Tanks for the Memories: Ah Boys to Men 4 set visit

For inSing

Tanks for the memories: on the set of Ah Boys to Men 4

A tank flattens a car as Jack Neo takes us through the mayhem

By Jedd Jong

On a sweltering September afternoon, this writer walked past overturned cars in an open-air parking lot full of debris. There were open flames and smoke, as a bloodied extra covered in dust shuffled by. Bricks were scattered about, as egg crates were being burned to create smoke, the smell of cordite hanging in the air.

Hiding in the distance behind some trees, almost as if waiting the wings of a theatre, was a Leopard 2SG main battle tank.

inSing was on the set of Ah Boys to Men 4, the latest instalment in Jack Neo’s highly popular series of comedy films, which follow a group of Singapore Armed Forces recruits through their National Service.

In this film, our heroes are serving their reservist duty in the Armour Unit, operating tanks and armoured fighting vehicles. The scene that was being filmed that day involved a Singaporean tank pursuing an enemy armoured vehicle.

The film stars Tosh Zhang, Wang Weiliang, Joshua Tan and Maxi Lim, reprising their roles as Sergeant Ong, Lobang, Ken Chow and Aloysius “Wayang King” Jin respectively. New additions to the cast include Apple Chan, Jai Kishan, Ryan Lian and Hafiz Aziz. None of the principal actors were present during the set visit, because the interior scenes with the actors had already been shot earlier. Actual soldiers from Headquarters, Armour were operating the vehicles on the set, with Major Audrey Kon keeping a watchful eye over the proceedings.

Director Neo assured us that unlike the war scene glimpsed in the first Ah Boys to Men film, this was not a video game, and the film would depict Singapore actually at war. Where the invading troops hail from, he wouldn’t say. “We are not going to say where. Enemy can be anywhere,” Neo told the visiting media.

Speaking to inSing in Mandarin, Neo laid out the scene for us “These HDB blocks in Dover have been sold en bloc, so we’re able to take over this area and turn it into our war zone,” he said. “In around a month’s time, the whole thing will be taken down. Nobody’s staying here anymore, so it’s safe for us to do our explosions. We’ve spent a lot of time and money converting this into our war zone. As you can see, there’s lots of debris, as well as real cars that we’ve wrecked.”

“There are so many crew members required, we need lots of coordination,” Neo remarked, gesturing to the people around him. “We’re working with machines, and sometimes machines will throw tantrums. They’ll go ‘oh, I’m malfunctioning now, too bad for you,’ and you have to sort that out.” When asked if humans throw tantrums too, Neo replied, “occasionally”.

Two main action beats were on the agenda: the Leopard tank was set to roll over and completely flatten a car, and there was a major explosion planned for later that day. We waited around for hours, and Neo explained why things weren’t moving at a breakneck pace. “It’s very troublesome to shoot,” he said. “Once there’s a mistake, you have to reset everything to zero, to check that everything is safe, so the process is very, very slow. But slow is good, to make sure everyone is safe.”

After several hours of making sure everything was just right, it was time for the big event. The tank trundled along, gaining speed, crushing the Chevrolet beneath its treads. After the sequence was complete, Neo happily posed next to the flattened automobile.

After another two hours, it was time to film the next big sequence. An unassuming bespectacled elderly man in a red polo shirt and navy-blue shorts set up an explosive charge in front of the enemy armoured fighting vehicle. This is Jimmy Low, founder of The Stunt Production and the go-to guy for pyrotechnic stunts in local film and TV productions.

After making sure everyone was at a safe distance, that the debris was arranged to hide the explosive charge from the camera, and with a drone positioned overhead to get an aerial shot, it was time to blow stuff up. Even with earplugs in, the explosion was deafening and the shockwave palpable.

The film is being released the same year that the Singapore Armed Forces celebrates its 50th anniversary. Why should audiences return to cinemas for a fourth go-round? “Just from listening about the personal experiences of the men in your family who’ve undergone National Service, you might not get a full understanding of what it’s like,” Neo commented, adding that the Ah Boys to Men films “bring you inside the units, and convey why National Service is important to our nation, especially in times like these.”

Ah Boys to Men 4 opens in Singapore on 9 November 2017

Taking Disciplinary Action: Interview with Gurmit Singh of Young & Fabulous

For F*** Magazine

Gurmit Singh talks to F*** about going from funny to fierce
By Jedd Jong
As an actor, comedian and host, Gurmit Singh is an extremely face to Singaporeans everywhere. His signature contractor character Phua Chu Kang, who originated from Singh’s sketch show Gurmit’s World and went on to have his own television show, movie and even a musical, is a Singaporean cultural icon.
Most audiences are used to seeing Singh as an over-the-top goofball, so his role in Young & Fabulous is something of a departure. In the comedy-drama film, Singh plays Mr. Boo, the Discipline Master at Solaris College. The central trio of characters, Royston (Aloysius Pang), Hao Ren (Joshua Tan) and Violet (Joyce Chu) are his charges and the recipients of his disapproval. The film is set in the Singaporean cosplay scene and touches on the themes of chasing one’s dreams in the face of a society that prizes practicality over creativity.
Singh spoke to F*** at Raffles Convention Centre ahead of the film’s premiere that night. It turns out that in real life, Singh is a far cry from the manic persona he is most associated with. Sure, he definitely still has a sense of humour, but he’s clearly a very separate person from Phua Chu Kang. He spoke about the role that parents and teachers play in a child’s development, his own encouragement of his children’s creative endeavours and how the entertainment industry has evolved over time.
What is it like getting into character to play a strict Discipline Master?
I think it’s actually easier to get into the serious side of things because in real life, I’m quiet, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch or a challenge to play the role. I think it will be more challenging for viewers to watch me this way because people are used to me being larger-than-life, funny and comedic all the time, and this is not like that. It has its funny moments, but I’m not being funny.
You have said in interviews that you would support your children’s pursuit of their passion. Do you also feel it’s important that they get good grades and earn university degrees?
I think if they are good at studies, then by all means, go ahead. I’m not saying “stop studying”. I’m just saying that many times, parents try to relive their failed dreams through their children, and I think that’s very sad. I am a walking testimony of how I didn’t get a degree, I wasn’t smart enough to go to NUS (National University of Singapore) – twice I tried and my A-Levels weren’t good enough. Anybody in my position would have said “okay, I’m stuck with A-Levels now and my future doesn’t look good, I’m going to be stuck with a certain level of job and a certain level of pay.” But as it turned out, it wasn’t like that at all. I’ve always told my children that as long as it’s legal and they’re happy, it’s fine. But as parents, we have to guide them. They might think “this is good!” but we have to tell them “here are the consequences and here are the challenges going forward”, because we know better than them. Then if you still want to go with it, by all means, go with it.
I have parents who come to me and say “my child wants to be a superstar, he wants to be a celebrity.” That’s fine! If he can dance or sing or act, then that’s fine. But the child also has to know that it’s a lot of hard work. A lot of children out there who are not guided think they can just come in, sit in front of the camera, sing, dance, act, host, done! Tomorrow I’m a celebrity. It’s not like that at all! Sometimes it happens overnight, sometimes it takes more than that, sometimes you don’t get the show that really is that vehicle to take you to that fame status and the child has to be guided and told about such things. Whether it’s for the entertainment industry or whether it’s to become a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman, as a parent, you have to say “if this is what you really want, let’s research about this, let’s see what this career path entails.” Then you draw up all the challenges and put it in front of the child and say “do you still want this?” If they say yes, go for it then.
If your daughter says she wants to be an actor or a host, you’d be in favour of that?
It’s fine! I’ll be a hypocrite if I said “no, you cannot be [an actress]! It’s not very good.” When my elder daughter was about 8 years old, she said “Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a celebrity.” I said, “oh, that’s…cool?” And she said “I want to be a different kind of celebrity. The kind that nobody knows about. I have the money, I have a lot of projects, but nobody takes photos with me and I’m free to do whatever I want.” That was 8 years old, let her dream.
In Singaporean society today, what do you feel the balance is between the role a parent plays in the development of a child and the role a teacher plays?
I’ve always been a strong advocate of how parents are the main people in terms of guidance for the child. The teachers are coming in in terms of education, academics and all. But in real life, social skills and all that, I think the parents have bigger roles. I’m sad to say in the past few years, I’ve seen more of that being transferred to the teacher, instead of the parents taking what is supposedly theirs. Now, I feel that we are in a new phase now.
I’m a council member in the Families For Life council. We sit down every three months, talk about, plan and execute events and strategies where we hope more and more families get together. Not just the mother and the child, but even the father, so that they can grow stronger together in terms of the bonding time. For the longest time, I know it’s a cliché, “spending quality time” has been around. That phrase “quality time” has been used as an excuse. “I’ll spend two minutes with you, that’s so ‘quality’. And now, I’m going away to play golf for the next three hours.” That’s screwed up for me. I think it should be the other way around, you play golf for two minutes and spend three hours with your child. As a council member, we are allowing more and more platforms for the family to get together and have that time together. It’s one thing to have quality time, but you must have “quantity time” as well. The more time you spend with your child, the most opportunity you have to exercise your responsibility in their lives.
Did you have any pre-conceived notions about the hobby of cosplay before taking on this film?
Not at all. For me, it’s just another version of a Halloween party. At the bottom-line, that’s what it is. I have no ill feelings towards kids who cosplay. I didn’t find anything new because I’m already a collector of comics, I’m a Superman fan. I’m into comics, I’m into all this stuff, so it wasn’t a huge revelation of “what is this? I haven’t seen this before!” Not at all.
I’ve read all but two issues of my Superman comics collection. I first bought them in 1994 to 1996, and then I had chicken pox, so I started reading through every one. Recently, I picked up two copies.
What preparation did you do to take on this role?
I think nobody has to research it because everyone has grown up with a Discipline Master in their school. It was easy to draw on past experiences – I’m not saying that I was a bad kid in school, but I had a Discipline Master in primary and secondary school and they were all very fierce! They had this sour face, it was like they hadn’t had enough food to eat and somebody kicked them in the face every morning when they got up. Very grouchy and moody, and even the best jokes don’t make them laugh, so it wasn’t difficult to get into that role, I just thought back to it.
What message did you want to convey through your character?
It’s a positive message, isn’t it? Through my character, I actually show everybody that not everything is as it seems. When you see a Discipline Master in school, you’d think one way “a Discipline Master is heartless, he probably has no family, even if he had a family he’s probably chased them away because he’s so grouchy.” This film addresses that. Maybe not everybody is like that, if you take the time and effort to get to know someone, you’ll find out that there are other facets to the person. For example, whenever people see me, they think that I’m a comedian, I’m always larger than life, in your face, “don’t pray pray” and all that – but when they sit down and talk to me or have dinner with me, they realise there are other facets of Gurmit Singh that we didn’t know about, and I think that’s what the movie does as well.
What is the most important factor when you pick your projects?
That it’s got some message, good values, and that it’s a role that I want to play. If this is a movie that is just glorifying some…evil, bad, vulgar concepts, I’m not interested in that. For me, it’s about the whole concept and it’s about the role that I’m playing, whether it’s going to be something that I enjoy playing. If it’s not something you enjoy, if it’s passé, it will show on screen.
Having been a pillar of the entertainment industry…
Pillar? No lah, please lah, hello! It’s too much man! I was more like a corner tile at the side there.
Having been part of the Singapore entertainment industry for some time, how do you feel it has evolved and developed over time?
I would think that now, the entertainment scene is really flourishing because there are so many platforms out there. In the past, it was very hard to get known, to be heard, to be seen, to be even slightly noticed, because you had to know somebody in the industry to even get your foot in the door. But now, with the social media platform, anybody can be a producer, a writer, a singer, an actor, a host, whatever! Put it out there and you never know, depending on the number of hits on your site, you could be the next big thing.
I think that’s great. But it’s also a double-edged sword, because on one hand, it allows the person who could not have been found through the old traditional means can now have that instant success and accessibility – but it also means that those who really don’t have the talent are just irritating everybody. It’s good entertainment for a while, but they’re also deluded. They think that just because they’re out there, that because in they’re in the media, it means they’re very good. But it’s not isn’t it? Ist all comes down to whether or not you’re talented.
Young & Fabulous opens in Singapore on 26 May 2016.


The Faith Of Anna Waters (a.k.a The Offering)

For F*** Magazine


Director : Kelvin Tong
Cast : Elizabeth Rice, Matthew Settle, Adina Herz, Colin Borgonon, Adrian Pang, Jaymee Ong, Pamelyn Chee, Paul Lucas, Victoria Mintey, Gus Donald
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 95 mins
Opens : 12 May 2016
Rating : NC16 (Horror)

Singaporean filmmaker Kelvin Tong takes a dip in the waters of Hollywood with this horror thriller. Chicagoan journalist Jamie Waters (Rice) travels to Singapore when she learns that her sister Anna (Condy) has died in an apparent suicide. Sam Harris (Settle), Anna’s ex-husband, is staying in an old bungalow inherited from his parents. Sam and Anna’s daughter Katie (Herz) insists that her mother is not really dead and senses ghostly activity that indicates so. Jamie discovers a mysterious symbol, and her research points towards an ancient demonic entity linking a spate of seemingly unrelated suicides in Singapore. Meanwhile, Father Matthew Goh (Pang) is tracking down the source of cyber-attacks on multiple church websites. He brings this to the attention of Father James De Silva (Borgonon), a priest haunted by a failed exorcism years ago. Rather than a mere hacker, Father Goh believes the same ancient evil linking the suicides is perpetrating the cyber-attacks. Jamie, Sam and the two priests must face a powerful other-worldly force to stop this cycle of death.

            The Faith of Anna Waters is touted as “Singapore’s first Hollywood horror movie”. What that actually means is this is a Singaporean film that managed to secure financial backing from American investors, with a couple of American actors leading the cast. An English-language genre piece has the potential to travel, and the producers of the film hope The Faith of Anna Waters will find an audience in the States and elsewhere beyond Singapore.

Director Tong also wrote the screenplay and the film is something of a mashup of the supernatural horror and techno-thriller subgenres. The premise of a tech-savvy demon can easily become ridiculous and certain aspects of this story seem a little dated. The project was originally entitled “Email”, and haunted email movies are past their sell-by date by about 15 years. There are so many disparate ingredients flung into the pot, from cyber threats to incurable diseases to allusions to the Biblical Tower of Babel to a family mystery rooted in Singapore’s colonial past, that this reviewer was less spooked by the film and more curious to see where it all leads. Unfortunately, Tong fails to satisfyingly tie these plot threads together, with the film often falling back on genre clichés and cribbing liberally from The Exorcistand supernatural horror movies of that ilk.  

Twilight’s Nikki Reed was originally attached to star, but was replaced by Mad Men’s Elizabeth Rice due to scheduling conflicts. Jamie Waters is the stock “intrepid journalist” character through and through, snooping around abandoned basements and thumbing through archival newspaper clippings in search of the truth. As proactive a protagonist as Jamie is, she’s just not a terribly interesting character. Similarly, Band of Brothers and Gossip Girls actor Settle is bland and unremarkable as Jamie’s former brother in law. Nothing really dynamic comes of the conflict between the two, with Jamie blaming Sam for leaving her sister and niece.

Herz, formerly a contestant on The Voice Kids Australia, makes her acting debut in the film. Unfortunately, her inexperience shows through, as she turns in an awkward and stiff performance. Australian actor Borgonon brings enough dignity to bear as Father De Silva in a performance that’s clearly patterned after Max von Sydow’s role in the afore-mentioned The Exorcist. Pang turns the earnestness up to eleven as priest/cyber-sleuth Father Goh, but there’s the sense that a considerably younger actor might be better-suited to the role as written.

The film’s production values are decent, with cinematographer Wade Muller establishing an appropriately spooky mood. The film employs digital visual effects sparingly, Tong wisely avoiding an overuse of CGI. There are also some effectively-staged gory moments showcasing competent special effects makeup work by Thai studio QFX Workshop. The film does rely too heavily on Joe Ng and Ting Si Hao’s score to announce to the audience that they should be afraid. Music and sound effects should enhance or accompany an inherently scary moment instead of merely serving to startle viewers. There are some potentially fascinating ideas at work in The Faith of Anna Waters, but these are muddled in an unnecessarily convoluted story with a lack of focus.

Summary: The bubbling cauldron of ideas in The Faith of Anna Waters hides a fairly conventional supernatural horror film, the intriguing fragments failing to cohere into an engrossing whole.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong 

1965 Movie Review

For F*** Magazine

Directors: Randy Ang, Daniel Yun
Starring: Qi Yiwu, Joanne Peh, Deanna Yusoff, Sezairi Sezali, James Seah Mike Kasem, Lim Kay Tong
Genre: Drama/history
Run time: 130 minutes
Opens: 30 July 2015
Rating: PG-13
            There’s been no shortage of events commemorating Singapore’s Golden Jubilee – most of us won’t say it, but we are kinda burnt out on SG50, and it’s not even National Day yet. Historical drama/thriller 1965 is probably the most-hyped SG50 film. Set against the backdrop of the lead-up to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, 1965focuses on police inspector Cheng (Qi), whose young daughter Xiao Yun (Sun Yi En) goes missing. Khatijah (Yusoff), blames Cheng for failing to save her son during a racial riot, and suspicion arises amongst the Chinese that the Malays have kidnapped Xiao Yun in retaliation. Khatijah’s remaining son Adi (Sezali) is a rookie policeman working under Inspector Cheng, complicating matters. Also caught in the fray is Zhou Jun (Peh), the daughter of a coffee shop owner and Pakistani reporter Raj (Kasem).

            Over the course of 1965’s development, producer and co-director Daniel Yun has had to repeatedly clarify on what the film is not: “it’s not a political film”, “it’s not a biopic about Mr. Lee Kuan Yew”, “it’s not a propaganda film” and so on. Let us issue a disclaimer of our own: this opinion on the quality of the film hasn’t got anything to do with politics. 1965 is a bad movie when judged as, well, a movie. Intended as a sweeping historical drama of great import, it instead comes off as heavy-handed, clumsy and dramatically inert. Andrew Ngin, who co-wrote the screenplay with co-directors Randy Ang and Yun, said that the script required more than 60 revisions. It could have done with 60 more. Film is a visual medium, but 1965 is all telling and zero showing, comprising a flagrant overuse of voiceovers, wall-to-wall exposition and platitude-laden speeches. It’s poor storytelling and it’s a slog.

            We won’t deny the credit that the film’s production design is due; there is a palpable effort made to capture all the tiny details of life in Singapore circa 1963-1965. Period-accurate sets were constructed at Infinite Studios’ facility in Batam and there are many little nostalgic touches that those who grew up in that era will appreciate, in between copious amounts of F&N product placement. That said, the Singapore we see in 1965 is little more beyond a couple of stretches of shophouses, a police station and a kampong (village) – it’s a corner, not a world, sometimes convincing but never wholly immersive. The sound mix is also off, making most of the dialogue sound like an announcement over a public address system.

            The characters are uniformly dull, intended to be a microcosm of Singapore at the time, but always feeling several steps away from being fully fleshed-out. Generally, the acting is fine – Qi Yiwu’s police protagonist is as bland as wet cardboard but he tries to inject some intensity into his performance. Deanna Yusoff’s turn as a grieving, anguished mother is sufficiently compelling. As her son, Singapore Idol winner Sezairi Sezali is earnest but not overeager and is one of the more likeable characters in the film. Joanne Peh does stick out at times, her character never really coming off as authentically from that time period. Former opposition politician Nicole Seah, playing the wife of Qi’s character, turns in a more natural performance, surprising given it’s her first acting gig. Mike Kasem is an odd casting choice for Raj, requiring a whole lot more than that beard to come off as a believable Pakistani. While there is some degree of competence, nothing fits together and everything feels incomplete.

            Of course, the spotlight is trained directly on veteran stage and screen thespian Lim Kay Tong, who shoulders the responsibility of playing the recently-deceased first Prime Minster of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Lim does a dutiful re-enactment of the iconic televised speech Lee gave when Singapore separated from Malaysia, but his screen time is extremely limited and Lee’s role in the plot has no direct bearing on our main characters. Lee passed away on 23 March 2015 and the film includes footage of his funeral procession cut to a sappy power ballad. This may seem like a respectful tribute at first, but this reviewer found it to be opportunistic, tacky and manipulative. Instead of constructing emotional stakes from scratch, the film opts for the easy way out, attempting to get audiences to feel something by presenting them with a recent event that will resonate with most of them. This would have been perfectly acceptable if 1965 were all about Lee Kuan Yew, but as Yun empathically stated, this is not a biopic. The further implication is that the story of every Singaporean is the story of Lee Kuan Yew, and that’s a slippery slope this reviewer does not want to slide down.

            Singapore has endured more than its share of tumult as a nation and its history is definitely ripe with heart-rending true stories of courage and tenacity. 1965 ignores all that and serves up a painfully dull, preachy, simplistic and condescending fictional story set against the backdrop of the country’s struggle towards independence. There are elements of the film that may resonate with Singaporeans of a certain vintage, but as a cogent, sweeping historical drama, 1965 is a failure.
Summary:If you enjoy being hit on the head with a social studies textbook for two hours while someone tries to cut open your tear ducts with a scalpel, 1965 is the movie for you.
RATING: 2out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong


For F*** Magazine


Director : Tzang Merwyn Tong
Cast : Lyon Sim, Aaron Samuel Yong, Tanya Graham, Farid Assalam, Jae Leung, Roshan G., Kris Moller
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 97 mins
Opens : 26 May 2015 (Exclusively at Filmgarde Bugis+)
Rating : M18 (Some Mature Content)
Dire consequences arise when a clique of misfits strikes back in this dystopian teen drama. Set in an alternate world on the campus of the eponymous Faeryville College, the films follows a group that call themselves the “Nobodies”. Comprising Poe (Sim), Taurus (Assalam) and CK (Leung), the Nobodies embrace their status as outcasts, rebelling against the established school system, making them the target of bullying. Laer (Yong), a transfer student with a tortured past, is a loner who is at first dismissive of the Nobodies but later joins them, taking their anarchy to a new, more serious level. Student journalist Chloe sees the potential for a riveting story in the Nobodies and begins to form a bond with Belle (Graham), a rebellious anarchist who endeavours to leave her former life behind. The rite of passage that is self-discovery in college has never been more dangerous.
            Faeryvilleis the feature film debut of writer-director Tzang Merwyn Tong and is something of an expansion of his 2003 short film e’Tzaintes, also set in Faeryville College. The events depicted in e’Tzaintes are referenced in the prologue of Faeryville. Faeryville is ambitious and provocative, a brave and daring Singaporean film worth getting behind. However, it is also very rough around the edges and is sometimes burdened by the ideology it explores instead of being carried by the story. Tong weathered the arduous process of getting an independent film made in Singapore, labouring on the project for eight years. Every effort is made by Tong and cinematographer David Foo to infuse Faeryvillewith a unique style, but it does often feel like a student film, the fact that it takes place almost entirely on a college campus contributing to that.
            Tong has devised some striking imagery, chief of which is the Mother Saint statue, gun in one hand and open book in the other, which stands on the grounds of the fictional school. There are times when the attitude the film takes on and its depiction of rebels both with and without causes can become unintentionally funny. The film suffers structurally as well, leaning too heavily on voiceovers, speeches and news broadcast segments to provide unwieldy exposition. It also feels longer than its 95 minutes. The film’s championing of maligned underdogs while also questioning the concept of fighting for what one believes in is thought-provoking and brings themes that are rarely glimpsed in Singapore cinema to the fore. Tong states that he aims to explore what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-9/11 world, but perhaps it’s more apt to say this looks at what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-Columbine world. It’s a little like The Perks of Being a Wallflower crossed with A Clockwork Orange. There is a mythos that’s begging to be fleshed out here, but Faeryville doesn’t quite succeed at sucking the viewer into its heightened alternate universe.
            As is often the case with independent films, the acting is a mixed bag. Lyon Sim, who worked with Tong in the director’s sci-fi short film V1K1, has a likeable mercurial energy to him and is easy to root for. Aaron Samuel Yong, who was picked from 120 actors who auditioned, brings a brooding intensity to the role of Laer. Tanya Graham is a first-time actor and her delivery is often stilted and unnatural. The members of the Cavalry fraternity who constantly pick on our protagonists are the most one-dimensional school bullies this side of the Cobra Kai. Kris Moller, who plays Faeryville’s Principal Mr. Mathias, lacks the gravitas required to portray a looming authority figure.
            Faeryville clinched a distribution deal with L.A.-based company Eleven Arts and the film had its premiere screening in Hollywood in January where it was positively received. Sterne & Lears Global Pte Ltd, the publisher of F*** Magazine, also threw its support behind the film. Since it is in the English language and takes place in an alternate reality, Faeryville can travel far better than any Singaporean film before it. Faeryville does have the potential to become a cult classic, a rare quality among Singaporean films, but Tong does struggle with articulating the many questions raised in the film. In its heightened stylisation, the film also has a tendency to lean towards the overwrought and unsubtle. That said, it is a crucial step forwards in the diversification of the local filmmaking scene and Tong is certainly a talent to watch.
Summary: Faeryville tackles issues rarely explored in local films and while it is sometimes clumsy and lacking in sophistication, it is a promising feature debut from Tzang Merwyn Tong.
RATING: 3out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Do You Believe in Faerytales? Lyon Sim Interview

As published in Issue #64/65 of F*** Magazine 



F*** chats exclusively with Lyon Sim, star of Faeryville
By Jedd Jong
Lyon Sim may play a Nobody in dystopian teen drama Faeryville, but he’s well on his way to becoming a somebody. The actor has worked in Singaporean theatre and short films and is making his feature debut with Faeryville. In the film, which takes place in an alternate reality, he plays the protagonist Poe, a student at the eponymous college. Poe is the leader of a clique called the “Nobodies”, who embrace being outcasts and hero worship a school shooter. Poe’s status as the leader of his little gang is challenged when transfer student Laer enters Faeryville and takes the Nobodies’ ideology to new, dangerous heights.
Sim worked with Faeryville director Tzang Merwyn Tong on the “techno-fairy tale” short film V1K1, in which he played the fairy Donkey. It was a heavily physical performance since the character had no lines. “I couldn’t see anything because there were no eye holes in the donkey mask,” he recalled. Sim’s credits also include the short films Cubik, Tadpoles and Don’t Hang Up, My Love. He most recently acted in the second season of Singaporean thriller TV series Zero Calling.
An edgy independent feature containing themes not often found in local films, Faeryvilletook eight years to make and had its debut in Los Angeles in January this year. Now, the film is being screened in Singapore for a limited engagement at Filmgarde Bugis+. Speaking exclusively to F***, Sim discussed the various logistical challenges faced by the cast and crew during production, the dynamics he cultivated with his cast-mates on the set, his experience being a part of the film’s premiere in L.A. and his hopes for independent cinema in Singapore going forward.
It’s very challenging getting an independent film made in Singapore. What has your experience as an actor active in that community been like?
I started in theatre, then I moved on to screen. I don’t know if I’m being active…when I was, it is invigorating to just cause for auditions and get roles and be able to do something you enjoy doing – acting – as compared to having restrictions in a sense, when it comes to mainstream screen work. When people are doing advertisements or even on TV, when you have a gig, it’s there to cater to a certain market. I don’t consider myself mainstream I guess, so it feels good to have a medium to get work.
Tell us about the world that Faeryville takes place in.
It’s actually not in any specific location. It’s a Singapore movie, but it’s not [set] in Singapore, it’s not in L.A. where we premiered, but on a different plane. It’s a world where all teenagers live in their minds, it’s a surreal world, but it’s not “unreal”. It’s very much what their lives are projected to be, what they imagine, a heightened sense of the world.
There’s the metaphor of the school being the entire existence…
Exactly, that’s true. Faeryville is not just the world, it’s also the name of the college where all the different teenage cliques live.
Did you often feel like an outcast or misfit growing up, and if so, what was your way of dealing with that?
I don’t know if I’ve dealt with it, but I guess that’s a “yes” [laughs]. I think friends, the people that you choose as your family, I think it’s really important to have that conversational outlet or just having people who believe in you, who share what you’re going through or support you in one way or another, I think that’s key for me. I’m not good with being alone [laughs] and on that note, to me, no individual person’s success belongs to just that person.
Tzang has said that over the eight years he was working on the film, some actors had to be recast because of several false starts in production and the scheduling conflicts that arose from that. How were you affected by that and what impact did it have on the dynamic of the cast?
I was one of the three people who didn’t get re-cast.
May I ask who the other two were?
Sure. The Nobodies, Farid [Assalam] and Jae [Leung], [who play] Taurus and C.K. respectively. The three of us were not re-cast for reasons that we don’t look too much older or that our schedules were okay. It didn’t really affect us that much I guess, because the three of us were not re-cast, we had camaraderie for a couple of years. It was 3 years later that we shot Faeryville after [making] the trailer. We had a bond. The rest of them who were re-cast or even characters who were not in the trailer, we didn’t have too much to do with them in the first place, so that was a bonus.
In a way it worked out because the Nobodies are a unit by themselves and all the other characters are external to them.
You’re right. Even Laer, who comes in after, it would have been great even to have Laer not re-cast but it didn’t make much of a difference because he’s a newcomer and to have a new person on board, that was exact to what Faeryvillewas about.
In the film, we see something of a power struggle between Poe and Laer. Did you and Aaron Samuel Yong work on getting that dynamic right?
Aaron did such a great job. Every time I watch the film, I watch his performance and I’m in awe. I don’t remember speaking with him much about the power struggle, we didn’t talk about it. I guess the way Aaron and I worked it out was that we didn’t talk about it. There’s a scene in Faeryville where Poe asks Taurus if he feels that there’s something up with Laer and I guess that’s the similarity with me not talking to Aaron, Poe not talking to Laer. It helps, not breaking out of character too often. I was going through a lull period during production and I don’t know if it was just me subconsciously putting myself in there so it works better for Poe or just coincidental, but things like that do happen. Not talking to Aaron that much in the beginning when we were shooting, him being new to us and then later on when Poe and Laer get comfortable with each other and have a conversation, that was when I became comfortable being with him on set.
So it was mostly shot in sequence?
I’m trying to recall. [Pauses] Actually it was, come to think about it. Mostly.
With regards to the lull period you had during production, do you feel that acting is therapeutic and helps you work things out sometimes?
I do. Many people ask what the difference between theatre acting and screen acting is and there are so many differences, but whenever I hear that question, I feel like people don’t see the similarities. One of the similarities is that acting can be therapeutic, can be cathartic based on the circumstance or it can hurt you if you take it the wrong way. That’s why I don’t believe in…the Method, if it works for people, great, and there are people who do such amazing jobs with the Method that works for them. Especially if the story ends on a good note, if it was shot chronologically, then at the end of the day, you feel good about yourself.
You can go on a journey with that character.
Yeah. You leave on a good note, especially so if it’s about something bad, say the death of someone, and you’re using a real instance, then it ends well. Exactly like you said, you go on that journey, and it’s therapeutic.
With the cult of personality depicted, the film seems influenced in part by events like school shootings and bombings, events like the Columbine High shooting. What sort of research did you do to play Poe and was that a conscious thing you had in mind?
Hmm. I don’t think it was conscious for me, especially because I don’t think Poe would be consciously thinking about that. But because there is that struggle between going with the flow of being bullied or standing up to your adversities, taking a stand, I guess that’s why Laer comes in. Poe is happy with who he is, he’s not trying to be what he’s not, so when there was that conflict, that scene where Laer gets the Nobodies to stand up for themselves, that’s when I was asked to realise that maybe there’s a different way to go about things, to rebel.
Did you devise a backstory for Poe in preparing for the role?
No, I didn’t. Tzang and I talked a lot, time and again, it wasn’t like one sitting. 3 years before, 3 years later, in between, there were different dynamics to characters that might have an impact on what the Nobodies would be like. The actors he had cast, the new ones, we talked about Poe’s back-story again and again. There are certain things that would always be there, we know he loves his friends and he’s happy being who he is, comfortable, even if he gets pushed around. That’s what I would try to use and that’s why I didn’t want to plan too much and go back.
The Mother Saint statue is a very striking image. Did Tzang speak with the cast about how that came to be?
No, but he did mention how…I might be wrong, but the book is “law”, and the gun is like…putting a gun to your head. There is a scene in the film where Poe tries to explain what the statue is about and he talks about how the people who are power are the ones afraid of losing control.

The female lead in the film, Tanya Graham is a first time actors. What was it like working with her?

Tanya was pretty easy-going. “Oh, you need to get this done? Sure, let’s do it.” One time, she gets pushed on the ground, insinuating a rape was about to happen. And I think she was under-aged then, 17 or 18, and of course Tzang had to consult her parents. Once that was done, they watched the film too. She was cool.

Tanya’s character in the film is very mysterious and she has this former life she wants to leave behind. What was that like when you were interacting with her in between takes?
That’s the thing for me – I might just be on the less sociable side, I don’t talk that much in between takes, and/or because she’s mysterious, I try to keep it that way. I made it a point not to talk to Tanya or Aaron that much off-takes. But with Farid and Jae, if they wanted to play wrestling in-between takes or run around the blocks and do silly things [we would], but not with Tanya or Aaron. 
Were there moments making the film when it seemed like it would not see the light of day? What kept everyone persevering on?
Making the film wasn’t just about the shooting. I don’t know if I can quote one specific time, but a few times, there’s just so much to making an independent film, that’s why I say no one person’s success truly belongs to one person. The whole team of people persevering and even now, promoting the film, having F*** Magazine help with that, now that it’s in cinemas, it’s not over but I guess there’s a sigh of relief…
Like you’ve seen it come to fruition?
Thank you, yeah. Before that, we had to drop a couple of crew members because things weren’t happening with that team. I remember sitting on the train with Tzang on our way back from the shoot one day because he needed to have this conversation with someone and we were talking about what’s next – should we drop that team, are we going to be able to continue making the film if we did? He made a bold decision and I think it was the correct one to try and get a new team. And that it rained on a certain day, and when we had to transport the statue [laughs] there was a tow truck and everything. And then cost – Faeryville was made for way less than what Tzang planned. Having that truck bring the statue to the location and having the extras come down, a whole group of 30-40 people, and then it had to rain that day [laughs]! Wanting to reshoot the scene or not…there were many things that happened over the eight years. Tzang has two boys now.
It’s like over the course of making the film, everyone’s lives went through a lot of changes.
Yeah. People flying back and forth or not coming back, so the story had to change. Jae is from Hong Kong, Galen Watts from Canada, from all over! Everyone’s from everywhere. Kris [Moller], [who played] the Principal – he’s coming back from the premiere
He’s from South Africa, I read in the production notes that he had been in a bombing during Apartheid.
Wow – he’s a man with a lot of life experience. Very intelligent man, wise man.
Did you shoot the film on a working campus and did you have to shoot around real students in an active school?
Now that you mention it, I think the production team did a good job in shielding us from that side. We didn’t see the problems because it was a live location, an active school. We had a lot of delays, perhaps it was because people were using certain rooms. An actor’s job is to come and just bring the character out. Tzang didn’t want to impose these [logistical] things on 30 different people. It’s a huge group, not all of the time, but that’s why he probably needed that chat with me on the train.
What was it like premiering the film in Los Angeles?
It was eye-opening, it was something different. I’ve done minimal work overseas – not because I don’t want to [laughs]. That was an experience for me. They could with resound with what the film’s talking about and I saw live examples of what the Nobodies from L.A. might be. It was very heartwarming to see people who appreciate and were accepting of independent films.
Like they didn’t come to it from a judgmental stance or with preconceived notions of what the film would be like?
Judgmental I guess would be fine for me. I think a film should always pose more questions than answers. We had people who really understood and felt the same.
Have there been any particularly memorable moments while conducting Q and A sessions after screenings?
[Laughs] Jeez, it has to be this one, it tops it all. A week ago at *SCAPE, Farid was all over the place! Not in terms of speech or anything – there were 2 sofas and we were sitting down, and all of a sudden he just stands up and walks off – he just leaves to the restroom. He comes back, he goes behind the couch, starts kneeling down then he stands up again [laughs]. He was all around and I had to try to keep a straight face while I was in the chair. That was the most memorable to me. Other times, you talk about the film and we do it all the time in every Q and A segment. It’s good to have thoughtful questions, I was very heartfelt to see people relate to it closely, but I never expected this, especially not from our side of the Q and A [laughs].
Did you ask him about it later?
[Shakes head] I didn’t want to put myself in awkward position to ask him “hey, what was that all about? Were you high?” [Laughs]
What are your hopes and dreams for the development of Singaporean cinema going forward?
This is a really tough one because there are a few things of the top of my head that I want to say but I’m not sure if I feel that way anymore. Recently, I read a quote on a friend’s Facebook page. He was talking about how everyone’s saying “support local cinema because it’s local cinema” and he said “shouldn’t we be way past that? Shouldn’t people support art because they like it?” I understand that, but at the same time at the back of my head, I have this conflict. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I don’t know enough, but in Japan and Korea, all these pop singers get recognition from their country first. We live in a small country, Singapore, with a decent population size. I really think support goes a long way. Bringing the film to L.A. and if that had anything to do with Singaporeans being more accepting to the film, says a lot just because “Los Angeles” is being quoted. I guess things happen in their own time. I hope people won’t be biased towards or against independent cinema, local or not, and for filmmakers to make thoughtful, bold and meaningful stories.


Faeryville opens at Filmgarde Bugis+ on May 26. 

Seven For Fifty – 7 Letters Press Conference

For F*** Magazine


Singapore’s directing dream team talks 7 Letters
By Jedd Jong
In 2015, Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence and there has been no shortage of projects planned to commemorate this occasion. One of the biggest is an anthology film that unites seven of Singapore’s most prolific filmmakers – Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, Eric Khoo, K. Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Tan Pin Pin and Kelvin Tong. At the press conference held in Golden Village’s Suntec cineplex, the title of the Jubilee film project was officially unveiled: 7 Letters.

L-R: Kelvin Tong, Eric Khoo, K. Rajagopal, Royston Tah, Tan Pin Pin, Boo Junfeng, Jack Neo
“As we approach the celebration for Singapore’s 50th birthday, we as a film community wonder what we can contribute to this celebration,” Royston Tan, who is spearheading the project, says. “This is a ground initiative; we’ve decided to embark on a personal journey to tell personal stories about Singapore that inspire us, and more importantly about Singaporeans, how they’ve impacted us, and telling familiar stories. This gesture is almost like writing a very personal love letter to Singapore. Hence, 7 Letters.”
Royston says that when he put out the call for directors to participate in the project, the response was swift and enthusiastic and that the concepts each of them had for their short films came together fairly quickly. This assembly of directors is a super-group of sorts, Jack Neo remarking “this is the first time in Singapore history that all the directors are together so very exciting.”

When asked how each director’s different styles will work together as presented in 7 Letters, Tan Pin Pin replies “I think it’ll work together very well because this film will be a celebration of our differences. We all have a common core in which we’ve been making films for many years to tell Singapore stories. I think it’ll be exciting for audiences to see Singapore from so many different perspectives.”

Boo Junfeng, the youngest of the seven directors, is grateful to be invited on board. “Well, it’s an honour. When Royston asked if I was interested to be a part of it and when I found out who else was on board, it was really an honour to be a part of this and to be asked to be a part of this,” he says.

Each of the directors then elaborates on their own segments of the film. Boo’s is titled “Evolution”. Explaining why he chose the theme, he says “I think growing up in Singapore, we are used to the idea of change. Whether it is [the] cityscape, attitudes, our way of life, things have always been changing and will probably always continue to change.” Despite the constantly shifting sands, Boo observes that “certain things remain, certain core values remain, those are the things that carry through and define who we are.” “Evolution” will be set in the present day with a quick flashback to 1965.

Eric Khoo’s contribution is entitled “Legacy” and is dedicated to the golden days of filmmaking in Singapore. “The Shaw Brothers were here making films from the 40s and mine is really a tribute to the pioneer generation of filmmakers,” he explains. Khoo, who founded the horror film imprint Gorylah Pictures, shares how horror movies were a formative part of his film-going youth. “I love horror. That’s gonna sneak its way in. And then really, we were known for our great ghouls, Orang Minyak, Penanggal, these are incredible, fascinating sort of tales from folklore. My whole thing with cinema is to pay tribute to that kind of cinema that was huge and did incredible box office throughout Asia.” He then takes a moment to reminisce about making his first feature film 12 Storeys, in which Jack Neo played the lead role of “Ah Gu”.

K. Rajagopal’s section of the film, “Embrace”, is inspired by his own parents and as such is a story that’s close to his heart. “It was the early 70s and it was very uncertain at that time for a lot of people and being a minority, wondering whether to stay back in Singapore or not, it was very difficult in terms of the situation so to overcome that and whether to stay on, that was a very, very big question,” he says. “Embrace” deals with the struggle between following traditions and forging ahead. “I think as much as I don’t keep to the traditions or anything like that, it sort of makes you who you are, so I think it’s equally important and at the same time to embrace change,” he says, adding that this short film is a tribute to the Indian community of Singapore’s early post-Independence days.

Jack Neo, the most commercially successful of the seven directors, is helming “Time”. Outlining the story, he says “I wanted to tell a puppy love story. I have never done this before and I wanted to show you know kampong (village) boy and kamponggirl, they are around the age of 12, this is the beginning of…they start feeling about love.” Set in the late 60s – early 70s and inspired by his childhood in Kampong Chai Chee, his segment of the film will consist mostly of dialogue in the Hokkien dialect to keep things authentic for the period setting. “Because it’s 1965, so there’s no reason censor board not happy,” he quips. Waxing nostalgic, Neo says he misses “the coconut tree, I miss the smell in the village, the kampong…I miss all the neighbours. All the neighbour children playing together.” Having mostly worked in feature films, keeping the story at a running time of 10-12 minutes was a new challenge for the director.

For Tan Pin Pin, known mainly as a documentary filmmaker, the chapter “Roots” will be her first narrative drama in 15 years. “It is a challenge but I’ve decided that I should take challenges up so I really relish this opportunity and I hope to seek advice,” she says. Despite the banning of her recent film To Singapore, With Love, Tan Pin Pin’s affection for Singapore is still evident. “All my films, ever since I started making films too many years ago, have really been love letters to Singapore and that love is manifested by searching and finding and trying to dig out roots. So this theme, I’m not quite sure why it just stays with me, I think it’s almost quite central to everything I do. So when I was presented with this opportunity, the story that floated up in my mind also followed this theme. So it’s now a drama, a road movie, about a family looking for their roots.”

Royston Tan conceived of his segment, “Song”, after bouncing ideas off of Eric Khoo. “He said ‘oh, I’m going to pay tribute to cinema, images’ then I said ‘okay, I should pay tribute to sound, music.’” The short film is set in the 80s and revolves around two neighbours who become unlikely friends even though they don’t speak the same language, having been brought together by music. Royston says, “One of the very immediate things that I wanted to capture was Chinese Opera. I gathered the original troupe of Xin Sai Feng which had already disbanded but the Hua Dan (female lead), they’re retired but they specially decided to come back to do this film.” The director has an affinity for nostalgic locations in Singapore, as displayed in his documentary Old Romances. He plans to shoot “Song” at a first-generation Housing Development Board (HDB) block in Tanglin Halt before it is demolished.

Kelvin Tong is absent as he is busy working on post-production for his film in Bangkok. Royston explains on his behalf that Kelvin Tong’s short film, “Tradition”, will focus on “how tradition plays a very important part in bringing the whole family together” and is set during the annual Qing Ming festival, when Chinese families visit the graves of deceased relatives to pay their respects.

The gala premiere of 7 Letters in July 2015 will mark the grand reopening of the historic Capitol Theatre. We are shown a photograph from Royston’s youth taken at the Capitol Theatre, in which the then-19-year-old Royston stands alongside his friend and famed director Wong Kar-Wai after the premiere of Wong’s film Happy Together. “I remember Wong Kar-Wai saying this thing that was very, very moving. He said he decided to have the Asian premiere of Happy Together in Singapore because of Capitol Theatre. This kind of theatre you don’t see this anymore in many parts of the world. It’s something he feel that it’s truly a cinematic experience for him.”

Eric Khoo adds, “I think Capitol is the most grand of all the cinemas. There was the dome inside and you all these incredible sculptures and it was really big, I think like over a thousand seats. It’s great that it’s coming back. I saw a lot of horror films there, there was one really good film called It’s Alive,” he says, referring to the 1974 flick about a vicious killer infant.

F*** asks each of the directors what physical possession or piece of their own work they would put in a time capsule. “Probably a film I haven’t made yet,” Boo Junfeng says softly to chuckles from the audience. Tan Pin Pin’s pick is a branch from a tree growing downstairs that sheds purple flowers. K. Rajagopal chooses, appropriately enough, his film Timeless.

“For me, it won’t be a physical thing, it’s really the ren qing wei (personal touch) that I want to capture,” Royston says. “We’ve been moving very quickly and I think this ren qing wei is something I really cherish. I hope to capture this but I don’t think I’ve figured out how to put it on film.”

Jack Neo chooses something similarly intangible, the “kampong spirit” that has mostly eroded away.
For Eric Khoo, it’s Pain, the short film he made in 1994 that got banned. “I think it sort of paved the way,” he says thinking back. 

Filial Party

For F*** Magazine


Director : Boris Boo
Cast : Christopher Lee, Mark Lee, Ann Kok, Kym Ng, Irene Ang, Guo Liang, Liu Ling Ling, Richard Low, Jimmy T, Hayley Woo
Genre : Comedy, Drama
Opens: : 8 May 2014

            There’ve been some great films about game shows, including Quiz Show, Starter for 10, Slumdog Millionaire and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. With large amounts of money at stake and the whole country watching, the inner workings of a TV game show are potentially intriguing and scandalous. Filial Party revolves around a TV game show of the same name, produced and hosted by Millionaire Liu (Mark Lee). Vying for $1 million are three semi-finalists: high-flying lawyer Woo Yishuang (Kok), student Yoona Zhuang (Woo) and security guard Peh Ah Beng (Christopher Lee). To clinch the cool one mil, they’ll have to prove their love for their parents before the cameras. With his contract at the TV station on the line, Millionaire Liu will stop at nothing to generate controversy in the name of breaking ratings records.

            The premise of Filial Party isn’t a terrible one – after all, Singaporean society does place an emphasis on caring for one’s parents and due to the high cost of living here, there would be a degree of competition if a million dollars were offered as prize money on a TV show. Unfortunately, director Boris Boo opts instead for a nauseating blend of slapstick high comedy and heavy-handed melodrama. Every last character is nothing more than a caricature, there’s histrionics, table-flipping, heart attacks and even suicide and yet, we’re supposed to laugh at all this. As is typical of many Singaporean films, the level of product placement is through the roof. The excuse could be made that actual TV game shows do a good deal of plugging for their sponsors, but the giant unfurling Prudential insurance company banners is past pushing it.

            One of the many tasks Filial Party fails to accomplish is that of selling the titular show as a believable one. The rules and structure seem arbitrary, many of the stunts arranged for the contestants to prove their devotion to their parents liable to result in lawsuits. Mark Lee’s Millionaire Liu (is that what it says on his birth certificate?) is depicted as unscrupulous and shady, going back on his word, threatening contestants behind the scenes and altering the terms of the contest and yet, we’re apparently supposed to also find him likeable and charming. Viewers of the TV show are actively encouraged to ambush contestants to film them in secret, in the hopes of catching them in the midst of an un-filial moment. While this could have been an opportunity for some astute satire of the detestable trend of “citizen journalism” (i.e. public shaming) in Singapore which is far from being stomped out, it just ends up being a contrived plot device.

            Christopher Lee is convincing as an uncouth regular Joe (make that Beng) who is pushed into joining the show by his wife (Kym Ng) in the hopes of paying off their debts, but the script resorts to tired sitcom-esque hijinks such as having Ah Beng run through a motel buck naked. Hilarious! Ann Kok is stiff and snooty, because how else would a lawyer be portrayed in a movie like this? Her character also gets a generic tragic backstory told in sepia-tinted flashbacks. Hayley Woo pouts, sulks and whines her way through the film. We get it, Yoona is supposed to be something of a mollycoddled brat. Piling on the clichés does not equal characterisation. As Ah Beng’s lecherous and unfaithful dad, Richard Low is sufficiently unlikeable, although we suspect the reaction the filmmakers wanted was “oh isn’t that cute, the old man is hiring a hooker! Aww.”

            Filial Party ends with Mark Lee delivering what basically is a public service announcement straight to camera, in some odd attempt to guilt-trip moviegoers into showering their parents with affection “before it’s too late”, no doubt by buying mum and dad all the stuff that’s shamelessly plugged in the movie. Filial Party is yet another Singaporean film that is wholly unsubtle, relying on stereotypes and unfunny gags (oh, the rotund production assistant can’t stop stuffing her face! Listen to the ethnic music that plays when David Bala aka Muthu shows up for a cameo!) one minute and going for the tear ducts with a scalpel the next. The game show at the heart of the story is incompetently constructed and while there are several plot twists, Filial Party ultimately concludes predictably, while whacking the audience over the head with a very large stick.
Summary: This Mothers’ Day, give Mum a treat and take her to see anything but Filial Party.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Filial Party Press Conference

Filial Party Press Conference
By Jedd Jong
F*** was at Orchard Hotel on Tuesday, attending the press conference and round table interviews for Filial Party. The Singaporean film, starring an ensemble of faces regular Channel 8 viewers will doubtlessly find familiar, is being released in conjunction with Mother’s Day. In the film, Mark Lee plays Millionaire Liu, a producer and TV host who devises a television game show that will reward the most filial contestant with a $1 million cash prize. Christopher Lee, Ann Kok and Hayley Woo play the three finalists vying for the coveted prize money.

“I was able to fulfil a long-time dream of mine on this film: hitting Mark Lee,” Christopher Lee, in shades, tousled hair and silver studded shoes, said to much laughter. “Ever since I’ve entered the industry, I’ve always wanted to hit Mark Lee.” Despite this potentially disturbing glimpse into Christopher Lee’s psyche, it was amply clear that the cast got on like a house on fire.

Christopher’s significant other, currently pregnant with her first child, was on everyone’s minds, so much so that Mark Lee jokingly instated a “$300 fine” for the next person to mention “Fann Wong”. Christopher Lee said he eventually hopes to become a good friend to his child, still withholding the baby’s gender. “I think she looks cute when she’s pregnant,” he said rather sweetly about Fann.

Veteran actor Richard Low plays Christopher Lee’s onscreen dad, a lecherous, unfaithful cad. Christopher Lee insisted that Low is nothing like his character in real life. Low, who celebrates his 30th wedding anniversary this year, said he has never had any big arguments with his wife. Lee vouched that while having dinner with the couple, both Low and his wife spoke to each other very gently. Low sheepishly admitted that he was a little ashamed to face his wife after filming a scene in which his character hired a prostitute.

“I heard the girl gave up her citizenship,” Mark Lee teased. He had taken it on himself to play team leader during the press conference. “I had a good time making this film because they had to do the heavy lifting,” Mark Lee said referring to the rest of the cast. “They have parents, children, they have to strip, be in traffic accidents, I had a comparatively easy time of it.” On the topic of the brief tussle towards the film’s climax that Mark and Christopher’s characters share, Mark said “I don’t think there’s any contest between Christopher and I. He’s just that much stronger. If we were to get into a fight for real, Christopher would definitely win.”

“If I were betting on the fight between Christopher Lee and Mark Lee, I’d definitely put my money on Christopher,” Kym Ng affirmed. Ng sported hot pink hair, having dyed it blonde for the film. Ng, who is Christopher Lee’s onscreen wife in Filial Party, said “I was anticipating playing Christopher’s wife but I was afraid that we wouldn’t be sufficiently familiar with each other, having not worked together before. But we got along very well, even the scenes in which we had to share a bed, there wasn’t any awkwardness about it.”

Getai performer Liu Ling Ling plays wife to Richard Low’s character, mother to Christopher Lee’s and mother-in-law to Kym Ng’s. “His character in this film is such a dirty old man, but Richard was a gentleman in real life,” she said. Last year, at age 50, Liu gave birth to her first child. “My child in real life is eight months old, but in this movie, Christopher plays my son!” she said with a laugh.

Ann Kok is no stranger to the small screen, but Filial Party marks her feature film debut. “It was a very happy experience making my first movie,” she said. In a crucial scene, Millionaire Liu stages a traffic accident, forcing Kok’s character to make a difficult choice: saving her elderly mother or her young son. When asked who she would save if it came down to her significant other or her mother, Kok replied “If I answer this question, I won’t be able to find a husband,” leading Mark Lee to point out that she had indeed answered the question anyway. For what it’s worth, she did confirm that she is still single.

Japanese-American actor Jimmy Taenaka plays the supporting role of Ann Kok’s onscreen husband in Filial Party. Not proficient in the Chinese language, Taenaka attempted a sentence using the only Mandarin phrase he knew, and ended up saying “Ann Kok tastes great,” which naturally got him quite the ribbing from Mark Lee. On the difference between working in Singapore and in Hollywood, Taenaka said “I think there are bigger egos in Hollywood and everybody here is very nice, the cast and crew.” Director Boris Boo shared that Taenaka had diligently come up with a detailed backstory and character history to prepare for his relatively minor role, a method of preparation that isn’t the standard practice in Singapore.

Irene Ang plays the mother of Hayley Woo’s character and the wife of Guo Liang’s. The multi-hyphenate actress joked that she had been “promoted” to playing mothers in films such as Ah Boys to Men and TV shows like Spouse for House. In Filial Party, Ang’s character suffers a heart attack and is loaded into an ambulance. This was the first such scene she had filmed and some crew members, taking it to be a bad omen, offered her a red packet to ward off the supposed bad luck. She brought her mother to see her in the Ah Boys to Men musical and it was the first time her mother had seen a stage show. “I’ve found that humour always works when talking to parents. I try to keep it light because when we discuss serious issues, we tend to get into arguments,” Ang said. Ang is not a mother in real life, but said she views the 43 artistes managed by her company FLY Entertainment as her own “children”.

To show their devotion to their daughter, both Irene Ang and Guo Liang’s characters dressed in garish K-pop attire. “I had the shock of my life when I was told that I had to wear these outfits,” Guo said. “I could identify with the idea of being the father of a teenager because my son is 15, but all the rest, especially these K-pop outfits, that was alien to me.” In the film, it appears that Guo’s character might be having an affair with a younger woman. “I had a scene where I was sneaking off into a hotel and it seemed as if I was stripping and getting into bed. The script was ambiguous on the specifics of this.” He was also bewildered by the lack of direction given to him, Boo evading any questions he had about the scene prior to shooting it.

Filial Party marks the second movie in Hayley Woo’s résumé. “It’s a great to honour to work with actors that I’ve seen in TV shows and never thought that I’d have the opportunity to work with,” she said. In the film, her character is something of a brat who is completely doted on by her parents. “I feel that my generation is more self-centred and that many young Singaporeans treat their parents as if they were their maids,” she commented. Ang added that teenagers seem more entitled these days. “Mark Lee always mangles my name,” she lamented. Lee went on to call her “Hali-copter” and “Hali-leg”.

Director Boris Boo said the project’s inception happened during a brainstorming session when producer Lim Teck suggested he do a film along the lines of Money No Enough, about the pursuit of wealth in Singapore society. “I can’t outdo my master,” Boo conceded, referring to mentor Jack Neo. “I didn’t want to do a typical Singaporean movie where the focus is on just one family, so I suggested ‘why don’t we do a (film about a) game show?’” He described his original idea as a more extreme Hunger Games-esque take, but scaled it down due to budgetary concerns. Boo admitted that he made full use of the TV show-centric premise to pile on the product placement, saying his instructions were “go and find all the sponsors you can, whatever you find, let’s put it in.” He claimed that it would be unnatural for a TV show to have no product placement but admitted that Filial Partyprobably still is too “blatant” in this regard.

“My primary aim for making this movie is that audiences will make a call to their parents or have a meal with them after watching the movie,” Boo said, echoing what many of his cast members had said over the course of the press conference about filial piety being a day-to-day thing expressed mostly through small gestures.

Filial Party opens 8 May 2014.