"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." -- Sanford Meisner

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Unlucky Plaza

Producer/Director/Writer - Ken Kwek

Father. Restaurateur. Hostage-taker. How one man's financial woes spiral into a harrowing crisis that captivated the world.

Genre: Drama

I am lucky to be invited to the private screening of "Unlucky Plaza" for the cast and crew at The Projector. It is also the first movie to be screened at the 25th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) 2014. The Projector is  a recently renovated cinema for independent films, at Golden Mile, Singapore.

The title of the movie, "Unlucky Plaza", is  a cheeky snide at Lucky Plaza, a mall frequented by Filippinos living in Singapore. The "Unlucky" bit is also a hint of the lead character's calamitous journey as a migrant, father and businessman, played convincingly by Epy Quizon, a Fillipino actor, based in Manila.

Among some of the diretor, Ken Kwek's work is "Sex.Violence.Family Values", an anthology of short films, which was banned by the Singapore and Malaysian governments in 2012. It was later allowed to release in Singapore and sold-out to packed audience.

The screenplay of "Unlucky Plaza", started with the portrayal of individual characters of: the migrant filippino father and his son; the Singaporean motivational get-rich-quick speaker and his frustrated and adulterous wife; the pastor who has sinned and fell prey to the seductress; and the gangster from China who comes chasing for his money. I was sufficiently mesmerised with each of the quirky sub-plots that I did not expect a crisis looming and their paths to cross and culminate in a kidnapping-hostage situation. (I had no idea what the film is about at all before I entered the cinema hall.)
The actors fleshed out their characters very well, most of whom are veterans in the local scene and have many years in stage performance.

I like the sound and camera work, particularly the smooth flow of steadicam work gliding up the stairs exhibiting the opulence of the bungalow with a swimming pool, two maids and a lavish interior.

While the movie has many funny bits that made me laughed, I cannot help empathising with the stories of migrant workers from developing countries and their plight striking out a living in a foreign country.
"Unlucky Plaza"  convinced me that there are more than one way to make a film that can sell in Singapore and Malaysia, without having to resort to highly localised slapstick and course comedy.

I would highly recommend you to watch the movie.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


This is my first time acting in a horror film and also my first time having lines in the Thai language, which I had no prior knowledge of. Like the Chinese language, Thai is tonal and so the same phonetic in the wrong tone can mean something very different, often with hilarious results. Also, it was hard keeping up with  the gentle Thai soft and pampered ways of talking.

"Stitched" is a Temasek Polytechnic Year 2 project, written and directed by Paul Tang and brilliantly executed by his dedicated and talented team. It is about a father who thought that he could get away with a fling in Thailand, only to discover the horrors that had followed him thereafter. I won't spoil the film for you. Here it is...

We were very lucky to get this apartment for the shoot - so lived-in and complete with all the oriental charms and character - so unpretentious and so un-self-conscious. Other than some minor technical adjustments, what you see comes original with the house. I think the house itself is half the battle won.

An art director would have to spend a lot more time and money if we had a common run-off-the-mill pristine looking apartment in Singapore. Look at the details... the cuddly toy, the notices stuck on the wall, the left over Chinese New Year kitsch dangling... the details that captivate and tell so much.

We had to stand 'the ghost' on a pedestal, so that the lighting and camera angles turn out right. In film making terms, it is called "cheating".

I bet you won't see cuddly toys the same way you used to after this film. Oh ya, Paul and his gang bought three of them from Taobao. One of them got mistakenly loped into the rubbish chute, another got burned alive, and then there was one (left). Did you remember the name of the teddy bear? It is Luap, which is 'Paul' spelt backwards. There goes the saying that no matter what you write for a film, even if it is about a fish (in this case a Teddy), the story is about YOU.  lol

The scenes with the teddy bears were not much fun. The intestines stuffed inside were pig intestines and the smelled really foul. So foul I nearly puke and only held back because the camera was right below my mouth. The camera guy told me he was so impressed with my act that if I had thrown up, he would have stood still to capture the action!

Oh yes, if you think that I had done a convincing apprehensive look during the burning of the teddy bear, you were half right. The truth was that I was REALLY scared. Scared that the tin may explode with the added combustible fluid soaked in the teddy bear.

The burning of the teddy bear was the last act. It was done late in the night to avoid bystanders and busy-bodies, but even then, it didn't stop a few guys up in the blocks of flats upstairs ready with their cameras and binoculars, probably waiting to post us on social network.

We waited for more than an hour, then decided to go to a new location from those prying eyes. We then shot the burning scene swiftly and then quenching the flames, clearing the debris and making our run just as quickly.

See, even the toothbrushes seem to talk to you in this film. :)

Saturday, November 8, 2014


This film is originally called "Shrink", which its name implies, involves shrinking objects of sorts to fit into an evil plot. That's so much I am revealing for now, as I won't want to spoil your fun watching it later.

Perhaps in the quest for uniqueness, the producers have changed the title of the film to "Dispher" - as there is no such word in the English dictionary and also that there is no other film with such a name in the market.

Uniqueness is important in a name, but a film title should also represent the story, as that is how viewers will decide if they would want to invest the time and money to watch it.

Here is the film...

I applaud the production team for the results, particularly one with tight budget and time lines. Ironically, it was also a laid back and enjoyable experience, working in the more idyllic locations in Johore Bahru, Malaysia - away from the hustle and bustle of urban Singapore. It is healthy to do that once in a while in a place where the common people in the sleepy kampungs (villages) has time to stop and stare, and chat with you endlessly.

As this is kind of a horror flick, much of the scenes were done at night. The few day scenes were shot well indoors under ceiling fans or under the canopies of the generous rural vegetation, well protected from the harsh tropical sun. Not something folks from miserable cold weathers can understand, but you will if you have lived here long enough.

I particularly enjoyed working with my co-actor Daeng Amer. Daeng comes from 30 years of theatre experience, and he gives all he has as an actor while on set. One could easily be captivated and believe that he was indeed the deranged character while he was in the act. He told me that while many actors like to choose the roles they like to play, he does the opposite by declaring that he is willing to accept any role they will give him. As a result, he has landed on many diverse and challenging roles to date. And that is real growth to an actor! Something actors may like to start rethinking about.

The village environment is such an antiquated charm for a Singaporean city slicker like myself. I need such getaways once in a while, and so nice on this instance that they are even paying me for doing so.

Here is the production team.

Patrick (the guy on the string) acted as the passenger that I picked up in the night cab, and literally so (picked up) after he is shrunk to size. For that to happen visually, video captures of some stunts were necessary in the green room, and subsequently, applying the digital special effects on the video complete the rest of the magic.

For those of you who do not know, videos of Patrick being hoisted were taken with a green background, in order for it to be replaced with the desired background subsequently.

Green is chosen because none of our body parts are of that colour, unless if you happened to be  one of the few that has green eyes. Not something to be jealous of in this situation. In fact, productions used to use blue screens, but found them  a problem with blue eyes.

Here are some of the special effects that required lots of patience and long iterative processes.

While this film is a short horror flick, I can't help reading more to it and relate some of the plots to what I observe in real life. For instance, about making people feel small and putting them in confined career ceiling - isn't this virtually the same as putting a bunch of shrunk people crying out in a locked box?

And passing the evil box to the next victim - isn't this what investing in properties or stocks are like? That is, to buy it cheap (or even at an outlandishly high price) as long as you can sell it in time to the next ignorant investor just before the market crash!  :)

Finally, one criticism of the film I have is that I find the ending a little abrupt. I don't know why. Is it because they didn't get enough footages for the ending or they did not plan it in the first place? Who knows?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Problem With ‘Less Is More’ and Other Acting Instructions

This is a useful article written by Paul Barry, an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, that  I read on Backstage.com. Reproduced here with permission. 

As a director, my job is to collaborate with actors in guiding the audiences’ attention to what’s important, and away from distractions that may obscure the story. It is not to teach them to act.
As a teacher, my job is to create self-sufficient performers, capable of working with directors who may not know how to adhere to my first point. It is not to direct them.

The two jobs are quite different, but the common denominator of all great teachers and directors is their ability to use an acting vocabulary that is doable

Aphorisms such as “less is more,” “just feel it,” “sit back into it,” and “really connect” do nothing to help you become self-sufficient. Less what is more what? At best, such generalities foster dependence on the apparently omniscient instruction-giver, and at worst cause distrust in all future instructors’ advice, because such suggestions—without the fortification of reliable technique—are ultimately indefinable and therefore unplayable.

Good acting teachers will help you understand the mechanics of translating generalized direction into specific, doable action, and good directors will speak only in such terms. Anything else, though often well intentioned, perpetuates the myth that acting is probably an unlearnable art; that it is mystical, ephemeral, and can only be mastered through closing one’s eyes, rolling the dice, and praying not to land snake eyes.

Aside from being a fundamentally flawed strategy, this line of thinking disempowers all who see it as normal.

Unproven dicta, such as “just listen,” “build the chemistry” and “it’s all in the eyes” are additional clich├ęs eroding actors’ common sense understanding that acting is not a guessing game, that it should be doable, and that doing is everything. None of the above suggestions can be done, and certainly not to a point where everyone would agree on the actual result. Even listening has sub-considerations, such as “What do you want?” “What is your opinion of what you just heard in that moment?” and “Are you getting closer to/further away from your objective as a result?” Reactions and feelings in the moment are the reflexive result of things being done by us, and done to us.

Doing is everything.

It is very easy to hear sounds and make facial expressions indicating that you have been affected, but knowing what you want, and having opinions of everything you hear makes listening more real for your scene partner, more engaging to the audience, and of paramount importance, more doable by you.   

A great director may inadvertently teach you a tremendous amount about acting. A great teacher may inadvertently give you a stellar direction in a scene. But it is incumbent upon neither to do the other person’s job whilst attempting to do their own. The fact that many teachers and directors are confused on this point is evident in much of the advice offered to actors these days, from both fields.

The terrific advice of Sanford Meisner, that acting is “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances” is useless without the specific exercises he taught to ensure that such a generalization could actually produce the “truth” he so passionately advocated. Stanislavsky’s assertion that, “The person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor you could ever hope to be,” is icing on the cake of his “system” designed to help you do, through techniques such as objectives, given circumstances, and sense memory. David Mamet and William H. Macy’s method of script analysis though Practical Aesthetics repeatedly emphasizes viewing the work stoically and finding the achievable action in order to provide a foundation for Mamet’s advice in “True and False” to “invent nothing, deny nothing, speak up, stand up, stay out of school,” which would otherwise be a catchy quotable sound bite, but ultimately hollow, useless advice.

Declan Donnellan in “The Actor and the Target” coined the term “unuseful truths,” and suggested that when viewed as the garnish rather than the meal, there is nothing wrong with hearing, or even repeating them. Treating such truisms as some kind of panacea for what ails your acting though is incredibly dangerous, since each one seems to promise that its pat and pithy structure holds a deeper meaning. Yet with no clear instruction on how to actually enact them, we are left worse off than we were before they entered our ear. Much like someone advising that, “Happiness is simply a matter of being true to oneself,” it draws our attention to an ideal we now have no idea how to personally attain, due to the advice’s lack of specifics.

The antidote to such deceptive sound bites in acting is the kind of specific instruction one can easily understand, successfully interpret, and finally, competently do.

Next time you hear a teacher or director describe acting in generalized terms, make it easy on yourself and ask instead: “What am I doing?” If you can’t say it, you’re certainly not doing it. The problem is not that you haven’t “dropped it in,” “kicked it up a notch,” or “really opened up.” The problem is that you don’t know what to do.

Work out what to do, and then do it.  Doing is everything.

Like this advice? Read more from our Backstage Experts!
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Barry’s full bio!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Unite Against Corruption

Producer/Director: Michael Chua, Script: Michael Chua/Phil Gruber, DOP: Mark Song.

Our entry for CPIB's (Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau Singapore) "Unite Against Corruption" Video Competition has won the Merit Award for the Open category. (Shouldn't it be called the "Meritorious Award"?)

Our main message is that if corruption goes unchecked,  ultimately everyone gets screwed. The challenge was to have the video suggestive enough and yet not judgmental or crude.  I think we got the balance just about right to get the message through.

This is the first video I have produced, directed, scripted and acted in. All in one go!!! :) 

Production went quite smoothly. We had difficulty getting a pair of handcuffs, as it is illegal to do so, so we made do with a toy version, but sand papered the gloss down to make it look metallic and real. The Lady-In-Red scene was captured in Joo Chiat, amid the sleazy bars and Vietnamese streetwalkers, to some degree of awkwardness. lol. But all in the name of fighting corruption and for a good cause!! :)

The prize presentation will be held on Saturday, 13 December 2014 during CPIB’s Roadshow at HDB Hub Mall.

Help us win the Viewer’s Choice Category !!!!!!!

Go to CPIB's Youtube channel and 'Like' our video, click here.



Friday, August 29, 2014


Utter 2013. Penghulu. Adapted from Pak Suleh (from Penghulu) by Suratman Markasan. Director: Lilian Wang.

This was my first gig in Malay, and since then, I had done other such roles in several short films, including one for Utter 2014.

Thankfully, I still remember enough of the language to plod my way with in Malay. My earliest encounter with the language was when I was four years old, when I watched "Bahasa Kenbangsaan" (National Language) on TV, just before the cartoon telecast. In my school days, everyone had to study Malay - our National Language (and still is)! :) Back then, Chinese people mostly spoke Malay to the other races and among themselves, they spoke their own Southern Chinese dialects of Teochew, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese,... etc. Only the folks in Chinese medium schools spoke Mandarin, and then, in its uncorrupted form! 

I am glad to have lived through the era of linguistic diversity in Singapore. There was more character and the different languages curiously relay emotions specific to each ethnic group.

Then in the late 70s, there were grand efforts by the government to standardise the spoken language among the Chinese to Mandarin; while English rapidly moved to centre stage. By 1980, Malay was relegated to be spoken mostly among the Malays.

Today, young Chinese speaks only Mandarin and English (well kinda, more so Singlish). Japanese, Korean and other Asian language dramas are allowed on TV, but not Chinese dialect dramas. Mandarin is now officially my 'mother tongue', though my mother doesn't speak a word of Mandarin. Meanwhile people from China now purportedly speak better mother tongue than I do in my mother country Singapore. Isn't it funny?! lol

The 1970s was also the era when many Singaporeans were evicted from their kampong dwellings of attap huts and patchy agricultural subsistence, to (in comparison) sterile government built apartments that now dots the Singapore skyline. Those were major changes to move from literally living on the ground to living in suspended concrete dwellings in the sky.

"Penghulu" depicts such maladjustments of a village chief, who laments the change and the lost of his familiar casual and happier days in the village. I like the screenplay very much as it captured the slow soothing life of the Penghulu and contrasts it to his mundane and sedate life in the modern apartment.

Nostalgia is sweet, however be careful... as it can also rob us of our present.

Here is the trailer for this year's Singapore Writer's Festival...

If you like to watch some of my Hokkien short films, click here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Production company: Mythopolis Pictures. Producer: Genevieve Woo. Director: Tony Kern.

"Afterimages"  is one of the few Singapore-made horror movies screening this year. 
It will premiere on the 10th of September 2014 in Singapore - just after the Chinese Seventh Month for the Hungry Ghosts.  

I haven't watched them yet, but will do so on the 10th.

A FREE pair of tickets will be given to whoever answers ALL the following 5 questions correctly AND register his/her email address (near the top of page of this blog).

[1] How many 'short stories from Hell' are there in "Afterimages"?

[2] When will "Afterimages" be screened to the public?

[3] Name the famous radio DJ who is in the movie?

[4] Which is the other horror movie Tony Kern directed? 

[5] Which floor did the female character in the movie jumped down from?


This quiz is only opened to people based in Singapore or can make it to the Premiere.

Date: 10th SEP 2014
Time: 9PM
Place: Cathay Cinema, Handy Road, Singapore.
There are only 3 pairs of tickets up for grabs. Hurry!


For more information about the movie, click here.