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Monday, February 25, 2008


Despite being sick during the past few days, my short film, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY (mentioned the completion of its script last December, and also announced its casting last month), is being fast tracked for a shoot next week.

The protagonists of the script were Mom, Dad and Son, I wrote the script with the child actor, Lim Ming Wei of FLOWER IN THE POCKET, in mind. And also imagined that Dad would look like a certain actor (I'll conceal his identity) who was in a James Lee film last year. To my surprise, the first person who contacted me after I posted up the casting notice was this very person I imagined.

However, it took quite a while for everything to finally fall in place, casting the 'Mom' role for the film was agonizing. It's really difficult to find someone convincing enough to play the mother of a 12-year-old kid, and also fit my own criterias. Most of my candidates then were in their late teens and early twenties, even if I had a great enough make-up artist to age them properly, I still believe that it's too much of a gamble to take.

I eventually seek Kimmy Kiew, playwright and actress (I got to know her because I was momentarily attached to her upcoming theater production as a producer last year, I dropped out in the end because of other commitments) for help. Late last year, when telling her over Gmail Chat that I was working on the script, she mentioned in passing that she would be interested to act if I had a role for her. I was suddenly reminded of that one morning, when I was aimlessly surfing on my friend's list on Facebook, and saw her photo. I then thought of Kimmy's antagonistic 'femme fatale'-ish roles in FLOWER IN THE POCKET and HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART, and went 'aha!'.

After she agreed to help (that was just before Chinese New Year), I immediately went after Ming Wei for the central role of the script. Calling his supportive parents on the phone, they sounded totally cool about it. On Tuesday (Feb 19), despite being bed-ridden most of the day because of flu, I met up with Ming Wei and his father at night, and finally confirmed his involvement in my project.

The film's (probable) one and only rehearsal was held in my house on Sunday (Feb 24). Just a night earlier, I had painstakingly translated my own script (which was originally written in English) into Chinese.

My dear friend Soo Han was there to help me (I generally need a second opinion when conducting rehearsals). Both Ming Wei and his father came to my place, with his father helping the boy out with his lines, calming him down, cheering him on, reminding him of previous acting experiences. Being a very quiet boy, I was slightly anxious because I didn't know whether Ming Wei was prepared or not.

I had directed children before in GIRL DISCONNECTED, three sisters, one was 8, another was 11, and the eldest was 13. It was a vastly different experience then because I merely needed to choreograph a ballet scene with the trio (and their mother was truly helpful in encouraging the girls to perform), and didn't need to ensure that they would 'immerse' themselves into characters, or 'feel' the story etc. But even doing THAT scene was challenging already. (Justin, Brian the Cinematographer and cute Grace who were all involved in doing the scene, would probably remember that experience fondly.)

Ming Wei actually plays the protagonist in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, and I thought I needed to painstakingly let the boy understand the story, his own characters, his psychology etc. I was pulling every single trick (aside from the VTL) that I've learnt from Annie Murtagh-Monks in my Directing Actors module two years ago.

The boy barely uttered a word, quietly nodding at my questions, nonchalantly flipping past pages, while I croaked out (my voice is still affected by the flu) the whole storyline, eventually putting the script down and walking around the room, examining the decoration.

"Are you nervous?" I asked.

"No." He replied.

"He never feels nervous." Ming Wei's dad said.

"Whoa." I said in disbelief.

Of course, in the end, I realized that my initial worries were for naught. When Kimmy arrived for the rehearsal, everything went smoothly. The two had already known each other since they both co-starred in FLOWER IN THE POCKET, and Ming Wei immediately came alive when doing the line-readings, making each adjustment properly when I asked him to.

Gradually, like all good rehearsals go, I felt that I could start envisioning what the film would look like. Of course, the funniest thing was, after conducting rehearsals for the previous productions CINTA TIGA SEGI and KURUS, I forgot how short this session would be compared to the other two. The length of the short film would most probably be less than a quarter of the latter two, so rehearsal ended earlier than expected.

We ended up going to take chicken rice at this restaurant near my house. My excuse was to let the actors 'go further into characters'.

The following is a photo we took yesterday afternoon to commemorate our rehearsal.

Having chicken rice after rehearsal for the short film, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY
From left to right: Kimmy Kiew as Mom, Lim Ming Wei as The Son, me, and Soo Han, who will helping out with the production