With his much-praised understated turn as the patriarch under pressure in the award-winning film Ilo Ilo, veteran television actor Chen Tianwen is once again in the spotlight.
It is the latest twist in a career of ups and downs for someone who professes that he never wanted to be a star. He drifted into acting in the 1980s at the urging of an army mate and became a heart- throb on Channel 8, thanks to his trim athletic physique and manly looks.
But the script for his life story was not to be some smooth-sailing, light-hearted sitcom. His life was turned upside down when a property investment he made some time around 1990 soured and he found himself broke. "I would have only $10 on me and a week to get through. You wonder how you are going to make it and yet, somehow, you do."
Happily, there is another act to the story. At 50, he is enjoying the accolades that have been heaped on Ilo Ilo and his performance in the movie. Directed by Anthony Chen, it won the Camera d'Or award for best first feature film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May.
Made for $700,000, it is showing in cinemas and has earned $680,000 at the box office as of Sept 18.
The comments on Chen's performance have run the gamut from "You looked too fat, really like an uncle" to "That's completely different from you in real life" - which he took as a compliment.
While he idolised Bruce Lee and was a fan of 1970s Taiwanese cinema marquee names Chin Han, Chin Hsiang-lin and Lin Feng-chiao, the home-grown actor felt at the beginning of his career that "acting was just fun".
He signed up for then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation's artist drama training class and out of the few thousand applicants, he was among about 20 trainees who made the cut after a nine- month-long training course. They were offered two-year contracts. This was in 1984. The pay was then $820 a month. Chen marvels: "Who knew that the two years would turn into 30 years?"
In those three decades, he has gone from playing heroic leading men to supporting parts and, now, he is enjoying renewed attention for his restrained performance in the film that wowed Cannes.