The Straits Times
Nov 25, 2015
Michelle Goh recalls she was goofing around on the dance floor at Zouk with her cousin from Vancouver when she was approached to be in a movie.
"I was sceptical. Whoever heard of a film industry in Singapore? I thought they were sketchy people trying to lure some young girls to do soft porn," she tells Life.
At that time, she had no interest in acting. But the director thought she was perfect for the role and she eventually said yes.
"I thought it's one of those projects that is very high school; you do it, no one sees it, poof, that's it. Twenty years later, I'm still being asked about it," says the 41-year-old.
The movie, released in 1995, was Mee Pok Man, a seminal film directed by Eric Khoo which was widely credited for reviving the Singapore industry after a long fallow period.
It is celebrating its 20th anniversary at the Singapore International Film Festival. Restored by the Asian Film Archive, it will be screened on Sunday.
Goh will always be remembered as the Mee Pok girl and that is fine with her. After all, it is her favourite dish. As we tuck into the noodles at Hua Bee Restaurant, the coffee shop in Tiong Bahru where the film was shot - and where a movie poster of her and co-star Joe Ng hangs in the posher Bincho eatery at the back of the space - she urges me to try the one in Crawford Lane.
This friendly, chatty mee pok enthusiast is altogether different from the sultry babe she was made out to be after her turn as Bunny the prostitute in the dark drama. And sexiness was, in fact, the furthest thing on her mind during filming.
She recalls that she had to do a scene with an actor playing a customer. "Eric's like, 'Okay, over here, you take your top off and the client's lying in bed.' I'm like, 'What my what off?' I burst into tears."
In the end, she kept her clothes on for the shot. "It was perfect for the scene because Bunny was sad and I had puffy eyes. It went well with it."
As for the sexpot label, she fought it as much as she could. She says: "What one must understand is that actresses are mostly blank canvases when it comes to photo shoots. We show up on set, they put make-up on us, they do our hair, we put on an outfit and they tell us to pose this way. A lot of times, our image is not within our control.
"I never wanted to be whatever you called me. Throw a girl with big hair and red lips into a tight dress and she'll be called a sexpot, right?"
Apart from that downside, Goh acknowledges that Mee Pok Man has opened doors for her.
She signed on with the local television station, then called Television Corporation of Singapore, for three years and acted in 1990s series such as My Grandson, The Doctor and VR Man.
The shows were panned, but she enjoyed her small-screen stint: "It's like going to acting school, except you're being paid."
She gave that up in 1998 when she left for Vancouver to join her then boyfriend, Canadian-Chinese actor Edmond Wong. They had met while making the Channel 5 series Dreamers. "I was young at 24, I thought I found love and wanted to take life easy."
Goh, who is now single, spent the next 10 years in the Canadian city.
Describing herself as a jack of all trades, she tried her hand at marketing/business development for a medical group and then as a relationship manager at a bank.
"It was a difficult time because I didn't know how to use an Excel spreadsheet and all that stuff. Everybody thought I was dumb, but I'm like, 'Hey dude, I'm not dumb, would you know what a gaffer or medium close-up means?' It's just a different industry."
Two years ago, she discovered flotation therapy in Vancouver and she decided to set up a facility for it in Singapore last year at Novena Medical Centre.
In the therapy, clients float in warm salt water in a controlled environment with minimal stimulus to relieve stress as well as aches and pain.
Of her entrepreneurial venture, she says: "It's my first time starting my own business. There are a lot of challenges. In life, we're constantly challenged, whatever industry we're in. I like that. I like learning. Even if I fall flat on my face, it's a lesson learnt."
As for acting again, "never say never" is her response.
She muses: "It's good to be older because you have a different perspective about things. It doesn't matter if somebody criticises me; I'm able to not take things personally. I think it's a good time to go back into something."
In fact, she has a cameo in Khoo's latest film, erotic drama In The Room, which references his previous movies, including Mee Pok Man and My Magic (2008).
Initially, she was not keen on participating, but he persuaded her by saying, "You just have to sit there". When she turned up, she found out she had to cry in an emotional scene.
"I've not acted for 10 years and I show up on set and I'm supposed to feel it just like that? But that's the magical thing about being on set with Eric. He brings it out of you. I sobbed like there was no tomorrow and he got what he wanted."
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