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

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Wine Kaki This Week

Kaki means 'leg' in Malay. However, "Wine Kaki" does not mean 'Wine Leg', but 'Wine Buddy'. Similarly, "Hentak Kaki" does not mean 'Shock Leg', but about one 'hitting the glass ceiling'. Wine making is my other love next to acting and film making. :)

This week, I share my grape wine with my friend Gillian Tan at Tiong Bahru, after the shoot for the Singapore Writer's Festival's "Tin Kosong", directed by Saniff Olek.

More about "Tin Kosong" (in Malay) when it is out.

Watch this space for the next edition of "My Wine Kaki This Week!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Speak Good English Movement

My blog post "Slang, Lingo and Colloquialism" has got me invited to the launch of the "Speak Good English Movement" on the 28th May 2014. The Movement, probably unique to Singapore, emphasizes the use of proper standard English. 

Singapore is a country comprising many races, languages and dialects. When I was a kid, I spoke mostly Chinese dialects, no Mandarin and some English and Malay. Fast forward forty years and the government had since rationalised the Chinese language to mean Mandarin and the common language among all races to be English. However, given the interesting cocktail of languages spoken locally, English as it is spoken soon slipped sloppily into Singlish. And now Singlish has taken into a life on its own and by its current form has already become mostly unintelligible to foreigners. This is what got the government worried and hence, the Movement.

I have lived and worked in Europe, Africa, Australia and different parts of Asia. For me then, it was essential to speak a form of English that is understood by everyone - sometimes I even slow down and pick simpler words when I communicate with non-native speakers.

However, when it comes to films, the debate is not just whether it should merely communicate with the  audience, but also portray the culture as it is - untainted.

The argument is whether standard English, or for that matter, standard Mandarin, or any other standard languages ought to be used instead of their localised forms. Recently, a seasoned film maker told me that any film made strictly in any standard language will not be watched by many people because nobody speaks purely in any standard language in real life. He cited that even Hollywood films do not speak standard English, but their own form including many slangs and colloquialisms.

I do agree, but I think Hollywood also knows that if they do go overboard with their slangs and colloquialisms, then they are also likely to lose their audience. So I suspect that they do choose their words carefully to portray the local culture but also to make sure that they are intelligible to non-native speakers.

I guess the secret lies in the balance. That is, what language subsets should I use such that I project the local culture while I make the film understood by the critical mass. And it will be a bonus, if the lingo chosen, though not universal, would sound catchy and smooth enough to start a new trend.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Film Review - Filial Party

I managed to squeeze some time out today to watch "Filial Party", as I have promised Boris Boo, the director, that I will do so.

I was suitably entertained by the well researched local stories that I think the heartlanders and common people in Singapore would relate very well to. They are little stories surrounding parents, children's emotional baggage of their parents passed and living, money, materialism, middle-age joblessness, old age senility, extra-marital affairs... etc.  All told through big comedy expressions popular in Malaysia and Singapore.

In think Boris' jokes are a little more subtle and less slapstick as those of Jack Neo, a local film maker who has consistently scored at the box office.  I like the dialogue of mixed languages of English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil - that offers the feel of street level Singapore. However, I wonder if those outside Malaysia and Singapore would be able to follow the dialogue or would find the linguistic cocktail amusing enough to embrace. For more about the use of standard language or otherwise, click here.

In short, the story is about a reality show that requires its participants to demonstrate their filial piety to their parents - in the process going through the sub-plots of sob stories and dilemmas - many of which question the moral fabric of today's society.

Lastly, like many other local productions, product placements are strong in this movie and one can certainly be forgiven for thinking of it as a Prudential Show at some point. A bit of subtlety would have been helpful, as research shows that subliminal advertising is way more effective. Perhaps the sponsors did not see it that way.

Overall, I think the movie is much better than what was said in the Straits Times film review. I like my film to both entertain and inspire, and that I think "Filial Party" has achieved!

How many star rating?
I don't know. I never believed in stars.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Slangs, Lingo and Colloquialism

Recently, I sent a letter to the Straits Times Life, about the use of standard English in films. The letter, edited for brevity, is published as follows:

As in most articles edited for brevity, some interesting details are lost. So, here you are... the original letter:

Dear Sir/Madam

I refer to the letter by Mr Yeoh Teng Kwong, of the above-mentioned reference.

I agree with Mr John Lui about promoting local music and films. I also agree with Mr Yeoh about producing art with universal appeal and standard English to reach a wider audience.

I know this because I have acted in the lead role of two short films that have gone viral on the Internet.

The first one "Hentak Kaki", about an army Warrant Officer hitting his glass ceiling due to his knee injury, was scripted in a typical Singapore Armed Forces lingo. It speaks to all male Singaporeans instantly and went viral as they can identify deeply with every word spoken. It has a combined online hit rate about 200,000 hits. This is a good score considering that local  full feature film trailers with a significant marketing budget barely hit 50,000 hits. However, I suspect that because of the very localised lingo, the film did not travel much beyond Malaysia and Singapore, even though the film expresses issues that are common in any army in the world.

The other short film that has gone viral is "Gift", which is a story about a misunderstood father and his disgruntled son. This film has a combined online hit rate of about 5 million hits and counting. Besides South East Asia, USA and Europe, the film has gone viral in far away and exotic places like Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia,...etc. Moreover, we are also getting a spontaneous response from audience from all over the world volunteering to translate the subtitles into their native languages as they want to make the film more accessible to a yet wider audience. Incidentally, the film uses standard English. :)

"Gift" is so successful that I am now getting calls to give talks in schools, to act in foreign feature films and from investors who want to produce feature films of a similar story line between a father and his son.

Below are the links to the two films, so that you can experience them for yourself.

"Hentak Kaki"


Further, another short film worth studying would be "Detour", which I acted in and had won a handsome swoop of four categories for the Best Director, Best Script, Best Performance and Best Fiction awards at the recent 5th Singapore Short Film Awards 2014. The film uses Hokkien, with one or two English words. The full film is not online yet as it is making its rounds in the film festival circuits, but a trailer is available at:


I think films with universal values travel, but films with mainstream languages travel further. Let's see. The jury is still out there.

Michael Chua

Sunday, March 2, 2014

5th Singapore Short Film Awards 2014 - "Detour"

"Detour" won the Best Fiction, Best Director, Best Performance (Michael Chua, Presley Lim & Yolby Low) and Best Script awards in the 5th Singapore Short Film Awards 2014.

Written/Directed by Michael Kam
Produced by Mabelyn Ow
Shot by Amandi Wong
Edited by Alicia Lim 

The judges felt that the film stands out for Iits economy of dialogue, the development and movement of the scenes, and the wonderful acting.  They also said that the director had led the development of the story and cast very well particularly in a sensitive topic like this one involving children.

For more about "Detour", click here.

The list of the other winners should probably be up soon at The Substation's website (www.substation.org).

This is my second time winning the Best Performance Award.

The other one was in the 3rd Singapore Short Film Awards 2012, via the short film "Hentak Kaki". See here

When the results was announced, I was a little surprised at winning the Best Performance this time round, as there were a few other nominees whom I felt had delivered their role very well.

Thinking it through later, I suspect that it was probably the chemistry among the three of us in the cast that made us win.
So directors out there, do look out for the chemistry among your actors. It was also a major factor how  "Hentak Kaki" won.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Michael Chua Evening of Short Films

I would like to thank Lasalle School of the Arts; James Khoo from Pangolin Films; Osman from Hijrah Films; Chef Jeremy Cheok; Harvaraj from Lion City Film Studios; Marrie and the Reel Frenz;  the film producers and directors who are so generous to allow me to screen their films; and most of all the seventy or more of you whom had taken time to attend the event on a Saturday evening.

I have received very positive feedback about the films and some are already asking for another screening. I will organise another one, probably in six months' time, as I am doing all these amid my productions, scripts and shoots. It also takes time to request for the films and the  permission to screen, converting them to mp4, testing them out in the theatre, getting the theatre itself, organising the catering, publicity and registration. 

Some of the comments received were:

"Awesome acting!! 2 thumbs up!! Thanks for organizing ."  
--- Calvin Huang

"Good acting from the cast and the scripts explored a spectrum of society issues. Thought-provoking, touching and insightful. Thank you very much to Michael and all the assistants who helped organise and make yesterday's screening a success!" 
--- Emily Woo

"Generally well organized, get to see film clips completely different from the cookie cutter style comercial films. Displays how budget films attempts to wow audiences with subtle messages that address bigger issues in life"
--- Larry Lim

"I really enjoyed the short films - interesting, touching, entertaining.....Looking forward to the next screening. Thk u Michael for organising it."
--- Sally Teo

"It was a wonderful evening with a mix of talent and art from the film fraternity accompanied by the actor himself. Great work and an even humble and down to earth person. Michael truly was the star of the evening:). FABULOUS WORK! ! Looking forward to the next meet up."
--- Sankeshwari Deo

There is a French man in the audience who said that he was surprised that there are such entertaining and inspiring films made in Singapore, particularly so as he didn't think that there is a film industry here.

The next screening will likely be a smaller one with a more selective audience, according to their interest in films and their being punctual. Some of the very late comers in this screening will be banned. In the next screening I will lock the door when the screening start. Those who registered and did not turn up this time will also be banned.  You have been warned.


Finally, I got my act together to choose eleven short films out of the 150plus productions I have been in over the last three years. Then I had them converted to mp4 format and tested out. Alas...

This wil be a once in a long while screening of the short films I have acted in. This screening has been requested by many of my friends, but something which I have procrastinated for about two years. So here you are...

This event is FREE, but registration is necessary. RSVP here and ALSO email your name, email address and mobile phone number to jupilier1@gmail.com .

Seats are very limited, so please change your RSVP well ahead of time if you cannot turn up, so that we can re-allocate them to others. Those who fail to do so will be banned from future screenings.

Date: 15 February 2014 (Sat)
Time: 4.30pm to 8pm

Room F208, Lasalle College of the Arts,  
1 McNally Street, Singapore.

Registration will start at 4.30pm
Screening will start at 5pm.
Q&A at 6.45pm.

Mix and mingle after that.
Light snacks, tea and cold drinks will be served.
Courtesy of Lion City Film Studios and my banker brother. The food will be catered by my good friend Chef Jeremy Cheok, whom I befriended during the Secret Supper Club days.


We only have time to screen eleven films as that will already take close to 90 minutes.
For more write-ups about some of the films and others, please refer to other articles in this blog.

1. Dinner

Directed by Heng Le, Winner of Open Category, 180 Short Film Competition 2013, organised by Singapore Media Academy.
Actors: Michael Chua, Kelly Lim and Ezekiel Chee.

A security guard is a father and also like a superman to his son. (In Mandarin, 2 mins 18 secs)


2. Godverdomme Coffee

Directed by Eric Eloffson. 
Actors: Michael Chua & Sjors Wijers.

A Dutchman's last wish to have his cup of coffee before death row. (In English, 9 mins 47 secs)


3. Change

Directed by Leon Tai. 
Actors: Michael Chua, Karen Tan & Horsey Hui. 
A beggar is a beggar until he comes in handy in times of need. (In English, 8 mins)


4. Last Wish

Directed by Jeah Goh. Actor: Michael Chua & Sean Goh. 

About the final reconciliation of father and son.(In Mandarin, 10 mins)


5. Detour

Oirected by Michael Kam. Nominated in 4 categories of the 5th Singapore Short Film Awards - Best Fiction, Best Director, Best Performance (Michael Chua, Presley Lim & Yolby Low) and Best Script. Screening in competition at the 13th Mumbai International Film Festival for Documentary, Short & Animation Films over in India from 3 to 9 Feb '14.

On a hot sunny afternoon, a father and two restless siblings stuck in a traffic jam took a detour that leads to a misfortune that the family struggles to come to grips with... For more details, click here. (In Hokkien, 7 mins 22 secs)

6. Anniversary

Directed by Joseph Hsu. 
Actors: Michael Chua & Aki Masabayashi.
On a visit to the cemetery, a man catches a girl stealing flowers he laid on his wife's tomb. For more details, click here. (Silent, 4 mins 19 secs)


7. Stitched

Directed by Paul Tang. 
Actors: Michael Chua, Dora Teo & Phumtida Kiatthat. 
Horror befalls a father and his daughter after the former deserted his pregnant girlfriend in Thailand.(In Mandarin and Thai, 10 mins)


8. Reunion

Directed by Joseph Hsu. Grand Prize (Student Category) 1st Taiwan Weifilm Festival (2013).
Actors: Kelly Lim, Low Heng Joo, Jiayi Wang & Michael Chua

A family is compelled to an awkward revelation during a Chinese New Year Reunion dinner... (In Mandarin, Hokkien and English, 10 mins)


9. Gift

Directed by Daniel Yam. 
Actors: Jim Koh, Jon Tay, Michael Chua, Yoro Tan Yuan Chong. A touching story about a karunguni man, exemplary father and generous soul...For more details, click here. (In English, 7 mins 32 secs)


10. Hentak Kaki

Directed by James Khoo. Winner of Silver Screen Award (Short Films) at the 24th Singapore International Film Festival (2011).

Actors: Michael Chua and P Muruganandan

Winner of Best Performance and nominated for Best Director and Best Script at the 3rd Singapore Short Film Awards (2012).

"Hentak Kaki" is one of the few local short films that have gone viral on the Internet and even gotten the mainstream press attention. It is currently the most popular video (by far) on viddsee.com

2nd Warrant Officer Teck Hong served his entire life in the army, but now finds himself needing to make a pivotal decision to continue serving in the army or leave and face the harsh reality of life outside. (In English/Singlish, 10 mins)

11. Deviant Ink

Directed by Brett Rogstad. 
A defiant teen, her tattoo and her motivation. (In Mandarin, 10 mins 21 secs)


Total: 88 min 39 sec

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Nasty Bits

Here are some nasty bits they asked me to do on set... This one plays the beggar at a urine stinking corner in Chinatown. It is a pity that cameras cannot capture smell.

This one is for a scene in Jack Neo's "We Not Naughty". The most painful part was not having to be sprayed upon, but rather the need to over-act.

This one is for Suria TV's "Nine Lives" drama, coming soon to a TV near you.

It is not as difficult as it looks. You just have to get used to seeing the world upside down and going underwater for a few seconds at a time, blowing out bubbles from your nose. The hardest part was to play dead at the end - motionless enduring the discomfort of the water flowing into my nose.

They planned to have a stunt man for me, but he was too small and it was hard to disguise and match. So I did it myself - (thankfully) in one-take. More about "Nine Lives" in another post.