The Straits Times
Wednesday, Feb 3, 2016
It used to be a matter of fact that boys in Chinese families here were favoured over girls. Sons were fawned on and fussed over like kings while daughters were treated like second-class citizens.
Actress Aileen Tan had to relive the sort of favouritism that she experienced in her own life, when she filmed director Jack Neo's new movie, the period drama Long Long Time Ago.
In the film set in 1960s Singapore, her character Zhao Di is a second wife who, after the death of her husband, is forced to move back to her father's kampung home.
She is heavily pregnant and has three daughters in tow. Her younger brother Ah Kun (Mark Lee) and her father (Wang Lei) - whom she has to address as fourth uncle for superstitious reasons - are none too pleased with the situation.
The $5 million-budgeted film opens in cinemas tomorrow, while Part Two will be released on March 31.
At a recent press conference for the film, Tan, 49, tears up when she recalls her own growing-up years.
"My mum was that way, so it felt like I was her when I played Zhao Di. My parents favoured boys over girls all the way and all the good things were given to my brother."
She was the third of four children, the eldest of whom was the only male. Both her parents have died.
She recalls: "My brother was good at studying, so money that was earned went towards his education. We were quite poor. My dad was a taxi driver. When it came time for my brother's examinations, none of us could watch television programmes so that he could focus."
There was special treatment for him at Chinese New Year as well. "That was the only time we could afford new clothes and we could buy only one set each. He would get more."
One incident in particular sticks out.
"When my father struck the lottery once, he bought a Mickey Mouse watch only for the boy. We girls got nothing."
It was simply the way things were and Tan now recounts her memories lightly and without bitterness.
"We didn't dare say anything. It's not like kids today who go on about their rights. Back then, they had the cane in hand and, if you didn't listen, you would be hit."
Women themselves were guilty of the prejudices and discriminatory behaviour and would pass it on to their children.
In the movie, Zhao Di, whose name means to summon a younger brother in Chinese, tells her daughters that they should be good housewives.
Veteran getai performer Wang Lei, 55, confessed to such behaviour, too, with his two daughters, now aged 32 and 24, and a son aged 28.
He says: "It wasn't just favouring the son a little more in the past. It was overwhelmingly favouring him. If I had $100, I would give him $99 and give my daughters $1."
How times have changed.
Wang now values his daughters equally after receiving heartwarming messages from them while filming the movie, reveals his co-star Lee. "True, true, true," agrees Wang eagerly.
Comedian Lee, 47, himself has two daughters and a son and the favoured child is his daughter Calista, seven. "When she cries in the room, I'm the first on my feet. Whereas when No. 2 and No. 3 cry, I'll ask my wife to go take a look."
The reason has nothing to do with gender, though. "It's because she's my first child and we had waited eight years for her."
Once, his four-year-old son Marksonn asked: "Why you always beat me? You never beat jeh jeh (Hokkien for elder sister)."
Lee says: "My heart grew cold while my wife sniggered in the corner."
• Long Long Time Ago opens in cinemas on Feb 4.
This article was first published on February 03, 2016.
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