Filming of dialect TV drama had to be kept a secret
With evident relief, local film-maker Royston Tan said he can now sleep peacefully after being officially revealed as the director of Eat Already?, a TV drama filmed mainly in Hokkien.
He first hinted at it in an interview with The New Paper in May, saying: "I have a big 'naughty' project coming up... It will be out in a few months' time and it is going to be historic."
In July, Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao reported on the filming of an attempted suicide scene involving local actor Elvin Ng's character on the set of Eat Already?
Both instances, Tan received "reminders" from the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), which had collaborated with Mediacorp for the drama, to keep it a secret.
News of the drama was embargoed until yesterday, and the 39-year-old looked flustered when asked about getting into trouble after it was almost leaked to the public.
At yesterday's press conference for the drama, Tan told TNP: "MCI was quite cool about (the leak), they said to wait for the filming of the drama to be completed before the minister (for MCI) can announce everything to the media."
After successfully working on last year's Pioneer Generation Package campaign video, which was filmed in Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese, Tan and ad agency Tribal Worldwide Singapore were approached by MCI to direct Eat Already?
With 10 half-hour episodes, the drama aims to educate senior citizens on government policies.
According to Tan, it was 90 per cent filmed in Hokkien and 10 per cent in Teochew.
Also starring Li Yinzhu,Wang Lei, Marcus Chin, Aileen Tan and Brandon Wong, Eat Already? is built around themes of healthy eating, active ageing and lifelong learning.
ACTING: Eat Already? will also star Li Yinzhu (middle) and Aileen Tan (right).
It will premiere on Sept 9 at 12pm on Channel 8 and will be broadcast weekly.
Tan, who feels "very honoured" at being given the opportunity, said: "I have always wanted to direct something in Hokkien.
"Being the first director to do a dialect TV drama after so many years of not seeing one on TV, it was definitely a breakthrough for me.
"There are a few things I really value, and one of them is the older generation. I always feel sad when I hear stories, such as a grandmother telling me that they cannot communicate with the younger generation because they do not understand each other.
"With this new dialect TV drama, I feel that it will open up a little door between the two generations."
Tan, who also feels that the drama would have been "beneficial and familiar" to his late grandmother, hopes that TV dramas in more dialects can be made.
"Singapore is multi-cultural and there are so many languages in our country - hopefully this can showcase different voices (on TV)," said Tan.
Eat Already? is his first attempt at directing a TV drama. He described the experience as "very tough".
He said: "For TV shows, the pace is very fast and actors have different schedules. They might have other shows to film as well.
"Whereas for films, I will have enough time to craft the entire thing and do workshops to develop the characters."
Being the first director to do a dialect TV drama after so many years of not seeing one on TV, it is definitely a breakthro-ugh for me.
- Royston Tan
Elvin Ng had to speak Hokkien in his role as an 'Ah Beng'
Despite not being fluent in Hokkien, local TV actor Elvin Ng was keen to be a part of Eat Already? as he wanted to try something new.The 35-year-old, who has mostly acted in Mandarin shows in his 11 year-long career, shared that his command of the dialect has improved since filming ended.
He told The New Paper in a separate interview: "I thought it would be an interesting experience to speak Hokkien and learn something from it as well.
"Initially, I felt a bit out of place (among the older actors) because everything was in Hokkien. But once momentum was gained, it was okay and very fun."
Script-reading and Hokkien "training sessions" with director Royston Tan helped prepare Ng for his role of Ah Bee, the eldest son of Li Yinzhu's character.
His character turns into a gambling addict after his father dies and he is unintentionally neglected by his mother.
Ng said: "Every day, Royston would ask me questions such as 'Have you eaten? What are you doing? Where do you stay? How is your house like?', and I would have to reply him in Hokkien."
The biggest challenge for Ng was having to speak Hokkien smoothly as his character is an "Ah Beng".
Even though Eat Already? is targeted at senior citizens, Ng feels that it is a "nice way" for him to attract a different target audience.
"Uncles and aunties do approach me on the streets.
"Once, a girl, her mother and her grandmother attended my fan gathering," he said.
He joked: "I do appeal to the aunties because based on the TV roles I did, they think of me as a good boy type who is the ideal son-in-law for their daughters."