He lived and breathed film

He lived and breathed film
Film buff-turned-director Toh Hai Leong is best known for his 2004 social satire film, Zombie Dogs. Toh was diagnosed of Type 2 diabetes in November 2005.

SINGAPORE - The local film community has lost one of its most outspoken and passionate members.

Toh Hai Leong, director and star of the cult social satire film Zombie Dogs (2004) and former Straits Times film reviewer, died of diabetes-related pneumonia on Wednesday afternoon. He was 58.

The 2007 documentary F chronicled his struggle with Type 2 diabetes from November 2005.

Before illness struck him, his passion for film apparently knew no bounds. When he could not afford an air ticket to attend the 2003 Bangkok International Film Festival, he took the alternative route of bussing overland for two days.

Film-maker Tan Pin Pin, 43, who recounted this incident, reposted on Facebook a piece she had written about Toh for the online publication Criticine in December 2009.

"He spoke very fast, spoke non-stop and spoke always about film. He was and still is my most intense brush with cinephilia. It was as if his life depended on it, and perhaps it did," she had written.

They had first met in the early 1990s at a Singapore Film Society screening of the 1941 classic Citizen Kane. Then secretary of the society, he sneaked Tan in when she did not have the money to buy a membership. "I have never forgotten that moment of kindness," she added.

On the other hand, he was intensely principled when it came to paying for his own ticket.

Film programmer Zhang Wenjie, 38, tells Life!: "He would insist on paying $6 or $8 for a film ticket even at the lowest point of his life when he didn't have the money to take the bus. I've never seen anyone like that. He's the most fervent and ardent friend of local film- makers."

Toh was not one to mince his words when it came to film.

Recalling her most striking impressions of him, film-maker Wee Li Lin, 40, says: "He once stood up and blasted one of my short films with vigour, prompting me to look away in embarrassment.

"Another time, he stood up and lauded another one with equal vigour, prompting me to rush over and ask him to sit down in embarrassment."

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