Discovering The Actor
In Singapore, do we have an actor of a calibre when if he is in a movie or program, people will make an effort to watch purely because this actor acts exceedingly well. We all have an actor we like, to a point of making a point to follow the actor’s career, the actor’s projects, and even the actor’s private life. In the world of entertainment, an actor’s public image and his private life may or may not be two separate entities, but to the general public, the acting abilities of the actor, however different the criteria of judgement, is important enough. An actor may have the best looks which invariably attract attention and adoration, but fans will, when they are less in awe and more objective, see and gauge the acting for what it is, not good, competent, good, very good. Of course, acting needs to be seen in the context of the role, the production values, the way the director directs, the way the director allows the actor the scope to express himself.
A prolific director told me recently when an actor finds the director who can see and bring out the best in him, this actor is blessed. We all see the best of Tony Leung because Wong Kai Wei sees the best in him and brings it out in his movies. When an actor trusts a director, or a producer, he feels safe. This safety allows the actor to do his very best work. Chow Yun Fat’s movie career took off after acting in John Wu’s movies. Andy Lau became more than a heavenly king, he became an actor, after acting in Johnny Toh’s ‘Running Out Of Time’, before moving on to work with Zhang Yimou, Feng Xiaogang and Peter Chan. Maggie Chueng only became an art house darling after appearing in Stanley Kwan’s ‘Centre Stage’. It is important for a director to find a muse as well, but it is absolutely crucial for an actor to have someone see and bring out that special X factor that sizzles cinematically.
Woody Allen is a director any actor will drop everything to work for. Cate Blanchett who just won an Oscar for ‘Blue Jasmine’ will be the latest actress to attest to this fact. In the East, there are directors of this calibre as well. Ang Lee of course, but he is not working solely in the East. Zhang Yimou may be one. In Singapore, the director who has uncovered some of the most significant talents of our time is Jack Neo. From television to movies, from ‘Money No Enough’ and ‘I Not Stupid’ to last year’s blockbuster ‘Ah Boys To Men’, he has defined and redefined the Singapore entertainment and movie landscape. Along the way, he nurtured the likes of Mark Lee, Henry Thia, Patricia Mok, Tosh Zhang and Wang Weiliang. Last year, ‘Ilo Ilo’ won not one or two, but four Golden Horse Awards, including an acting award. But ten years ago, Jack Neo directed a young girl to win Singapore’s first Golden Horse Award.
She is Megan Zheng, picked from 1,006 girls to play one of the leads in ‘Home Run’, Jack’s remake of ‘Children of Heaven’. Jack found in her eyes the ability to communicate emotions with the camera. Along with her, there were the other child stars Jack discovered – Shawn Lee and Joshua Ang of ‘I Not Stupid’ and its sequel. And a string of character actors, namely, Richard Low, Marcus Chin and the late John Cheng. It is an established fact in the entertainment industry that working with child talents is one of the most challenging tasks in filmmaking. Yet Jack has turned this challenge into his trademark. His movies and the acting he demands from his actors are also his unique branding. Some Singaporeans may find these actors playing themselves, and these characters less than filmic. However some of these films are the most iconic Singapore films and some of these characters are the most representative of the man in the street.
Acting is still not considered a career to pursue for many in Singapore. In many ways it is still not really viable. Not yet. The industry, however, is evolving. Those with a dream to act should not give up. A new generation of directors are coming of age. The types of Singapore movies made are becoming more diverse. Just in these 6 months, four movies that will start shooting have been in development for several years. Which means the scripts will be better. Scripts have been our weakest link. This is slowly changing. These movies are also more universal, with themes that can resonate with audiences beyond our shores. Singapore actors are also more mobile. Some have stationed themselves in China and US and they are starting to get the kind of work they can write home about. Soon, being Asian actors who speak English will be an advantage in the most important emerging markets, which are China and India. So, follow your heart and keep acting.