The New Paper
December 3, 2015
Growing up in Kampung Chai Chee, local director Jack Neo generally has fond memories of his childhood.
But there is one memory that is tinged with fear.
"I was nine when the 1969 racial riots happened, and I remember my village gathering at night to prepare weapons made out of bamboo sticks, in case we were attacked by the nearby kampung," he told The New Paper during a press conference at Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre yesterday.
"I was quite scared at the time, because I was so young. Fortunately, nothing bad happened to us."
Neo's own kampung days served as inspiration for his new feature film Long Long Time Ago, which is set in 1960s Singapore.
It tells the story of widow Zhao Di (Aileen Tan), who struggles to provide for her five children during a time when village gangs and racial tensions threatened the peace.
Actor-host Mark Lee plays Zhao Di's younger brother Ah Kun, while Wang Lei plays Zhao Di's father.
Actor-comedian Suhaimi Yusof also stars in the film, which features a Malay family.
"I wanted to show the multiracial side of Singapore in this film," said Neo, 55.
"The Chinese and Malay communities were very friendly in those days, and spoke each other's language. I wanted this movie to bring back those memories."
Long Long Time Ago will air in local cinemas over Chinese New Year next year. There are also plans to release it in Malaysia and Taiwan.
The trailer, which will be released sometime this month, reveals an epic tale filled with drama, CGI action and a natural disaster.
Neo admitted that the movie, filmed in Ipoh with a budget of $6 million, was a tricky project.
"The initial budget was $5 million, but because I wanted to make improvements, I took a cut from my director's fee to make things happen," said Neo.
"For example, we have a flood scene in the movie, and had to build a huge pool to film it.
"And we also introduced Auro-3D technology, which allows moviegoers to hear sounds, like rainfall, in a more realistic way."
Neo hopes families will watch Long Long Time Ago together, and that children can learn from their parents and grandparents about their kampung days.
"Even the language was different back then," he said.
"People spoke in Hokkien instead of Mandarin, and the words 'chio bu' (pretty girl) weren't a compliment but an insult, as it implied the girl was a slut.
"It's funny how phrases that had a bad connotation now mean the opposite.
"I think kids will be shocked by how things were during that period.
"Children these days have everything done for them, but in my time, we learned to be independent very early."
This article was first published on Dec 3, 2015.
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