Jack Neo: 'I want to capture kampung spirit'

Jack Neo: 'I want to capture kampung spirit'
Jack Neo’s newest film Long Long Time Ago will take viewers from Singapore’s independence to its present day.

Pig rearing, catching guppies, swimming in rivers, playing in mud - these were some of Jack Neo's favourite childhood memories. Now, he hopes to turn them into a two-part feature film about Singapore's history.

At a press conference at Marina Bay Sands yesterday, the 54-year-old film-maker spoke about his newest project, a feature film called Long Long Time Ago, which will take viewers "from Singapore's independence in 1965 all the way to its present day".

"I'm probably the oldest film-maker in Singapore, and I'm probably the only one who grew up in a kampung," Neo said.

He spent 16 years in Kampung Chai Chee before moving to a HDB flat in Eunos.

"So I really want to capture that kampung spirit as I believe that was a vital part of Singapore history."

Though the film is still in the scripting stage, Neo shared that the story "revolves around a single mother who goes through all odds to raise her five young children".

He has planned it to be a two-parter as "there's no way we can capture 50 years of history in a two-hour film".

Part 1, which will focus on the kampung days, will be released at the end of next year as part of the SG50 celebrations.

Part 2, which sees the family adapting to life in their HDB flat, is scheduled for the Chinese New Year season in 2016.

Neo admitted that the $6 million production is an ambitious undertaking.

He is still in the midst of doing post-production work for Ah Boys To Men: Frogmen, which is slated for a February release next year. He also has to start work on 7 Letters, the SG50 omnibus film where he is directing one of the seven short stories.

But his biggest challenge is not trying to juggle all these projects.

"My main headache will be finding a suitable cast for Long Long Time Ago," said Neo.


As he wants to truly capture the essence of that period, he hopes to find actors who can speak dialect and not look too modern. "Nobody really spoke Mandarin those days, everyone spoke dialect. It'll be hard to find credible actors who can speak dialect fluently, let alone getting kids who speak Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese."

Neo plans to hold an open casting call next month, and will be seeking help from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan or the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (clan associations) to see if they know of any children capable of handling dialects.

The worst-case scenario will be tapping on overseas talent. But he prefers to keep the cast local.

Filming will start in Malaysia next May.

"When we were scouting for filming locations in Malaysia, we came across this kampung, which brought tears to my eyes," said Neo.

"Those attap huts, coconut trees, the smell... my childhood memories came flooding back."


This article was first published on Dec 11, 2014.
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