Thrown in at the deep end

She has been in showbiz for close to 30 years.

But you could say local actress Aileen Tan only recently got her feet wet - literally, that is.

For a flood scene that was filmed last week for local director Jack Neo's movie Long Long Time Ago, the 48-year-old had to splash around for three consecutive nights - from 8pm till 8am - in a man-made 1.2m-deep pool filled with water and mud.

The Mandarin and Hokkien drama is set against the backdrop of the 1969 race riots in Singapore and centres on a Chinese family in a kampung.

The $5 million film is slated for release early next year.

The sequence of flood scenes was based on a real flood that happened in Singapore that year.

Tan plays an uneducated widow with five young children who is stuck in the rising waters when she leaves her house to get help.


Local actor Mark Lee, who plays her brother, shows up and helps fend off a python lurking in the water.

Tan told The New Paper over the phone: "The first two nights (of filming), I felt quite excited as it was an interesting experience. It was the first time I was shooting a scene that was so elaborate.

"On the third night, I was thinking, 'When am I going to be done with this scene?' The water had been there for two weeks (since the pool was built) and it was getting dirtier and dirtier.

"It was cold and we had wrinkled skin from soaking so much in the water."

After filming ended last Thursday, Tan developed rashes on her thighs, probably caused by exposure to the dirty water, which cleared up after she applied coconut oil on her skin.

She also developed a high fever, but recovered after sleeping for an entire day last Friday.

But Tan is not complaining.

Filming for Long Long Time Ago, which took place in Ipoh, Malaysia, for 62 days and in Singapore for five days, wrapped last week.

She said: "It's quite a meaty role and it's a very good experience for me."

The production team also took good care of the cast, she said, and kept refilling the pool with hot water to keep the actors warm.

"They knew we were shivering so they even prepared a sauna room with lights and a steamer to ensure that we didn't fall sick," she said. "But every time we got used to the warmth, we needed to go into the water again. That requires a lot of courage."

Having to speak entirely in Hokkien and Malay for Long Long Time Ago was not easy either.

Tan found her lines to be an even bigger challenge than the physical discomfort.

"It was difficult because I had to memorise so many lines in the midst of the rain pouring down on my face and it's not in Mandarin or English," she said.

"I am looking forward to the final product as I've never spoken (in) dialect or Malay for any shows in my whole acting career."

Real rescue boats used in scene

For the large-scale flood scene in Long Long Time Ago, Jack Neo's production crew hired local construction firm Koh Brothers to build a 20m by 12m pool at the Koh Brothers Building at Lorong Pendek, off MacPherson Road.

The pool, which was 1.2m deep, required 300 cubic metres of water to fill.

To make the scene more realistic, the crew also filled the pool with two truckloads of mud and made use of artificial rain.

Neo, 55, had wanted to film at a public swimming pool but was rejected because of the massive amount of mud required.

He also considered digging a trench but ditched the idea due to the lack of land in Singapore.

To maintain authenticity, the team even borrowed the rescue boats used during the 1969 floods from the Ministry of Defence.

The flood scene cost Neo a five-figure sum, making Long Long Time Ago his most expensive movie to date.

Life of Pi

Neo told Lianhe Wanbao: "I watched behind-the-scenes footage of (Taiwanese-American director) Ang Lee's (2012 film) Life Of Pi and they also made use of a pool during filming. Whatever Hollywood is doing, we are also doing now.

"I remember I was in primary school in 1969 when the flood happened. I went back to my kampung house to see the whole place in a mess. Even the bridge behind my school was washed away by the flood."

This article was first published on September 17, 2015.
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