ShoutOUT! Catch 'Republic of Food' Singapore's first dystopian food comedy at select Cathay cinemas from 16th August!

For those savvy and around town, chances are that you have likely seen a poster that looks something like the above graphic. Republic of Food, (Not Food Republic ah!) is the latest Singapore feature film to hit our cinema screens, and is also the latest work from director Kelvin Tong, known for his cult 'motorcycle kungfu love story' Eating Air that he co-directed with current Singapore Association of Motion Picture Professionals (SAMPP) president Jasmine Ng back in the days of indie filmmaking in Singapore, and the Hollywood picture The Faith of Anna Waters.

Now back with Singapore's first 'dystopian food comedy', Tong and cast sits down for a quick chat with SINdie about food, fun, and of course, film.

How did you come up with the concept of a dystopia comedy centred around food?

Kelvin Tong (KT): I wanted to make a film exploring social diversity in Singapore and felt that food - being our national obsession - served as a very accessible window into the topic, which can be sensitive at points.

While you are well-known for genre work, it is predominantly in horror; how was this experience working on a comedy?

KT: Making a comedy is always a kind of mental holiday for me. It’s relaxing and fun. For once, I don’t have to obsess with camera angles and lighting. I can just observe the actors and let them do the heavy lifting. Sometimes, I find myself guffawing on set just as if I am part of the audience. My job, really, is to set the right mood, atmosphere or context for the actors to get their comic juices flowing.

Following in the long lineage of culinary cinema in Singapore, what do you feel is the place of Republic of Food in the greater cultural memory of Singapore?

KT: I am thrilled to make a film that joins a host of other works celebrating Singapore food. It’s like I cooked one of the dishes in a huge Singapore buffet. Republic Of Food is just the latest course served in what I hope to be a never-ending gastronomic journey. Just thinking about what’s coming after is making me hungry.

Two decades after making the seminal Eating Air alongside Jasmine Ng, how do you feel the filmmaking landscape have changed since then?

KT: Like the rest of Singapore, the filmmaking landscape here has become more diverse, confident and at the same time inquisitive. We have a better grasp of commercial realities. We are also harder on ourselves artistically. This, in turn, has led us to ask ourselves tougher questions such as what is Singapore cinema and why is it important. I feel Singapore cinema is growing. We are far from maturing but we have a sense that we aren’t exactly babies anymore either.

How was your experience working with the cast who are more theatrically trained, do you feel that it is different from working with actors who are trained for TV/Film?

KT: I always love collaborating with actors from the theatre. Compared with film or TV actors, stage actors are less concerned with the end result and more focused on the process. It can be tiring because you really have to work out every character’s back story but I find this journey both rewarding and illuminating. That said, sometimes when the “artsy” dialogue takes up way too much time and my producers are glaring at me, I’ll just tell the actors we have to hustle.

What was your biggest difficulty when making this film?

KT: Getting the balance between comedy and seriousness just right was tricky. While I wanted the audience to laugh, I also hoped they would be provoked into thinking about the new social and cultural landscape of Singapore.

And conversely, what was the easiest part?

KT: The easiest part of making this film was getting the actors to stay focused and interested. Every scene was about food and every actor had so much to contribute in terms of his or her gastronomic likes, experiences and memories. It helped that there was a lot of great food on set too.

How did you get involved in this production?

Adrian Pang (AP): Very simply, Kelvin Tong got in touch and asked if I’d like to be involved in a movie he was directing, and it was a no-brainer for me to say yes.

Yeo Yann Yann (YY): Kat Goh (the producer) called and here I am.

Jeffrey Xu (JX): I first met Kelvin on a production meeting on another project; I didn't know that he is the director of Kidnapper, the first Singaporean film that I ever watched, and I was really honoured to have met him. Time flew, and it turns out that he remembered me, and then he contacted me! Kelvin really trusted me and gave me so much freedom to play around.

Patricia Mok (PM): It all boils down to fate! As an actor, you go through ups and downs and I was having a conversation with my manager about job fulfilment. Not long after, she spoke to me about the role and the rest is history!

After I arrived on set and started filming the movie - working with so many amazing talent together on Republic of Food, I had zero regrets taking up the offer!

Shane Mardjuki (SM): I had previously done a bit part in the previous Kelvin Tong movie, The Faith of Anna Waters. So blown away with my 5 second appearance were they, that the production team insisted they work with me again.

I jest, I kid. I think they were looking for someone who could do "camp" and get away with a smattering of Malay. Thankfully my name got thrown into the mix.

Oon Shu An (SA): No exciting story here! Haha auditioned, got the part, said yes! Was very excited to finally get to work with Kelvin!!

Alexandra Tan (AT): I had been on the TV series Lion Mums and an agent found me and asked me to audition.  I auditioned for one of the action scenes ‘Chop chop curry pok.’ and got the part.

Prakasam Silvarajoo (PS): I guess it was my involvement in the movie Long Long Time Ago that got the Kelvin Tong to know me.

Suresh Subash (SS): I attended an audition by Hello Group and all I was told was that it was for a local movie. What got me really interested was that it was Singapore's first dystopian movie about food ban. When I learned that it was Kelvin Tong's movie, I wanted to badly be in it as The Maid was pretty much part of my growing up years. Just when I thought I actually had the worst audition ever, i got the message that I was selected. Then the surreal moment where I learned that I will be getting to act alongside couple of my favourite stars like Adrian Pang, Patricia Mok and Shane. Loved every minute of the rehearsals and filming.

KF Seetoh (KS): I had a dark-web call from the Underground Food Club. They asked me in a mysterious language, roughly translated as “Would you like to lead the UFC in our new show?

Bobby Tonelli (BT): Actually I was contacted by Fly Entertainment (my management company) about the role. I wasn’t told much about the part but I said yes immediately as I’ve always wanted to work with Kelvin.

What do you hope to do next?

AP: Have lunch.

YY: I would love to continue to work in films and theatre productions.

JX: I am currently very busy preparing for a musical production with Love 97.2 FM, and also doing another feature film project.

PM: In my years in the industry, I had done many dramas, variety shows, theatre plays, and movies. I now have a bucket list of who I want to work with, where I want to work in, and what roles I hope to do! More importantly, I hope there’s a movie role that I can truly call my own.

SM: My dream project is a 22 Jump Street-style remake of TRIPLE9 - with three original cast making cameo appearances. I will play the character originated by Wong Li Lin.

SA: A Wuxia film. Seriously. It’s my dream. The closest I got to it was doing a sword dance in Marco Polo, but I didn’t get to, like, fly around! Or some kind of martial arts film. I am currently working on Season 2 of Meet the MP, and a travel show called You Deserve a Break, a show where we bring some really inspiring people on a holiday!

AT: I loved being in my first film. The director and cast were so much fun to work with. I feel so fortunate and happy that I got a chance to work under such an amazing director as Kelvin. I hope that I get the chance to work with him, the crew and the cast again. I’m really looking forward to doing more films and TV series.

PS: I hope to play the antagonist in a movie! The audience have not seen me that way, and I too want to get out of this comfort zone.

SS: I have been extremely fortunate to have had the experience doing theatre, and now luckier to have gotten an opportunity to work in a film, that too with director Kelvin Tong. The one thing that I am at awe is the fact that films work in a way where it moves from one moment (scenes) to another in no particular order, and how quickly everyone, including the actors and the crew have to quickly put the scenes together. Watching the completed film thereafter seeing how it is all put together with sounds, effects, music etc. is I guess why they call film making as magic. I would love to continue to contribute to witness this magic in anyway as I can again.

KS: Acting is not my thing, but if the script (which I am hopeless at memorising) is up my alley and they think something of my thespian skills, why not. Meanwhile, I may just officially set up the Underground Food Club what with so much crap and chemical entering our beloved local food chain.

BT: I really hope to do more films if possible. Maybe a mandarin speaking part. I’ve done a few for television so wouldn’t mind trying one for the big screen.

Patricia, it has been a while since we last saw you on screen; what have you been doing in the interim, and what prompted you to embark on your first English-language feature project?

PM: I have been busy with numerous things such as hosting jobs, acting in roadshows skits, playing roles in other channels such as Suria and OKTO productions.

Language was not an area of concern because I had done many Ch 5 sitcoms previously, including my very own sitcom “My Sassy Neighbour” for 3 seasons! But what prompted me to embark on my first English language feature project was that - I really wanted to work with Kelvin Tong.

Having been in the industry for so long, there are definitely a few directors that I’ve always wanted to work with. For Republic of Food, the moment I heard I would be working with Kelvin Tong, I immediately said YES!!

Republic of Food will be released in select Cathay cinemas (Cineleisure Orchard, Cathay Parkway Parade) from 16 August.

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