SINGAPORE - Newbie actress Sherly Ng may play a Malay in local movie That Girl In Pinafore, but the 21-year-old is Indonesian-Chinese in real life.
In the cinematic tribute to xinyao, Singapore's Mandarin folk movement of the 1980s, Ng portrays Liyana, a Malay student who is fluent in Mandarin and even gives Mandarin tuition to a Chinese student (played by fellow newbie Kelvin Mun).
The movie, set in the early 1990s, also stars local artists Daren Tan, Jayley Woo and Julie Tan.
Ng, who was a Pasir Ris Secondary School student, came to Singapore to study when she was 14 and says getting mistaken for a Malay is something she has got used to.
"Many people don't expect me to speak Mandarin. Some thought I was pan-Asian, while others thought I was Malay. No one thought I was Chinese."
She recalled several amusing episodes involving cab drivers.
"They would always turn around and stare at me in shock when I gave them directions in Mandarin, and they would ask me why I could speak the language so well. It's quite funny."
That Girl In Pinafore director Chai Yee Wei, 37, was initially looking for a Malay actress to play Liyana, but found it tough to find one who could speak both Malay and Mandarin and sing well.
He said: "When I first saw Sherly, I thought she was Malay. She could speak Malay naturally and Mandarin fluently, and she could sing... I thought she was very suitable for the role."
To prepare for the role, which she snagged after responding to a casting call on Facebook, Ng had to pick up the local Malay accent from her Malay friends.
She explained: "I can understand Malay, but it is slightly different as compared to Bahasa. It wasn't that difficult to learn though, so I didn't face too many problems."
But she did have to learn all the xinyao songs from scratch as she had not heard of them before during her childhood years in Jakarta . Ng had to go on YouTube to familiarise herself with classic 80s local folk hits such as Xi Shui Chang Liu (Trickling Water Flows Far) and Di Tanjong Katong.
The tourism and resorts management graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic said: "The director sent us all the songs we had to sing for the movie, and I realised I didn't know all of them. I found some of the music familiar but I didn't know the lyrics.
"I listened to the songs several times a day to make sure that I got the words right."
Ng, who has had bit roles in a few Channel 8 and Channel 5 dramas, was also a contestant in the Channel 5 reality singing competition The Final 1.
When asked if she has considered auditioning for Suria, Ng laughed and said: "I am not sure if I can do an entire role in Malay. If I am acting as a news anchor, then it would be easier as I just need to read off the script.
"For now, I am open to all kinds of roles."
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