Morphing of Moses

Morphing of Moses
Actor and tour guide Moses Lim, best known for his patriach role in sitcom, Under One Roof

It has been 11 years since the sitcom Under One Roof last aired new episodes and Moses Lim, who played patriarch and mini-mart owner Tan Ah Teck in the show, reveals a fact few fans know.

The bit his character was known for - the long-winded "moral of the story" parables, the one that made Ah Teck's children want to flee the room - had caused the actor no small amount of worry.

The once-portly actor, now still on the heavy side but much slimmer than he used to be, was recently announced as a member of the cast in Our Sister Mambo, a comedy to be released next year to mark its producer Cathay's 80th anniversary.

He reveals that the father-children scenes that became a trademark of Under One Roof required him to recite a long tale without stumbling.

"It was a whole lot of dialogue, with no stops, with a live audience. I was allowed to stop, but if I did that, it would create a lot of problems for everyone on set. They would have to redo everything, so I tried my best not to stop," says Lim, 65.

Adding to the stress were the rules against improvisation or substitution. Once the actors received the final script, the text was sacred.

He thinks he made it through the takes because of the "mo xie" tests he took in school. These required him to memorise Chinese poems and essays, to be recalled in a written test. It had trained his mind, he thinks. He used the same technique to remember the longer sitcom monologues: first, digesting the meaning and intent of the lines, followed by repetition drills.

"It's quite blessed being Chinese-educated," says the former student of the bilingual Catholic High School and Maris Stella, with a smile.

In 1995, in what is thought to be the first move of its kind, he crossed the divide separating the linguistically segregated worlds of the English-language Channel 5 and the Chinese-language Channel 8, moving from 8 to 5 to become a leading player in both. He would pave the way for crossover actor-hosts such as Adrian Pang, Gurmit Singh and Wong Li-Lin.

For the English-speaking audience, Lim is so closely associated with the character he played in Under One Roof, Singapore's first locally produced sitcom, that strangers today still call him Tan Ah Teck - not as a joke, but because they genuinely conflate him with his character.

"It's interesting. When I go through immigration at Changi Airport, they call out - 'Hello, Mr Tan!'" says Lim. He corrects them gently, he says.

Because the show was exported to Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Canada, he gets recognised outside Singapore too. The last occasion was in Adelaide some months ago, when he was playing host to a group of Singapore foodies on one of his gourmet tours.

When he thinks of the ground-breaking programme, the one that showed it was possible to make a Hollywood-saturated audience tune in to a local English-language sitcom, he sounds both proud and wistful. It ran for seven seasons, ending in 2003.

"I miss the show. I really miss that show," says Lim in an interview held at The Straits Times office in Toa Payoh. He is keen to do a movie treatment of the series, in the same way the other fondly remembered sitcom, Phua Chu Kang, received one in 2010.

He ought to pitch the idea to Ms Choo Meileen, chairman and chief executive of Cathay Organisation.

Ms Choo did not know Lim personally, but like many in Singapore, came to know him as Tan Ah Teck and felt that in Our Sister Mambo, he would be good in the part of the father with four unmarried daughters. The script is to be penned by Michael Chiang, writing his first screenplay since the hit Army Daze (1996), also produced by Cathay.

The film will be a homage to the Cathay classic Our Sister Hedy (1957), with its profits going to charity. It will also star Michelle Chong as Mambo, one of the four daughters.

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