It took award-winning director Royston Tan seven years to make a new feature as he had been feeling burned out, he says.
"Since I made 15 (2003), I was making almost one feature every year, so I just felt like I really needed to take a break and spend some time on my own and with my family," he tells Life! following a press conference promoting his upcoming flick 3688.
Slated for release in June next year, the new movie will be his first feature since he made 12 Lotus (2008). He has worked on shorts such as Vicky (2014) and Popiah (2013), and TV movies such as Old Places (2010) in the meantime.
The 38-year-old director admits that it was tough getting back into the groove of feature film-making at first.
"The first few days of shooting this was so tiring. I called up (director) Eric Khoo and told him that I had forgotten how tiring it was to make a feature film.
"And he said that this is what happened to him when he made Be With Me (2005), because that was also about seven years on since he made his last feature. He told me, 'You'll get through this'," he recalls with a laugh.
3688 is centred on a parking attendant named Fei Fei, who dreams of becoming a singer like her idol and namesake, the legendary late Taiwanese singer Fong Fei-fei.
Earlier at the press conference, Tan had announced that home-grown singer Joi Chua, 36, who makes her acting debut here, had been cast as the lead of Fei Fei.
The rookie actress says that filming was "very challenging" as she "had to cry a lot, which was not easy".
She adds: "When Royston first asked me to be in his movie, I thought he was joking. But he was very sincere in asking me, so I thought I'd take on the project. I hope I did okay."
The director had nothing but praise for his leading lady, as he says: "I am more than satisfied with her performance. I cast her because of her lovely singing voice, and there is also this quality to her that is very attractive. When she wears a hat, she kind of looks like Fong Fei-fei, don't you think?"
Fong Fei-fei, who died two years ago at the age of 58 from lung cancer, was known as the Queen Of Hats for donning numerous colourful and elaborate headgear.
Other cast members unveiled include veteran singer Rahimah Rahim, who plays a strict parking attendant, as well as getai veteran Liu Lingling in the role of a kopitiam auntie, and rapper Shigga Shay as her son and rapping kopitiam boy.
Despite the cast of strong musical talents, Tan says that this is "not exactly a musical". Still, it will feature several songs, including six of Fong's classic tunes such as Applause.
"Fong Fei-fei songs have always been an inspiration to me - they're timeless," he says.
More than just pure admiration, there is another reason he wanted to make a movie inspired by Fong - as a gesture of appreciation for his father.
"I have always wanted to take my parents to see Fong Fei-fei in concert and it's such a pity that I couldn't before she died. So I wanted to make this film as my little way of saying 'thanks' and 'I love you' to my dad, whom I hadn't made a film for yet." Spending so much time at home during his break had given him the opportunity to bond with his father.
"Every night, no matter what time I came home and whether I've had dinner or not, he would have cooked and filled a Tupperware with food for me. I may have taken it for granted before, but I really noticed all the little things he has been doing for me during my time off at home. So this film is for him and for all the fathers out there."
As moviegoers will notice, 3688 once again makes use of numbers in the title. This is in the tradition of his past feature films: 15 (2003), 4:30 (2006), 881 (2007) and 12 Lotus (2008).
He explains that 3688 said in Hokkien sounds like the Mandarin title, which is "xiang ru fei fei" - literally "wanting to be Fei Fei", but also sounds like a Chinese idiom meaning "imagining fantastical thoughts".
He says with a chuckle: "It's not like I'm forcing myself to make the title a number - I just think it works here. I'm running out of words, so numbers work well for me."
This article was first published on Dec 10, 2014.
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