A life of fate, drama and irony

A life of fate, drama and irony

Chai Yee Wei had been preparing himself for a career in film-making all his young life, but he did not know it at the time.

Born into a business family and trained to work in finance or to be an entrepreneur, Chai would eventually follow his dream and go on to make two works of horror, Blood Ties (2009) and Twisted (2011), the xinyao (Chinese folk music) romance That Girl In Pinafore (2013) and now, the made-in-China I Want You.

The film is a fiction-based spinoff of the hugely popular Chinese reality TV show The Voice Of China and stars several former contestants as young people exploring life, love and music. Chai, a Singaporean, got the directing gig for the production because its China backers saw in Pinafore his sensitivity to stories about pop songs. It will open here in March.

We are here in the 37-year-old's terrace home in Zion Road, which he shares with wife Diane. They have no children. Built in 1963, the house used to belong to a photographer, he says, and it does not lack for industrial chic - it has raw cement floors, exposed storage areas, liberal use of plastic sheeting.

The shelves hold Chai's pop culture treasures, bought on eBay or held on from his teens. Here are classic works of horror from Sam Raimi, the American master of gore who would inspire his first features. Next to them are films from the Star Wars canon.

On the floor is a prized possession, an R2D2 robot that is a working DVD projector (in the movie, the squat, dome- topped hero projects a holographic image of Princess Leia pleading for help).

There are Chinese wuxia novels on other shelves, pointing to his almost exclusively Mandarin-speaking childhood and teens, one that would lead to his love of xinyao and the making of That Girl In Pinafore. The coming-of-age movie won critical applause for its heartfelt appreciation of a less complicated time for teenagers.

A collection of vintage Apple hardware in another part of the home points to Chai's love of the nuts and bolts of technology, a passion that led him in 2010 to found MochaChai Lab, now one of Singapore's leading high-end digital post-production facilities. "I first got the equipment to solve my own post-production problems," he says.

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