LUNCHBOX 4 - Glen Goei

Crouching tiger (from Glen's home)

Thursday 4 Feb 2010, 10 pm
Dian Xiao Er at Vivocity
In 1998, I auditioned for a background part in 'Forever Fever' (almost like part of wall paper) and got rejected. I admit I had a twitch of apprehension about meeting Glen Goei for my LUNCHBOX interview. To my delight, he was very chatty and easy-going. So our first meeting ended up in incessant conversation about the local film scene and the people inside. I did not get to do the interview.
Somehow, talking to him (see below for some highlights of his film and theatre work) is like a wake-up call for myself. There is fire in his eyes. And he is always looking around like a 10-year old kid, harboring so much good-natured curiosity for everything. And the first time we met, we were only in a foodcourt. On another occasion when we met, we finally got down to doing this interview proper.
Jeremy: Film maker, Director, director/ actor/artist/ visionary, what do you see yourself?
Glen: Oh God! That question has stumped me. I couldn't answer the rest of the questions, but it is an important question. I don't know you know, I was having lunch with a friend of mine, and she asked me, her name is named Li-Anne, so she asked, what do you do everyday? And I said, I’m learning Chinese now, so, I suppose you can say I am a ‘tai tai’ (laughs). It is hard to answer this. I have never really labelled myself,
J: So on the day you die, what would you want to be?
G: I don't care, I’ll be dead. Really don’t know how to answer that question. Maybe you should rephrase that question, instead of asking me what I am, why don't you tell me, what you see me as, or what people see me as?
J: I see you as a director/actor.
G: So if you see me as that, then that is the end of the question.
J: You just trapped me into answering that right? Haha.
G: I am not going to say otherwise.
J: We should just come back to that later…
J: Who influenced you?
G: As in film wise?
J: No, your life, because for someone of your age, you still have a lot of curiosity for a lot of things and I find that really rare.
G: Erm I think, no one in particular has influenced me. But I have to say that I come from a large family of 3 brothers and 3 sisters and I am the seventh and my parents, there are 9 of us. Being the youngest of the family, I’ve always had all eight of them supporting me, encouraging me, all my life. My father is 87 and he is still working. He goes to work everyday, from 9-6, and even goes to work on Saturdays. My mother is 78 is learning how to play the piano. Before that she was doing painting. She is constantly interested in life, and my dad too. And I don't think I was influenced by them directly. More subconsciously actually.

The movie references never end - We discovered the 'Golden Flower's' curse during a Chinese New Year visit to his house (more pictures below)
J: You like doing comedies? If you are asked to make a serious drama, name 3 films that you would have made.
G: 3 famous films that I would have made… Wow... you are more or less asking me some of what are my favourite films, “ The Lives of Others” that is one of my favourite films over the past 5 years, and “Water”. I love “Water” the Indian film. I have not cried in a film for a long time and that film made me cry. So those two films stand out to me right now as you ask me. (pause)I’m sure there are a few really good films that I like but it has to go back la… “Godfather part 1” (1971-1972) is one of my most favourite films. So is “Midnight cowboy”(1969 - 1970), both from the same era. But I think one of my favourite films of all time is actually “Cabaret” the musical with Liza Minelli (1972).

Jeremy, Glen, Li... the search for 'light' led us to repeating the shot and Yay! we got him to hold up our lunchbox.
J: So what would you say distinguishes your comedies from others?
G: You are talking about my theatre comedies?
J: Both film and theatre.
G: Erm I think that, for me, I don't take myself seriously, I always take things, tongue-in-cheek. And I suppose that for a lot of my theatre productions, the word that you would use would be irreverence. There is no subject, too taboo to me. There was a review of ‘The Blue Mansion’, and this reviewer picked up on one point, which is this thing about “death” and he really got the fact that I really have no respect for the theme of death.
J: Are you afraid to die?
G: No I’m not, because I don't believe in death, I believe in continuity, whether it is from a physics point of view, or whether it's from a Buddhist, or a Taoist point of view. I believe that death is an English word, which means the end, and it is only a young word, if you look at Buddhism, Taoism, or your ancient religions, there is no such thing as death. It is continuity, just going on to another life. So going back to your questions, what I think is a particular signature of mine is this irreverence.
J: What’s the worst remark you have ever heard someone said about your films?
G:,I suppose, for “Forever Fever” it is the word “Rip Off”. That is one of the worst I had heard. I haven heard anything really bad about ‘The Blue Mansion’. That is because I don't read bad reviews. And I don't entertain people who say negative things unnecessarily.
J: What is the best thing you've ever heard about your films?
G: You should go to amazon .com and read the worldwide review of “Forever fever”. Those are some of the best reviews I have ever read of “Forever Fever”.
I must mention a certain blogger who wrote something about “The Blue Mansion”. He actually wrote a 4000-word essay. His blog is called 'Open Contours'. He wrote a very detailed a critique basically and he writes extremely well. He is either a literature student now or an academic though he wrote in his introduction that he wants to be a film maker, and calls himself a wannabe film maker and aspiring artiste/film maker. That review came out on the night the film opened. He got every single point of the film.

Glen trying to 'art direct' the shot of his golden pineapple (from The Blue Mansion) which sits at his home entrance.
J: Did you get to meet up with the guy?
G: I would really want to or write to him. But at the same time, I am also afraid of meeting him. I guess sometimes things seem better at a distance. But I am still intrigued. You know I met Stefan (from A Nutshell Review) whom like you is such a nice guy and is so passionate about films. That touches my heart. It is nice to know that there are such people who are so passionate about local films.

A 'youthful' picture taken from the Wild Rice website
J: Well part of the reason why a lot of people blog is not all the passion. Sometimes, it is the act of blogging. It becomes a rather addictive activity. It becomes an investment of the time. It is like watching a plant grow. I mean in this case it is the audience. It is true that we are passionate about films. But a lot of it also comes from the fun of writing a blog and seeing how people react to our writing.
G: Just to let you know, Stefan flew all the way to the Tokyo International Film Festival on his own expenses. I didn't even know who he was. He recorded the my entire Q&A with the audience and put it onto his website! And I only found this out 1 day after it was on his blog. And he did not even say ‘Hello’. He just put up the Q&A.
J: Have any ministers or members of parliament watched ’The Blue Mansion’ yet?
G: I have no idea. (pause) But you know, I was asked by an older man at a ball one day, are you an activist? I was taken aback, What do you mean by an activist? I said, well, in the normal sense of the word, I am not an activist, I am a theatre director/ film director. He asked, do you have an opinion? I said of course I have, then he said in that case, you are an activist. Because in everything I do, whether in plays or films, I have an opinion. I have a point of view. My irreverence is a point of view. When people are taking religion so religiously, I have a view about religion. When people are taking politics so seriously, I have my point of view in politics. There are no topics in my mind that is taboo…which I cannot attack. Every single topic is open for, to be made into mockery, to be laughed at. And that is my point of view, and I have to concede to this person that I am an activist in a sense, because I have a point of view.

Capturing a thoughtful moment.... okay, okay the picture has been taken off a TimeOut interview article
This is something which I feel a lot of young film makers and theatre directors in Singapore have to understand in general. Artists have to have a point of view. You can't just paint a beautiful painting, with no point of view. Then it would just be decorative. When I watch a film, I want to see what this artist’s point of view is. I want to see whether it is interesting, whether it is different. What are their perspectives and takes on life? Artists have a certain power to make people think from different perspectives and with this, we have a certain responsibility.
In a way, I feel I want to try to be that voice for the people who do not have that voice. I may be able to provide a voice like that because I like telling stories, I like theatre and I have a feel for theatre and films. I appreciate the power of art, as a medium for change. And in a place like Singapore, where the press, the television, the radio and the civil service are tightly controlled, the one last and only remaining area is art.
J: I remember a very interesting comment from my literature teacher who said the graffiti on the toilet doors was the best form of democracy. That was in 1995.
G: Well, nowadays with the internet you can definitely express yourself a lot more, which I think is very powerful.
J: Actually this last question is something I usually ask the younger film makers because they are just starting out and about to embark on this wonderful journey. But you are older and more experienced. My question is …would you starve for the sake of art?
G: Absolutely. I mean I just put the entire savings into my film. Entire, I sold my entire flat, every single cent has gone to this film.
J: That is a resounding yes.
G: I want to be able to say “I lived my life authentically”. You can never find perfect happiness in life but you can live your life authentically. And making ’The Blue Mansion’ is making my life authentic. Even though it meant I had to sell my apartment.
J: But would you have said the same thing if you were 25 years old?
G: Well 12 years ago, I also put my flat up for 'Forever Fever”. But thankfully, I did not need to sell it in the end.

For the best summarised write up about Glen Goei (if you don't know know anything about him), other than Wikipedia, check out this one from Wild Rice.
Some essential links for 'Forever Fever' - LoveHKFilm and IMDB
And don't you dare download the movie from 'those websites', get it from the stores!
Official website for The Blue Mansion
Just in case you don't know 'The Blue Mansion' has just got a new claim to fame in Singapore. There is an annual poll on the year's best in entertainment in Singapore. It is called 新加坡e乐大赏 which translates to the Singapore eEntertainment Awards. 'The Blue Mansion' has won 2 awards.
e乐最佳本地电影 (Best local film):“The Blue Mansion”
e乐最佳本地导演 (Best local director):魏铭耀(Glen Goei)/“The Blue Mansion”
Lastly, 'The Blue Mansion' will be screened at the coming Hong Kong International Film Festival in April.
Interviewed by Jeremy, Transcript by Li

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