He always felt like a misfit in his industry, especially when it came to the kind of offbeat films he made.
Local indie director Tzang Merwyn Tong's work were often set in a surreal environment and incorporated elements of fairy tales and comic fantasy. His latest feature film, Faeryville, takes his signature tropes even further.
Opening on May 26 and rated M18 for mature content, the story unfolds in the alternate universe of Faeryville College and revolves around the Nobodies, a group of misfits (acting newbies Lyon Sim, Farid Assalam and Jae Leung) who are resigned to their fate until new student Laer (Aaron Yong) encourages them to stand up for themselves.
Faeryville is a dystopian teen movie, a stylish coming-of-age film about youth making sense of their idealistic dreams in a post-9/11 world.
The film also supports local anti-bullying advocacy organisation Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY).
"I actually approached CABCY because I wanted the film to be more than a film.
"I wanted to bring awareness. I do care about issues like bullying and idealism, themes prominent in the movie, and the film is a good way to address them," Tong, 36, told M.
Although he was never bullied in school, he felt like he was an outsider and socially awkward at times.
Even now, he has difficulty fitting his ideas - and himself - in.
"When you're different, don't try and be like everyone else. And if you're like everyone else, you don't have to try to be different," he said of a piece of advice that inspired him when he was growing up.
Tong said he learnt how to adapt and fit in, but he always had an outlet to express himself and "be free" - his art.
He was 19 when he made his first film e'TZAINTES (2003), about a group of social outcasts in Faeryville College who form a resistance group.
This was followed by psycho-erotic thriller A Wicked Tale (2005) and sci-fi thriller V1k1 (2011).
He said: "It's so important not to compromise on the art. It's a reason why art is so important to people...
"I could draw and write when I was a kid. I consider that fortunate. Some people don't have this (outlet) or friends.
"The fact that there's bullying going on is heartbreaking, but it's an interesting subject matter to put into film because film brings a certain consciousness.
"We need to start calling (bullying) out because it snowballs... I just want to make what a Singapore film can be, instead of what it should be."
CABCY president Esther Ng said this is the first time the organisation is working closely with a director for a movie.
She said: "We're hoping that when people watch the film, they can think about bullying, how it makes victims feel and the outcome of a person being victimised."
This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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