Jack Neo and Mark Lee: Long long time makan buddies
Celebrity Chow with the director and his 'muse'
Local director Jack Neo, 56, and comedian-actor Mark Lee, 47, go back a long way.
If you're old enough, you'd remember the wacky duo's hilarious antics on Comedy Night, Channel 8's hit variety show of the 1990s that kept us glued to the TV on Mondays.
Neo was Lee's mentor and Lee was Neo's brightest protégé.
When M met up with them for char kway teow (Lee's choice) and beef noodles (Neo's pick) last Thursday at Alexandra Village Food Centre, they reminisced over the good old times.
"I remember the time when we were doing Comedy Night, the famous Lao Lee Kway Teow from Malaysia set up a stall in Singapore," said Neo.
"We loved the kway teow so much, the entire cast and crew made it a point to have lunch there as often as we could.
"Sadly, the stall eventually closed down. We were very upset to see it gone."
Lee added: "It was located at a hawker centre in Thomson. We went there many times."
These days, the long-time friends "meet a lot less" - but not because they've grown apart.
Lee said: "He's busy with his filmmaking and he also wants to spend more time with his family. I have my kids and work commitments, too.
"It's nice that Long Long Time Ago (and its sequel) have given us opportunities to hang out for meals again.
"We get to meet more frequently while promoting these films."
Long Long Time Ago 2 (PG13), the second part of Neo's nostalgic kampung movie, continues the story of widow Zhao Di (Aileen Tan) and her brother Ah Kun (Lee) after the nationwide floods in the 1960s. It is currently showing here.
You guys must be familiar with Alexandra Village Food Centre.
Lee: Yes I am. There is a popular zi char eatery beside this food centre with great har cheong gai (prawn paste chicken). It started as an ordinary coffee shop and now, it is an air-conditioned restaurant.
Neo: This area (Bukit Merah) is known for great food. Besides Alexandra Village, there is also the ABC Brickworks market nearby.
Lee: We are both quintessential "old Hokkiens" and hawker fare has been and will always be our favourites. We don't like pizza and Western stuff.
I do notice that Jack has become more health-conscious. For example, he used to eat chicken drumsticks, now he eats only chicken breast.
Mark, I heard you don't eat beef. Why?
Lee: It's not religious or pantang (Malay for superstition). I just can't stand the smell. You can give me lamb any day.
Neo: Mark, you are missing out on one of the best foods in the world! Look at my beef noodles here.
I must really get you to try beef some time, since you are not rejecting it for religious reasons. I love beef and I've tried the best Wagyu and Kobe beef in Hong Kong.
Long Long Time Ago 2 is set in a kampung. Both of you grew up in kampungs. What was kampung food like?
Neo: I remember at my Kampong Chai Chee there was very delicious soup bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) in little bowls. The noodles had a springy texture.
Lee: I have memories of pasar malams outside our kampung, the "kok-kok" mee seller going from one place to another, hitting pieces of bamboo together, his char kway teow cooked on burning coals. Yes, coal ash would fly all over the place and even into the kway teow but the char kway teow in those days was the best.
Which one of you has the bigger appetite?
Neo: Both of us can eat like crazy. With age, I think we've both cut down on sweets and desserts. But I hate it that Mark can eat and eat, and yet not put on weight.
Lee: Ya, I eat to de-stress. I need to have supper before I sleep and I hardly need to exercise. The only three times I exercised were the three times I made my babies. (Laughs)
Neo: I'm the total opposite. I pile on the pounds once I eat too much. (Sighs)
Is there any food that either of you cannot do without?
Neo: I know Mark cannot function without coffee, which is something I cannot understand. Why do people get themselves addicted to coffee? I thought people only get alcohol addictions. Mark, how many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
Lee: Erm, I'll let you know tomorrow. I need to go home and count.