Production Talk: 'Judgement Day' with Writer/Director Ong Kuo Sin

Local movie Judgement Day or 世界末日opened to much fanfare driven by the all-star cast and the attention around late actor Ah Nan's (pictured above) involvement in the movie. Writer and director Ong Kuo Sin takes us behind the scenes of this very thoughtful film. 
A meteorite is due to hit Earth in three days, annihilating all mankind. With nothing to lose, four individuals make irreversible, life-changing decisions: a newscaster reveals her extramarital affair to her husband, a father undergoes a sex-change operation, a young woman abandons her fiance to volunteer in Cambodia and a veteran police officer reveals his troubled past to a subordinate.
Judgment Day arrives. But the meteorite disintegrates harmlessly in the atmosphere. Now, these individuals must face the consequences of their decisions.
SINdie: Hollywood has many disaster, apocalyptic movies, what makes this Singapore version different?
Ong: This Singaporean version is first of all, not effects driven. So the selling points are not the mind-blowing effects seen regularly in Hollywood disaster films. We focused more on the psychological side of human nature when handling this issue and the explosion within our minds are no less terrifying.
SINdie. What kind of 'sins' do you think Singaporeans commit the most that they would be most guilty of if there was ever a judgement day?
Ong: Out of the seven sins, I would say "Envy". Most of our contemporaries focus on what others have rather than what they have already gotten. "Envy" is the root to the collective after effects of Greed, Wrath and Pride. And in the process when the mindless chase is unsuccessful, the attention turns to Sloth, Lust and total Gluttony!
SINdie. The film has chosen to focus on individual stories (and some quirky ones) to tell the end-of-the-world story. What stories are they and what inspired these stories?
Ong: The stories are created to put touchy issues into perspective. At the end of the world, does "law and order" matter? Does sexual orientation matter? Does a choice of religion matter? What kind of "love" last forever? Why is it easier to let go when time is scarce and why is it so hard to forgive when you have ample time to consider? All the stories are created to facilitate the debate over these issues.

SINdie: There are several interesting firsts in the film, let's talk about them. 1) Chua Enlai acts serious for once. How did Enlai feel about the change in 'genre'? of his acting? How did you direct him in such a way that people will not laugh (cos he's been to well-known as a funny man)
Ong: Enlai has done many serious roles before but mainly on stage and for him to finally flex his "serious" acting chops is like a breath of fresh air for him. We have worked together on many projects like "Sassy Neighbour", "Parental Guidance" and "Sayang Sayang". Most of the time, we had great fun doing light-hearted materials; but for "Judgment Day", we want to give the audience an awareness that Enlai is more than just Pornsak Sukhumvit. We have decided that the way to play this irritable character, Richard, we have to let the performance come straight from the heart. And for a talent like Enlai, it was intuitive.
SINdie. Character number two 2) Henry Thia wanting to be a woman. Why did you think of making him want to be a woman? Was this based on any true stories? How did Henry prepare for the role?
Ong: Henry's image of "Alamak" is deeply ingrained in most Singaporeans' memories. But for every actor who plays an iconic character, there will always be a time when he/she asks:"Should I play this role forever?" Henry took the risk and stepped out of his comfort zone to try this character. For us, it is a process of "Deconstructing Henry" for both the talent and the audience. He was very receptive to downplay his performance and demonstrated to us that he is more than a comedian. This story is based on a true story.

SINdie: There must have been a fair amount of chatter going around when the trailer came out as Ah Nan features prominently in it. What role does he play (he is in a 'medium's costume)? This is film is unfortunately his last. What was the experience like working with him? If you had a chance to give him a lead role in another movie? What would the movie be about?
Ong: Ah Nan played a medium who confesses that he does not believe in his god when the end of the world came. He was a darling on set as he always set high standards for himself. Like the other talents who starred in Judgment Day, he was gamed to challenge his prior comedic roles as gangsters or loan sharks. A talent like him is hard to ignore and if a suitable character comes along; there's no chance i'll not cast him.

SINdie: How long was the production?
Ong: The production was a year long.
SINdie: What was the most challenging part of the production? Any interesting or ominous things happened during production?
Ong: The most challenging part was to manage the schedule of the many talents on set. It was madness organizing everyone to be available for the shoot to happen! The most worrying shoot was in Cambodia when we only have Rebecca for one and a half day and Enlai for three days. We have to make sure that all scenes were covered before sunset everyday. The funniest moment was when we were trying out the pyrotechnic effects for the landmine scene. Everyone was anticipating a really loud blast for the trial; but it was more like a whimper. I think Enlai can fart louder!
SINdie: Which other countries do you hope to bring this film and how do you think the film will be received in those markets?
Ong: We are heading to Malaysia in the coming months. Plans to release in Thailand and Taiwan are in the process. We hope we will do well in those markets as the theme discussed in the film is very universal.
SINdie: Tell us in a short sentence why everyone should watch Judgement Day.
Ong: This is the most un-local local film ever made and we took the unusual step away from making conventional comedies and horrors, so please support us and show that local films can really have an alternative voice.
Get connected with Judgement Day through their Facebook page here.

Once again, here is the trailer of Judgement Day

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