Non-Singaporeans have been cast in two of the leading roles in 1965, a movie commemorating Singapore's 50 years of independence. China-born actor Qi Yuwu will play a police inspector and Malaysian actress Deanna Yusoff a single mother in the film that is slated for release next year, in time for SG50, the nationwide celebrations to mark Singapore's 50th birthday.
The movie tells the stories of immigrants and natives during the time leading up to Singapore's independence in the titular year and is said to portray the fragility of racial harmony.
Executive producer of the movie, Mr Daniel Yun, defends the casting, saying that it was "a conscious decision not to just have actors from one sector" of Singapore.
The 55-year-old says at a press conference held at Sheraton Towers yesterday: "Every role represents a certain sector of Singapore in our pioneer generation, and we are honouring this generation, so it's important that the actor or actress represents this sector."
The actor who will portray Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was not revealed. Mr Yun says the information will be released in due course, but reiterates that despite what previous reports have said, this will "not be a biopic" of Mr Lee.
He adds: "Mr Lee will be one of the characters in the film - not the main character and the movie will start and end with him, but it's not a biopic of him."
The $2.8-million movie directed by Randy Ang, who did last year's cop thriller re:solve, will start pre-production later this month, with principal photography to start in November.
Qi's role is described as a cop who was from China but has been living in Singapore for about 15 years - something the 37-year-old actor can relate to in real life.
Says Qi, in a mix of Mandarin and English: "I've been in Singapore for around the same number of years, and Singapore holds special meaning and connection for me too, so there are similarities between our characters.
"But anyway, what's more important is who is suitable for the role, and not the nationality. There are plenty of China films that feature Korean actors, and I'm sure many actors in American films are not Americans."
Mr Yun says Qi has been attached to the project for quite some time - long before the movie was even intended for the SG50 celebrations - and adds that his character, "to some extent, was written with him in mind".
As for Deanna's role, Mr Yun found her suitable as he had been looking for someone who "is very primal, but with grace and a certain attitude", all qualities which he feels the star of Army Daze (1996) and Anna And The King (1990) possesses.
The 47-year-old actress will play a mother at a crossroads where she is forced to make crucial choices between going down different paths in life.
She says: "I'm Malay and I'm playing a Malay woman. Even though I'm Malaysian, we were together with Singapore at one point in time. We shouldn't have those barriers that because I'm not Singaporean, I can't play the role. I think people should focus less on that kind of thing and more on what the movie's all about and what the producers are trying to say with the film."
She looks forward to her part as it will give her the chance to look less glamorous for a change.
She says with a grin: "People tend to want to glamorise me, so it's nice to be able to play a plain woman this time. I'll be looking very natural - to have no make-up on my face will be quite nice - and I've even been asked to put on some weight. So I'm working on that."
This article was first published on Sep 3, 2014.
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