strained relationship between Jing Jing and her father worsened over time, but fate intervened when her father was involved in a serious accident. Thanks to the collective efforts of her college’s St. John Ambulance and other agencies, they managed to save her father’s life. This near-tragedy brought a profound sense of gratitude and relief to Jing Jing, ultimately leading to a reconciliation with her father. 

On the other hand, Ah Boon’s father, Corporal Ong, is a brave member of the Civil Defence Force who fearlessly served on the frontlines during the pandemic. Sadly, fate took a cruel turn when Ah Boon contracted COVID-19, and Corporal Ong couldn’t be by his son’s side when he fell into a coma. Duty called, and Corporal Ong was stationed at the quarantine centre, leaving him uncertain if he would ever see his son again. 

Returning Home film