'Madam Chan' by Wilson Yip - In Production

Sinema has found its first batch of short film 'Incubatees'. So I chaced upon one of them at Old School itself. I basically saw Wilson(the director) editing a film filled with grey-haired folks. It intrigued because Wilson looks like a teenager.

The synopsis reads like this...A noisy and irritating character by the name of Madam Chan joins her friends The Wongs on a 3D2N "Singapore - Our Home" tour organized by the Town Council for senior citizens, uninvited, and much to the annoyance of Mr. Wong. Because all she does is nag about her useless daughter and lavish praise on her filial son.

Wilson hopes this film can serve to document a point in time in Singapore (albeit on a more personal and intimate level), before she changes too far beyond the emotional reach of its people.

Jeremy (S) : Mdm Chan's facebook replies caught my attention. I guess you were her ghost writer right? Then I went to read your blog, oh my.... you created a full-fledged character who can even write diary. So what started this who project - the film, the characteristtion, the accopanying blog?

Wilson (W) : First of all, no, I'm not her ghost writer. I think it was back in June '07. I was on a plane back to Singapore from Taipei. About 2 to 3 hours into the flight, and there was this Taiwanese lady, probably in her 50's, sitting in the row in front of me, accompanied by 2 friends of hers, a husband-wife couple of a slightly younger age group. And I think this older lady was telling her female friend about how sad her life is, etc etc. I couldn't help but notice because she just kept on going and going and going. And all her friend did was to politely acknowledge with a simple "Mmmm...". The man was just sleeping, or I think he was trying to because he was constantly shifting about in his seat.
An idea then came into my mind. I immediately jotted down the scenes and characters that were starting to take shape in my head, and by the time the plane landed, I had the basic structure of the film on paper. Initially it's about 3 tourists visiting Singapore. But then I thought to have 3 locals "visiting" their own country would leave more room to explore. And I also decided to use Cantonese dialect for the whole film because there aren't many local Cantonese films around.

So the 3 main characters were basically inspired by that 3 people on the plane. The other characters in the film are basically people you'll find in everyday life in Singapore.
The blog is simply another outlet for Madam Chan (or her friends) to express her thoughts, and tell her stories. Because sometimes she really has a lot to say! Ha. So what I can't put into 20 mins of film, goes into the blog.

J : I hear you teach drama, is that true? Care to share more about your job?
W : No I don't actually teach drama per se. It's more of like teaching aspiring actors all the other important things that they probably won't learn in drama classes. Eg: How to, as an actor, work with the camera & lights. Basically equip them with the know-how so that by the time they get on set, they are already many steps ahead of their fellow actors. I only do this part-time, couple of hours during some weekends when there are enough students.
W : For my full time work, I direct tv shows, corporate films, tvcs and what-have-you, you know, the gamut, as a freelancer.

J : So how was it like directing these people - I mean you are very young and look young, it must be quite a challenge?

W : Actually, I am not that young. Ha! And I really enjoyed working with these 3 main actors. They are really nice people to begin with. Even though Jing-Hua (Madam Chan) and Xiu-Yun (Mrs Wong) are veteran actresses, there were no airs or whatsoever.

The first time I spoke to the actresses about the story, they could relate to it immediately. And I guess they could also feel my sincerity after I told them why I wanted to make the film. From then on, it was more like a family working towards a common goal, rather than a director-actor relationship. Really.

These ladies are pros, so half of my job was already made easier. They have passion too. Especially so with Jing-Hua (Madam Chan). Mind you, this is her first acting stint since she retired 10 years ago. She didn't really have to do this, but she did it, for passion. I am so honored to have her.

I have known Chiu Wai Yin (Mr Wong) for a few years now. He's actually a Director of Photography by profession (Men In White, 1942, Ah Long Pte Ltd etc are a few of his works) and I have worked with him a few times before. A really easy going guy. And this is actually his first acting experience. He was shocked when I approached him with the role. I guess he had doubts about his acting, but I told him as I was writing the script, all I could only see was him as Mr Wong. Eventually he sportingly agreed and I'm so glad he did, because he really added another dimension to the film.

So I guess it does not matter how old or young I am. It's the story that mattered. I think all of us being Cantonese helped too, definitely. Somehow it just sort of brought us closer together. Having my producer Lui Wai Yu (another Cantonese) on board certainly helped a lot too. She was pulling the strings all the way, and without her this film wouldn't be possible.
J : It's been a long while since I have been on a 'temple tour', I followed my granny when I was young. Did you happen to go on one recently to be inspired to write this?

W : I'm very happy to hear you say this, that you remember these trips during your childhood.
No, I did not go on any recently, although I also remember following my guardian on such trips when I was just a wee kid. The film was not inspired by temple tours or whatnot. It was simply inspired by that trio in the plane, but more importantly, motivated by my observations of the changes that Singapore is undergoing - its landscape, its people, its everything.

For the 3D2N tour in the film, I simply chose some usual tourist locations, & a couple of offbeat & often forgotten ones, (Kusu Island being one of them) to help tell my story.

J : How long do you intend to let this character 'live' in your blog?
W : For as long as Madam Chan has something to tell us about the country she lives in. It can be her friends' observations (ie Mrs & Mr Wong), or her very own.

J : What other films have you made before this? What were they about?

W : I have done a handful of other short films before "Madam Chan". A majority of them were done in California where I attended film school.

"Loft Road 2000" is about a woman who hooks her boyfriend up with other girls, and she watches them make out. And of course, someone pays the price for this "adventure" at the end.
"Yellow Light Road" was shot back here in Singapore during my summer vacation in 2000. A friend, actor Benjamin Heng, stars in it. It's about three Singapore 20-something year old characters and their casual relationships with their respective partners, sexual and otherwise.

"Summer, Forever" is about an Asian Chinese man who visits and catches up with his childhood sweetheart for the first time in 6 years, in California. She's having problems with her marriage and stricken with illness.

"Happiness Is", was shot back in late 2002, just prior to me coming back to Singapore, & post-prod. was done only in 2004. It's about a couple's happy weekend getaway in Orange County, away from their kids and family. But things aren't what they seem.

"For Him" is a simple story about an old man's mundane everyday life in Singapore, as told from the POV of his son.

Earlier this year, I also did a 3-parter short film series for Temasek Junior College. A comedy. It's sort of like a marketing video, but done in a narrative fashion. It features real TJC students as the main actors. All 3 parts can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/temasekjc2008.
"Madam Chan" is probably the most Singaporean story I have done so far.

J : Do you have a feature film idea to work on? (this feature things seems to be the craze with the govt grant!)
W : Oh yeah! I have many ideas for feature films! But I need to choose and concentrate on one for a start, and really get down to it. Ha!And also more importantly, to meet the right people at the right place, at the right time.

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