For a movie with a "micro" budget, the drama 1400 surprisingly boasts a cast that is none too shabby. The line-up includes MediaCorp stars Desmond Tan, one of the heavily promoted young actors dubbed the "8 Dukes", and Ya Hui, who won her first Star Award for Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes last year.
But some local movie buffs will turn their eyes to the return of Angeline Yap and Will Lawandi, both of whom had starred in last year's local erotic thriller Lang Tong, which could be the most sexually explicit Singaporean film to date.
1400's director Derrick Lui, who cast Yap after auditioning her, says: "Unlike Lang Tong, I'm not selling sex, I'm selling love. I didn't need to see her body, all I needed to see was whether she could act."
The film, Lui's debut feature, makes its world premiere at Canada's Montreal World Film Festival in the Focus on World Cinema section, with screenings tomorrow and on Sunday.
It comprises four stories about love taking place in a hotel. Tan plays a deaf pianist and Ya Hui is a blind florist in one segment; Yap plays a foreign prostitute who yearns to settle down and Lawandi a married man having an affair.
Lui shot the film at the end of 2013 and early last year over three weekends before Ya Hui broke out and Lang Tong was made.
And as Lui, 39, tells Life: "Desmond Tan was the lead in my short film When Night Fa11s (2009) and that was before he got big roles at MediaCorp and I'm happy that he yin shui si yuan (remembered I gave him a break)."
Ya Hui came on board after watching the film and said to Lui: "One day if you have a role for me, I hope I can do it."
When Night Fa11s made the rounds of the film festival circuit and won various awards including for Best Short Film (Platinum), Best Director (Platinum) and Best Editor (Gold) at the International Movie Awards in Jakarta in 2013.
But even with award-winning short films and a background in television and corporate videos under his belt, Lui had difficulty raising money for his feature. This was partly due to the fact that he did not have a script to show potential investors as he preferred to work without one.
"I could tell them my full scene breakdown, but it was useless, they still wanted to see a script. A few times, I was very close to getting it commercially produced, but it all fell apart," he says.
Eventually he bit the bullet and decided to make the film anyway. "It was tough... I had to gather a lot of favours from friends who believed in the film, that it was worthy of coming on board," adds Lui, who is married with three children aged six, four and two.
He declines to reveal what the production budget was. An Indiegogo campaign last year to raise US$5,000 (S$7,050) for postproduction received just more than half that amount and the project was eventually completed only in March.
The premiere of 1400 at a major festival comes as sweet vindication for the film-maker. Ultimately, Lui hopes that the movie can be picked up for local distribution. As he puts it: "You don't make a film to keep in your cupboard."
This article was first published on September 2, 2015.
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