Production Talk - "It's a Great Great World" by Kelvin Tong

With Chinese New Year round the corner, there'll be a string of movies all waiting to be released in lieu with the prosperous spirit and the time for family together-ness! However, unlike the rest of movies, the renowned night spot, The Great World Amusement Park, was revived and brought to the screen by our very own talent, Kelvin Tong! Here's a ride to unveil what goes behind the screen for It's a Great Great World!

SINdie: What are some of the highlights of the film (in the final product) to you personally?

Kelvin: The film buff in me delighted in the reconstruction of Great World's iconic Sky Theatre, the romantic in me reveled in the Brylcreem-meets-hairband 60s courtship between Joanne Peh and Zhang Zhen Huan, the lounge lizard in me dug the saxophone vibes of teh Flamingo Niteclub, and the glutton in me identified with the nattering chefs in the kitchen of the Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant.

How did you manage to transform Keat Hong Camp into The Great World? Did you build 'buildings' like Sky Theatre and Flamingo Nite-Club from scratch? And it must have been difficult transforming a barrack into something that looks like entertainment, was it?

It wasn't too difficult because being one of the older camps, Keat Hong is filled with buildings that are largely one-storey. This made it easy for us to lash the facades of our set to the existing buildings. In addition, Keat Hong Camp had a very spacious and uncluttered layout. This allowed us lots of space to build the hugemongous Tua Seh Kai set.

This was picked up from another website: one interesting 'character' in the film seems to be the Wing Choon Yuen restaurant (correct me if I am wrong). Could you share more about the relationship of the restaurant with the film?

A lot of older Singaporeans know about Great World's famous Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant. That was where lots of them had their first dates, their wedding banquet, the one-month celebration of their babies and their silver jubilees. It was THE restaurant in Singapore. With such a rich heritage, Wing Choon Yuen fascinated and inspired me endlessly. The fact that they are still in business (now called Spring Court and located along Upper Cross Street) is a testament to the longevity of the Wing Choon Yuen brand.

What was the 'Kelvin Tong' touch in this production? Perhaps because it is a big-production with many stars and a set-up, how have you given to the film that is uniquely you?

I like to think of my contribution as invisible. I think you can spot me in the way the stories are told, the way the characters are presented and the way the whole film, including the sound design and film score, comes together at the end. Maybe I am the only Singaporean filmmaker mad enough to not just make one period film but four (It's A Great Great World spans the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s till present day) at one go.

How long was production and what were some of the greatest challenges you faced in production?

Time. Or the lack of. Because of the huge ensemble cast (we have 30 plus stars), there were lots of schedule conflicts. Artistes are very busy by nature and it is very hard to coordinate 30-odd actors. In order to reconcile everybody's conflicting schedules, I had to shoot the whole film in 19 days. Which I did. And, believe you me, it was a truly grueling shoot. However, the actors' talent and positive attitudes made the whole ordeal worthwhile.

Any amusing or interesting anecdotes from the shoot?

While researching the design of the Great World set, we stumbled upon an unexpected problem. All of the old photos we had of Great World were black and white. That means we had no idea what color everything, such as the facade of Great World, was. It was hilarious. So, we decided to ask older Singaporeans who had been to Great World. They came back with all kinds of conflicting answers. Suddenly, it occurred to us that they were all correct, except they each remembered a different color from different time eras. You see, Great World went through many transformations from the 1930s till it shut down in 1978. So different people have different recollections situated within different time eras. It's a sobering reminder of the unreliability of memory.

What's another place in Singapore that you would like to be made into an 'epic' of a similar scale like this and why?

Too many to list them all here. Some examples I would love to see on the big-screen are the former Satay Club, New World Amusement Park and the Van Cleef Aquarium. Haha, wishful thinking on my part

What are you working on next?

I don't know. I'm taking a short two-week break and then I'll start conceptualizing my next feature. However, as creative director of Raintree Pictures, I will be producing a movie about Singapore radio because this year marks the 75th birthday of radio.

Xiang Yun steals the limelight (or rather moonlight) in this 'studio' shot

Be sure to catch It's a Great Great World at your nearest cinema!

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