By Kwok Kar Peng
ON the first day they met, Jack Neo put his arm around her shoulders.
Student Maelle Meurzec, then 16, thought the local director was just being friendly. She was, after all, acting in his movie I Do Do. That was in November 2004.
But his "friendliness" continued even after filming had wrapped.
For the next three months, Maelle had to contend with Jack's attempts to hit on her and take her out to dinner.
Recalling his unwanted attention, the pretty Singaporean citizen of French descent, now 21, did not mince her words.
She called him "a bit of a creep", "sleaze bag" and "a jerk".
Over that period, he sent her about 30 SMSes. He lavished compliments on her and called her "dear" in the messages.
He promised her a bright future in show business should she sign up with his company, J Team.
And despite knowing that she was only 16, he asked her to go out with him for dinner at hotels.
"You don't ask a 16-year-old out for dinner! It's quite wrong," Maelle said in an interview with The New Paper last night at her Upper East Coast Road home.
He refused to take no for an answer, asking her out three more times after she turned him down the first time.
The final straw came on Christmas Day 2004 when Jack sent Maelle an SMS, saying that he wished they could be together.
Upset by the suggestive message, she told her mother, MsAgnes Meurzec, 51, about it.
Her mother said that she should stop replying to his messages. The family also decided to make a police report if Jack continued to harass her.
But it seemed that he finally got the hint when he didn't get a reply from her. He stopped messaging her and they never met again.
Maelle, then a model with MC Models managed by Mark Chow, had auditioned and won a small role in I DoI Do.
She appeared as a restaurant customer for all of five seconds on screen.
She had written down her age and contact number in the application form which she filled.
For two weeks after the filming, J Team called her several times to persuade her to sign a contract with the company.
She turned the offer down as she wasn't interested in becoming an actress.
In the third week, she received an SMS from Jack himself. It started off innocently enough by asking her how she was.
Maelle said she was flattered that a successful Singaporean film director had contacted her. She especially liked his 2003 movie Home run.
However, she felt uncomfortable with his attention and something was not quite right.
She said: "Women always have an intuition but we always want to tell ourselves that the man is only trying tobe friendly.
"We are scared that we are over-analysing things."
But she soon realised that she wasn't. And her feelings towards him soon turned to awkwardness, irritation and disgust.
Five weeks after they met during filming, Jack asked her out for dinner in a hotel, she claimed.
He said he wanted to discuss work opportunities with her and also promised her a dream career. He said she could become a successful model and win leading roles in movies.
"He used these promises as excuses to go out for dinner. It was improper right from the start and it was clear that he was making advances," Maelle said.
"I'm a pretty mature girl, so I could feel that the dinner dates weren't just going to be work-related. I'm not stupid.
"It's wrong because of so many factors. He's old enough to be my father. He's a director and I'm supposed to be one of his staff. You look to people like him to protect you."
Maelle said that she found out Jack was married with children only when the scandal over his affair broke over the weekend. Jack's daughter, the eldest of his four children, is two years younger than Maelle.
After getting the dinner invitation, Maelle showed it to her mother and asked her what she should do.
Ms Meurzec suggested that she ask to meet Jack for coffee, or to meet in his office instead.
But Jack wouldn't accept that and asked her out again three more times, each time for dinner at a hotel.
She rejected him every time, getting firmer each time.
Maelle feels vindicated about how she turned down Jack's advances after finding out about the scandal. Nowadays the family regards the episode as a joke and share stories of "Jack Neo the pervert" with family and friends.
They also laugh every time his advertisements, plugging air conditioners and a maid agency, appear on television.
"This guy is supposedly promoting family values but he can't even hold himself back from sending SMSes to a 16-year-old. I thought he's a bit of a creep, a sleazebag," Maelle said.
With fresh allegations emerging that there are as many as 10 women involved with Jack, she believes what happened to her was not unique. (See report on Page 6.)
But while she and her family weren't too surprised about Jack's affair, Maelle was outraged by the public reaction to Jack's mistress, Wendy Chong, and another woman, Foyce Le Xuan, who also claimed that Jack hit onher.
"On the radio this morning, the people's point of view is that these women are airing their dirty laundry in public, and why can't they keep their mouth shut? Are they trying to wreck his marriage?" she said.
"But my opinion is, he's the jerk, the one who's married with kids.
"I'm not saying the girls are good or not. But the persons in the wrong here are not the girls. If they are single and want to be stupid, they can be.
"But Jack Neo is the one who's married and has children. He's the one with a reputation to maintain.
He's the one who has to say no even when girls jump on him," Maelle said.
Attempts to contact Jack or his manager last night were unsuccessful.
This article was first published in The New Paper.