Friday, October 24, 2014

GameStart 2014: Yasemin Arslan interview

GameStart 2014: Yasemin Arslan interview
By Jedd Jong

The inaugural GameStart videogame convention kicks off tomorrow and ahead of that, I got to talk to one of the invited guests, Australian cosplayer Yasemin Arslan. She was picked to be the live-action face of the character Lilith from Borderlands 2 and GameStart marks her first official convention appearance outside of Australia. Today, she dressed as Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. She discussed what got her into videogames, why movies adapted from videogames haven't really worked and how she deals with creeps at cons.

Within the last few years of gaming, who do you think are some of the great characters to have come from videogames?

Especially over the years, I’ve seen there’s been a lot more complexity with the characters. Even classic games, for example, when Halo started, you had the lead character the Master Chief just be a silent character. But I actually loved the transformation they did in Halo 4, with Cortana as well, they actually made them more human. Definitely love them. Also Ellie from The Last of Us, she’s one of my favourite characters. Regardless of the gender, I just found that to be a really strong, real character, you actually believe that she existed.

Do you feel there’s a difference when you cosplay characters from games as opposed to those from movies because you’ve been in the shoes of the character playing that game?

Absolutely. I think when you’re playing a game, you pretend that you’re that individual, so partaking in…bringing them to life becomes more intimate, more personal. You could say the same thing about movies if you’re more of a fan, but especially with games, you’re literally controlling that character so it’s definitely more personal.

What was one of the first video games that you played?

My first video game is actually Abe’s Oddysee. That was my first and favourite game. I wasn’t that much of a “smart person” as a kid, especially Abe’s Oddysee, there are these levels where you’ve got to test yourself out, you know? Push yourself, the Mudokon, you’ve got to save all of them. That was really fun for me. But then from there I discovered Metal Gear Solid, and that was where I really discovered my passion for FPS games. Now I’ve moved to like Halo, Planetside 2 and also Destiny, I’m playing that a lot right now.

There’s been some controversy in the news with regards to the role of female gamers and game developers within the industry. Is it okay if I ask what your thoughts on that are?

I personally think it’s absolutely disgusting what’s happening in the industry. Gender should not matter these days. To the fact that people are committing suicide over this, because of the bullying, it’s absolutely despicable. We’re all adults, we should all be grown up by now and there should be a chance to develop the industry. More and more women are getting into gaming, we’re adding popularity, finances, we should be embracing this! Gender shouldn’t matter but I think both sides are really tearing it down into a war which is tearing all of us apart. I personally don’t want to be a part of it, I don’t think this should happen in the first place.

I think that after the adaptations of comic books, the next big thing in movies might be adaptations of videogames. Why do you think it is that a lot of videogame-to-film adaptations have not really worked so far?

Oh god [laughs]. It’s more…I think because the games, there’s such a complex universe as it is, it’s so difficult to bring that to screen properly. I don’t think anyone’s done a good job, you’ve had Hitman, you’ve had Silent Hill – they’ve been okay, nothing’s been executed properly. I think there’s also a lack of communication because you’ve already got such a fanatic group who are so in love with the game…

The fanbase?

The fanbase, yes. I just don’t think directors want to listen to them. They want to have their own original idea on it and it just doesn’t work.

So it’s like not sticking to what made the game successful.

Exactly, exactly. They try to make something new and hip and try to make it their own style. For me, if you’re not an avid gamer, you shouldn’t be directing a game film, which I think a lot of them failed on right now [laughs].

What are the best, worst and most interesting experiences you’ve had on a location shoot?

I think best is pushing my limits as an artist, creatively, physically as well. I’ve lost a lot of weight [laughs] on my photoshoots because they push me around. I think the worst thing is probably…nothing serious, but it’s more like the falling apart of my costumes because I jump in rivers, I climb trees and rocks and everything. My costume falls apart while it’s on me and it’s just a heartbreaking thing. That’s the only negative thing but then again, costumes can always be remade, that’s no problem. So yeah.

How important do you think it is for a cosplayer to understand and be into a character before cosplaying that character? There are some cosplayers who choose their characters based mainly on the way they look and not necessarily on the story or personality of the characters.

I personally don’t see much of a problem, I was just speaking to someone previously about this. You can appreciate a game as a game, but then you can appreciate a game as a piece of art. I actually have a lot of friends who don’t even touch videogames and still cosplay from them because they just think it’s beautiful. You can appreciate gaming platforms in so many different ways. For me, as long as you do a little bit of research on the character so you know what you’re talking about at least, then that seals the deal. I’m not fussy, it’s not harming anyone, no big deal [chuckles].

What is the cosplay scene like in Australia?

Definitely these days, it’s a lot more relaxed. You’ve still got a few little quarrels, especially with the international cosplay competitions and between certain groups you know, which is all personal, it’s all quite isolated. Once you’re not part of that scene, it’s just chill. It’s very relaxed and you can always ask anyone for help. Australians, we’re pretty relaxed and we like to band together.

What are some experiences you’ve had meeting fans?

Oof, that’s a pendulum [laughs]. It swings one way or another. I’ve met so many beautiful and amazing people, I’ve helped to inspire them and they’ve helped to inspire me in cosplay. Then there are other strange characters who can kind of cross my line a little bit verbally and physically and I can turn into a little monster [laughs].

How do you handle situations like that?

It depends. If someone is just saying perverted stuff to me for example, I’ll just give them bluntly that I have no interest in that and if they keep going, it will turn a little bit nasty [laughs]. For people who have physically touched me, I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m just in too much shock to realise it’s actually happened. For people to have the gall to touch you, it’s just unbelievable. I have gotten physical sometimes, just out of rage. It’s a shocking experience for someone to violate you and sometimes you just don’t know how you’ll react.

Are there any costume or fashion designers who inspire your work?

For me…god, there’s not really any fashion designers – I actually went to fashion school and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s inspiring, aside from Alexander McQueen who did pass away several years ago but I love his eccentricity, I found [that] amazing. The designers from Dior are wonderful as well. The couture designers from Dior are fantastic. But other than that, I just look to cosplayers for inspiration. Right now Lightning Cosplay, Liz Brickley Cosplay and Jessica Nigri, they’re my favourites at the moment.

Do you communicate with them over Twitter?

Yeah, we actually…we’re kind of friends, especially over Facebook and I’m about to meet them at BlizzCon in a couple of weeks. That’s one good thing I love about the community, that all in all, we band together, we’re like one big family.

My final question is what’s the hardest material you’ve had to source?

The perfect fabric. Especially in Australia, we only have limited resources for fabric, so just your basic stuff and finding the perfect fabric for that particular costume is a pain in the arse. Australia has everything else, fibreglass, we’ve got all that, fabric? Pfft [laughs].

You can see more of Yasemin's work at her DeviantArt page here.

GameStart 2014: Yuegene Fay interview

GameStart 2014: Yuegene Fay interview
By Jedd Jong

At the press event ahead of the convention's launch tomorrow, I got to talk to Thai cosplayer Yuegene Fay, one of the special guests attending the inaugural GameStart convention. She began cosplaying in 2000 and through her cosplays of characters from anime and manga  has garnered many fans. Since English isn't her first language, she had some difficulty during the interview but it was really fun getting to talk to her. 

When you cosplay as video game characters, do you find that there’s a difference between that and cosplaying characters from other mediums because you’ve been in the character’s shoes, controlling them?

Yes. Game character is quite…easier to do but because the game character they make is more imagine, sometimes it’s quite hard to make the hair, the eyes…

Because it’s more fantasy-driven.

More fantasy.

What’s the first game you remember playing, the one that got you into gaming?

Mario? Let me think, long, long time ago [laughs]. Do you know the GameBoy? The pink one…Kirby! And PacMan.

What are some of the best and worst experiences you’ve had doing location shoots for cosplay?

Let me think [pause]. It was about the animation cosplay. Have one time I go to the sea…no, not sea.

The beach?

No, not beach. Tank. Water, the first time I had to take photo under the water is like a challenge. Because every part in the water, you must be very fast. The photographer is maybe have only two second to capture that picture. Quite hard.

Before you have to go up again for air?

Yeah. Because in the water, my cloth, my hair, very trouble. So it’s only seconds I have to go down, then up.  

What has been some of the most difficult materials to find?

In Thailand have many, many kind of material, quite easy to find, but it’s hard to make them with the photo.

To match it?

Yeah, to match. Sometimes like a dragon? Dragon is have the…how you call it…dragon skin…


Yeah. You must make it. Sometimes you cannot find the material so sometimes you need to make it by own self. Sometimes we use the EVA or lumber foam to make it look like. Don’t need the real material.

What are some experiences that you’ve had meeting cosplayers from other countries?

Every country I go is different culture. So, when I meet them, I get a lot of experience and I can learn many many…

Like tips?

Yeah, something like that. However, cosplay is quite start from the same, love of the game, anime, manga, something like that, so we are in the cosplay event, in the cosplay community, we think quite same.

How important do you think it is to understand a character before you cosplay as that character? Some cosplayers will choose to cosplay a character based on how they like the look and design and not necessarily their personality.

I see, I see. Because now, cosplay culture now has been a little bit changed. Many new cosplayers make me feel that cosplay feel like a fashion. So when they go to an event, every event they buy new clothes, look like fashion. But for me, I will look at the background of the character first. I don’t like to see only the photo and cosplay, I love to read the background and learn what this character look like, something like that. I like to see the relationship of every character.

Have you done characters from Western media and if not, are you considering that?

Not yet…oh! I have one, but not finished yet. Elsa.

From Frozen!

But gender-bent. Sometimes, cosplay is not only look like the characters. Now, the new way…because cosplay is for fun. Maybe gender-bend or you can imagine, but is still this character.

To put your own spin on it.

Yeah. That’s more fun. But not finished yet.

What are some of your favourite games that have come out in the last several years?

Favourite games? Final Fantasy VII. Yes, I love it very much. My favourite character is Zack [Fair]. Crisis Core.

Do you have interesting stories about meeting fans, like if they’ve come up to say they’ve been inspired by your work?

I see. Everytime I go to cosplay event, will have some people come to talk with me like “thank you so much for your cosplay, inspire me very much” and I will say “Me? Inspire you?” [Laughs] Because I just do what I want, what I love. But when have some people come to talk with me, then they say my cosplay is very good, make me feel exciting and very happy.

So it’s rewarding experience.


You can see more of Yuegene's work at her DeviantArt account here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

John Wick

For F*** Magazine


Director : Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 23 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language) 
Run time: 96 mins

In The Matrix, when Neo was asked what he needed, he replied “guns. Lots of guns.” As the eponymous former hitman in this film, Keanu Reeves once again gets to wield an array of firearms – oh, and he also “knows kung-fu”. A hired gun who used to work for the Russian mob, John Wick’s now-normal life is falling to pieces after he loses his wife (Moynahan) to illness. Her last gift to him, an adorable little Beagle, is now the thing he holds dearest. Mob heir Iosef Tarasov (Allen), not knowing who Wick is, steals his Mustang and kills his dog. It turns out that Wick used to work for Iosef’s father, the crime boss Viggo (Nyqvist). Viggo puts a price on Wick’s head and Wick is pursued by killers including femme fatale Perkins (Palicki) and his old friend Marcus (Dafoe). All those deadly, well-honed skills come bubbling back to the surface in a big way once Wick is set off.'

            John Wick is the feature film directorial debut of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, veteran stunt performers, coordinators and second unit directors who run the 87eleven Action Design collective. Stahelski’s credits include 300, The Hunger Games, V For Vendetta and Reeves’ own The Man of Tai Chi while Leitch was Brad Pitt’s stunt double in Fight Club, Spy Game, Ocean’s Eleven and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. People like Stahelski and Leitch definitely number among Hollywood’s unsung heroes and hopefully John Wick plays a big part in making them household names. This action thriller is sleek and handsomely directed and, as expected, the stunt sequences are superb. Aficionados of the genre have no doubt seen countless shootouts, throwdowns and car chases in their time and while those in John Wick aren’t earth-shatteringly inventive, the skill with which they’re orchestrated and executed is admirable.

            On paper, John Wick sounds like your typical “one man army” revenge flick – after fighting to escape his former life, our hero has to plunge back into the deep end to violently settle a score. In many ways, John Wick is a conventional genre entry. However, it is several notches above run of the mill and a big part of that is the intriguing mini-mythology presented in the story. Central to the plot is a hotel called “The Continental”, which serves as a safe haven and neutral ground for assassins and hired guns. This subculture has its own currency and there’s a regular crew who helps clean up the bodies. There’s an “understanding” between people like Wick and the police. The New York setting is heightened but not ridiculous and the action sequences have panache but don’t come off as stagey and over-choreographed. Mood-wise, the film also benefits immensely from Stahelski and Leitch’s conscious decision to avoid shaky-cam and quick-cut editing, allowing the action sequences to play out in the semi-balletic yet still brutal glory.

            In Death Wish-esque, “one man army carves a swath of vengeance”-type movies, a whole lot hinges on the lead actor. Keanu Reeves is often dismissed as “wooden” but this reviewer did buy him as the cool, quietly badass John Wick. There’s a haunted quality to his face, particularly his eyes, in this film and he gets to bring some of that “Sad Keanu”-ness to bear without it ever being maudlin. A character who takes on the Russian mob to avenge the death of his dog does have the potential for some major league silliness but in Reeves’ hands, it’s all kept under control. As a Russian kingpin in an action movie, Michael Nyqvist is almost contractually obligated to chew some scenery and while there’s that, there are also moments where he’s effectively understated. Alfie Allen’s Iosef is a sufficiently unlikeable petulant brat. Both Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe lend some dignified gravitas to the proceedings. It’s only Adrianne Palicki who seems rather out of place, not altogether convincing as a cold killer.

            John Wick reminded this reviewer of the recent The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington as a similar “killer comes out of retirement” character. However, in that film, there was the danger of the “cool factor” being overplayed and coming off as forced or unintentionally comedic. Here, Stahelski and Leitch have attained a level of consistency. There’s a bit of a 70s movie-type stylisation with several scenes being neon-lit and the subtitles that appear when characters speak Russian having individual words emphasised with neon colouring. Sure, this is not particularly heavy on substance, but it doesn’t drown in its style either. With the masterfully-crafted action scenes, the stylish mood-setting, just the right level of genre savvy and the brisk pace in John Wick, we do want to see what Leitch and Stahelski tackle next.

Summary: John Wick contains many staples of the “assassin movie” subgenre but the directors put their stunt-creating experience to marvellous use and Keanu Reeves makes for a convincing hitman in this slick, entertaining genre entry.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


For F*** Magazine


Director : David Ayer
Cast : Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, Xavier Samuel, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood
Genre : War/Action
Opens : 22 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Run time: 134 mins

The 2nd Armoured Division was hell on wheels to any Nazis who found themselves in their path. This film, set in April 1945 as the Second World War draws to a close, tells of the fictional five-man crew of a M4A3 Sherman tank christened “Fury”. US Army Staff Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) leads the crew, consisting of Boyd “Bible” Swan (LaBeouf), Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Bernthal), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Peña) and rookie Norman “Cobb” Ellison (Lerman). A typist clerk who’s never been on the battlefield, Norman struggles to confront the horrors of war head-on as he repeatedly clashes with the men who occupy the Fury with him. Facing off against the better-equipped Nazis, the crew of the Fury must make a heroic last stand behind enemy lines.

            Writer-director David Ayer’s films have not been particularly pleasant, from gritty cop thrillers like Street Kings and End of Watch to the nasty Schwarzenegger-starring Sabotage earlier this year. War is never pleasant and Ayer brings a good deal of nastiness to the proceedings. Fury’s depiction of World War II is unflinching in its violence and brutality, containing many shocking moments of heads – belonging to soldiers and civilians alike – being blasted open. On one hand, this graphic approach adds to the film’s believability and makes it clear to the audience that Ayer is not interested in presenting a sanitized, romanticised view of this period of history. On the other, it often feels exploitative, that Ayer is revelling in this carnage and that the “war is hell” message is secondary to bullet hits and blood splatter.

            “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” Pitt’s Wardaddy says pithily. Ayer has achieved a grimy, bloody realism befitting the historical but at the same time, it can’t help but feel like a wholly cynical affair. In this day and age, Americans and others around the world have grown jaded with and tired of war. Ayer’s take on the Second World War is bereft of nostalgia or sentimentality, but this works against it. Some audiences might squirm at the film’s depiction of “the greatest generation” taking sadistic glee in slaughtering German troops; others might just cheer along. There are attempts in Fury to tackle ethical quandaries and questions of faith but these moments are presented with far less conviction than those involving flying body parts.

            Even though the soldiers manning the Fury are far from likeable, the performances are solid, with Brad Pitt leading the charge. Wardaddy, as his nickname suggests, is a father to his men, but he also has a cruel streak and isn’t about to mollycoddle anyone. Pitt is sufficiently believable, apart from his constantly perfectly-coiffed hairdo. Bernthal’s Grady is the resident jerk of the crew and he does get on the nerves, though that’s how the part was written. Shia LaBeouf is surprisingly less annoying than this reviewer expected and his scripture-quoting Boyd “Bible” Swan, dedicated to his faith while raking up the body count, is not quite the caricature he should’ve been. Logan Lerman, sometimes characterised as a handsome but boring young actor, is the standout of the cast for this reviewer. Yes, Norman is the audience surrogate character, the fresh-faced new kid yet to be tainted by the horrors of war – we’ve all seen that one before. However, Lerman’s conviction in the part, combined with how out of place he looks in that environment, gives the film its few moments of genuine heart-rending emotion amidst the barrage of gunfire and exploding grenades.

            Perhaps we’re wrong – perhaps we should be glad that a World War II film pulls no punches and isn’t naïvely jingoistic. But it is too much to ask for a film of this genre to highlight nobility and honour, bring a little of the best of humanity to the forefront, feel respectful? There have been several masterfully-made war films which are violent and bloody but also showcase the dignity and heroism of their subjects – Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. Unfortunately, David Ayer seems to have too much fun blowing bodies to bits to present a sombre, well thought-out historical portrait.

Summary: Those looking for bloody, brutal WWII violence will be satisfied; those looking for respect and dignity to balance that out will not.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Grace Interviews: Russell Wong and Pamelyn Chee


Russell Wong and Pamelyn Chee, stars of HBO Asia’s horror drama mini-series Grace, sat down with F*** to talk the opportunities presented by Asian content in English, stereotyping in Hollywood, how actors sometimes “worry too much” and how Russell Wong is pretty much a cross between a human and an alien. Pamelyn Chee’s words, not ours!

Russell, you were very memorably drawn and quartered at the beginning of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Is there anything particularly painful, without giving too much away, that happens to anyone in Grace?

Wong: Yes. [Everyone laughs]

Okay, cool!
You were in Serangoon Road earlier, what drew you back to HBO Asia and to Singapore as well?

Wong: What drew me back is the Asian content in English. The production’s shot in English with Asian stories; that appealed to me, more authentic Asian stories.

Is the horror element new to you?

Wong: It is new, having not done any horror before this. There are a couple of horror films that I like, The Ring, there’s also American Horror Story with Jessica Lange.

Were you aware of just how popular horror movies are in Asia?

Wong: I am aware of it, more aware of it.

How will Grace meet the expectations of viewers who love horror?

Wong: I think Grace will meet a lot of the expectations, especially at the finish of the story because you’ve got to watch all four parts. The first two build it up at a slow pace, quiet with a lot of information, but it finishes a little stronger. Pamelyn’s character and mine go through a little bit more.

Pamelyn, we have some indication that your character is a femme fatale. What preparation did you undertake for the role and were there any reference points?

Chee: You mean, besides being myself? [Laughs] I think the clothes make you look like a femme fatale, the makeup does, the role does, the lines do and I don’t I feel like I have to do much work but just trust in the material and I think maybe, sometimes actors worry too much. They’re like “oh, I can’t do this, I can’t do that, this role is not for me,” but I think if you just trust in yourselves…Russell and I always have this conversation, right? It’s about trusting and being in the moment. It will be an authentic experience if you let it.

Russell, how would you compare working in Singapore with a Singaporean crew to working on a Hollywood film?

Wong: There are a lot of similarities, basically you’re making a film or a TV show. A lot of times, the difference is the budget, or maybe the personalities or whatever, but pretty much, you’re making a movie. Everyone was very professional, very efficient in their work.

Did you get to create some back-story for your character beyond what was in the script?

Wong: I came up with some of my own back-story, some dynamics in our relationship, added a few lines here or some adjustments there.

You play a guy whose mistake brings a curse upon his family. What is it about this character that you like?

Wong: That I like…even though he does…steps outside of his marriage, he’s staying truthful to himself, he knows what he did is wrong. His humanity, I like his humanity. He’s trying to make it right, or he wants to make it right, but things just spiral out of his control.

You described the series as being “Fatal Attraction meets The Shining”, which makes me really want to watch it. In The Shining, the hotel is very much a character. What was it like working on the set of the Egress Hotel in this series?

Wong: We shot a lot in the studio and we built a set that looks like part of the Egress Hotel. I think [director] Tony [Tilse] and the art department, they really achieved kind of a nice, creepy fourth floor…we were kind of limited in the budget with what we could do and I think they did a great job with what they had.

What was it like working with Tony?

Wong: It was good. He knows what he wants, he knows what he needs. Because he has experience, it makes it feel safe, he makes you feel comfortable. “Okay, you’re in good hands.” If he wants a certain shot or a certain emotion, he won’t hit you over the head with it but he’ll let you suggest it.

Were there any challenging scenes for you in this series?

Wong: In the beginning for me, it was just kind of finding the character. You come in and play with the other actors and actresses and you have your idea of where you want to come from with the character but when you actually get on set, we didn’t have time to rehearse, a little bit of time, then it’s usually trying to get to the relationships, what you hope it will be. The initial part was the challenging part, making a connection with the other actors and finding your character through your relationships with them.

Pamelyn, you’re playing the mistress and Constance Song is playing the wife. What was the dynamic like?

Chee: You mean besides the fact that I hate her? [Laughs] You know, we don’t actually meet in the show. So it’s always this big looming cloud at the back of my head that she’s married to him and he’s still married to this woman and that really drives me crazy! We’re friends off-camera, but we don’t ever meet as characters in the show.

How did you build the conflict between those two characters?

Chee: I think it’s not really hard if the person you love the most is married to somebody else! Imagine that! Mine, always! [Laughs]

To come back to the Fatal Attraction comparison, is there anything like the bunny boiling scene in Grace?

Chee: Bunny boiling? There’s thing that are worse than the bunny boiling. We don’t boil animals [laughs].

There are supernatural elements and Asian traditions explored in the show. Are you familiar with these traditions?

Wong: I’m from the US, so obviously not as familiar as Pamelyn, but coming to Hong Kong years ago I was introduced to the traditions and festivals, things like that, and you hear stories about the ancestors, superstitions.

What are your personal beliefs with regards to the supernatural?

Wong: My impression is that there are spirits, different realms. We’re all in transition, we’re vibrational beings, we go to a different vibration, maybe some spirits are attached to the earth, some of them had tragic deaths and they want to hang on, to what end, I don’t know. But I definitely believe that are spirits that are happy and that are not happy and you can’t take it likely because there is energy, vibration.

After Grace, are you interested in doing further work in the horror genre?

Wong: I’m interested in good writing. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, if the writing is good, the material is good, I’m all in! I’d love to be a part of it, good writing is basically where it’s at and the horror genre’s fun, it’s interesting, what you can do visually, with the camera and with makeup.

Would you like to play supernatural beings, be it vampires, ghosts, witches or demons in future projects?

Wong: That’ll be interesting, yeah.

Chee: [to Wong] You’d make a good witch, I think!

Wong: Warlock. I’d like to be [a creature that’s] between an alien and a human or something.

Chee: A bit like yourself! [All laugh]

Wong: Thank you Pamelyn [laughs].

Besides the horror genre, I would think the action genre is one that crosses boundaries very well. Do you think there’s the potential for a home-grown action series on the level of Grace?

Wong: Yeah, I mean action and horror do travel and Asian horror is unique and also this is in English. With those elements, this is a great vehicle for HBO and for all of us to showcase Asian stories that can be told internationally. Because of the genre, it’s easier for people to digest and be entertained.

During the press conference, you said that you would want to do less martial arts-heavy roles now.  Is it something that you would still do if there’s a good story?

Wong: A good story, I would do it. When I started out as an actor, I was afraid of being stereotyped into just that, but fortunately when I was younger I was pretty athletic and I could handle the action but not like a world-class martial artist, a lot of the [other] guys are really good. I wanted to focus on just being an actor. But as far as well-written material, if it were something like Taken

You could be an Asian Liam Neeson.

Wong: [Laughs] That’s funny, Tony [Tilse] said the same thing!

What was the vibe like on the set? We heard that there were almost no outtakes, so was it a very intense vibe or did you guys get to chill out? How was it like in-between filming?

Wong: I loved the vibe on the set, it was just chill. I wouldn’t say it was intense, but it was focused.

Chee: Very focused, yeah.

Wong: Everyone was very focused on what they wanted to do, pretty enthusiastic, working with HBO on an original thing, it was a great opportunity for all of us and everyone came to work ready to go.

Chee: I actually made an effort not to hang around his [on-screen] family, the only person that I would talk to was Russell so I had only friend throughout the entire production [laughs].

So that was a little “method”.

Chee: Yeah. I think it helps both for them and for me.

You worked together on Serangoon Road. How was the experience making Grace compared to that of making Serangoon Road?

Wong: For me, I was coming in as kind of a guest star but the set was pretty focused and relaxed. For Grace, I was the lead male so I felt very welcome and kind of taken care of in that regard so I was very comfortable. Not much difference, really, but I guess it make work easy and was something to look forward to.

Chee: I think Grace is much edgier, don’t you think? The material and the style and the way Tony handled it, we’re not trapped by the whole “1960s Singapore” [setting] and the historical element of that genre. It was very liberating being on Grace, I have to say, it was a completely different experience.

This probably applies more to the writers and to Tony [Tilse], but was there some research you had to do into the traditions and customs to get into character?

Wong: Not for me.

Chee: I thought that the research writers at HBO did a wonderful job with the Asian customs in general because sometimes I feel like that gets lost in a western production. They put on what they think an Asian person should [act like]…but I think they made a very conscious effort to keep it very authentic.

Tony [Tilse] and Erika [North] were saying that Grace is set in a generic Asian city and not explicitly Singapore to try and make it accessible. What was that like knowing you could not overtly make reference to the city in which the story was set? Did it have a lot of bearing on playing the characters?

Wong: It didn’t have a lot of bearing on me, it could have been Hong Kong, originally we were talking about Hong Kong but spending time in Hong Kong, spending time in Singapore, obviously they have their similarities and their differences so given that, we focused more on the relationship of the family than the place per se, not a whole lot of emphasis placed on that.

What other projects can we look forward to from the both of you?

Chee: I’m doing a TV series for Channel 5 and also I’m doing Kelvin Tong’s film, so that’s what keeping me busy for the next month.

Wong: I’m meeting with a director in Beijing this week and there are a couple of projects I’m waiting to hear about back in the States.

What is the situation like in Hollywood with regards to stereotypes and the portrayal of Asians in media?

Wong: I think there’s some progress made in certain diverse casting and yet some kind of remain stereotypical. It honestly doesn’t excite me [chuckles]. I love the potential of where HBO can go or may go. I definitely love being a part of this because it’s unique in that it’s Asian content in English that’s done internationally. I just feel like it’s a good fit. I know they’re taking baby steps and that kind of thing.

What do you think it will take for American audiences to accept a TV series headlined by an Asian actor or actress, and do you think something like Grace would travel well to the States?

Wong: It could travel well to the States. What it will take is good writing, same as any film takes. Good writing, good performances, good scripts and good direction, just the whole production. And it doesn’t have to be a huge budget, the quality has to be there, the material has to be there. There are great stories here in Asia that need to be told that with a good writer, it will travel. This is a good story, you want to watch it, doesn’t matter where it’s from. A good story is a good story. We can execute this as well as anybody. The DPs (Directors of Photography), the sound, the lighting, everything. It’s good execution and content.

How do you think the mini-series format works for this story? Is four episodes enough?

Chee: If it’s bad material, four episodes is four episodes too many [laughs].

Wong: For my tastes, it’s a little slow, but for some people, they need to get all the information. I’m like “skip to it, skip to it!” But maybe people want to see all the details and Tony does that, all the details about this character and about that character, you pay attention to what’s happening here so there’s a build-up and it builds quite slowly but at the end there’s a strong finish.

Chee: But don’t you think it’s skewed because you are in the film so you know the story? [Laughs]

Wong: I’m not biased [laughs].

Chee: No you are, totally biased! [Laughs]

Wong: Yes I am. The whole time we shot this, I kept thinking to myself “this is going to be good!” It’s not just another job, I’m part of something that’s going to make some noise.

Chee: When was the last time you felt that?

Wong: Romeo Must Die.

The approach in this series seems to not be about the gore and the in-your-face horror elements but there’s the power of suggestion, atmospherics, nothing is scarier than what you can’t see. What was it like on the set and what are some of the techniques used to keep the tension at a slow burn?

Wong: I think that’s done with camera angles and what he’s shooting and how he’s shooting it, and the editing and the sound. There’s obviously a lot of parameters they have to work within, you can’t be too gory and there are different cultures, you don’t want to step on any toes, that kind of thing. There are a lot of parameters to work with and in doing that, it creates something that’s almost more disturbing, it messes with your mind a little bit which I think is great horror, like The Ring. Watching it, there’s cameras coming through the kitchen and you hear a sound and it’s like “this is disturbing!” [Laughs]. I think Tony was able to achieve some of that, it’s great.

It seems that the series has a contemporary Asian feel, but there’s been a strong tradition of domestic horror films in Hollywood, things like Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. Were those influences, whether consciously or subconsciously, on the family dynamics in Grace?

Chee: Definitely not. I think the sensibility is so different that to even borrow that would be wrong.

Are you also a very superstitious person?

Chee: Definitely very superstitious [laughs], like all Asian people, you guys must know!

Was there anyone in your family who told you “don’t do this because it’s a horror project”?

Chee: Yeah! But you know, I’m not the kind of person who listens to what everybody tells me [laughs]. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Grace Interviews: George Young and Constance Song


George Young and Constance Song, supporting players in HBO Asia’s horror drama mini-series Grace, sat down with F*** to talk about how horror projects aren’t so scary once you get a peek behind the scenes, the differences between acting in this and a Channel 8 drama, real-life spooky experiences (those unnerved by elevators, look away now) and an imaginary slap fight which George Young supposedly caught on tape.

What drew you to this project?

Song: [Whispers] because it’s HBO!

Young: Yeah, look at the quality they do…

Song: [Whispers] They produce good show!

Young: [Whispers] we should do the whole interview whispering [laughs]. [Speaking regularly] first of all, it’s HBO themselves. I grew up watching shows like The Wire, Deadwood, Entourage, The Sopranos, and then with HBO Asia, they’re coming up with great original series, Serangoon Road, Dead Mine and now, this is something that’s a mini-series and it’s something exciting, in a brand new studio we were filming in, Infinite Studios, those are great, high-quality shows, you can’t say no to it. Can’t say no to HBO [laughs].

What were some of the challenges on this show?

Song: This one I say for the fourth time already [laughs]. Because I’m used to do a lot of Chinese drama, English, only like a few. This time round, everyone is quite international, Russell’s from States and he’s [George Young] from UK and the director is Australian and I’m Singaporean and then some are from New Zealand. The biggest challenge is first of all, I have to speak properly, good English, perfect English and then I have to gel in with everyone’s speaking, accents and the way it’s delivered, the way it’s shot. Chinese drama is a totally different kind of acting. English is very different, movie is very different, TV is very different, this is like a combination of everything so I have to adjust for everything. Different style.

Young: What was great about it is that even though we all had a different rhythm and everything, we came in and gelled quite quickly and that was a testament to the casting, getting us compatible with each other, but also Tony, directing us with all those different rhythms, different energies, different ways of doing things, he composed it in a way that it all worked and I can’t wait for you guys to see the result.

Tony was saying that you didn’t have much time to rehearse. When you got together as a cast, did you work things out before the filming process, get to know each other and stuff like that?

Song: I think we gelled in quite quickly and fortunately, Russell did not have any airs. He’s really nice and humble.

Young: No ego whatsoever.

Song: It’s so funny, he’s got his own resting [green] room. So we have another one that we share, he always bring his food, “can I join you all?”

Young: Yeah, he wants to hang out.

Song: So it was very good, very lovely of him, so at least he break the ice, we don’t feel so pressure, so that was a very great way of bonding.

Young: In terms of me and Jean [Toh], she plays my wife in the series, we did some scene work beforehand. Just before [shooting], we’d go through the scenes, what we would do, sometimes we’d have suggestions that we’d pose to Tony – “hey Tony, I don’t think Charles, my character would do this” or “Jean’s character wouldn’t want to that, can we try this?” and he’d be open to it which is very rare, because usually you’d have to go to the script supervisor and you’d have to do all that sort of stuff.

Song: There was a lot of room for us to try different way[s] of acting. He’s very flexible. “Okay, okay, maybe here you do this…” he’s open to communication.

Young: It was the rhythm of it…

Song: And everyone works so well with each other.

As an experienced actress on Singaporean television, how did you use that to fit into the cast?

Song: I guess it’s the years of experience that gives me the courage, gives me the confidence.

Young: Because at 28 years old now [all laugh] I would guess you know what you’re doing. I can imagine, I can imagine.

Have you been involved in any horror projects before?

Song: This is the first. It’s not that scary after all. Whenever we watch, wah, damn scary right, but when you’re filming it it’s more like fun, comedy, you don’t really feel the horrifying…people who are watching it, they feel more scary, but when you’re filming it, it’s not that [bad].

Pamelyn told us that in between filming, she tried to keep away from the actors who were playing the family and she was only in contact with Russell to stay in character because she’s the mistress. So was there anything you did in between filming to preserve the character when the cameras were off?

Young: Constance and Pamelyn shouting at each other all the time, “stay away from him!” [All laugh] drama off-set.

Song: Whenever I was on the set, she would walk away [laughs].

Young: “Sure, you walk away!”

Was there an epic slap fight?

Young: I caught it on camera, I’ll send it to you guys [laughs].

Song: Cannot, cannot! I was sending this very strong vibes to her, and then she’d [makes tiptoeing sounds] go away.

She said that her character doesn’t come into contact with your character. How did you generate the tension in your character when the both of you don’t actually meet?

Song: I guess we already build from the start. Not seeing each other much, in fact she’s avoiding, the family sit down to have dinner, she don’t even join us! Dinner break. She’s already doing it, so…after all actors, actress we are very sensitive, so I know what she’s trying to do and she also know what I’m trying to do, so kind of like it build from the start, already, so it build from the start.

Young: I think in real life, you don’t really encounter the person…if someone’s cheating on you, you don’t necessarily meet them but you hate them anyway. There’s this animosity that’s felt even if you might not physically meet.

Constance, what was it like playing the matriarch of a family?

Song: It was easy for me. Why? Reason being, I am also the eldest in the family in my own life, yeah. So I’m kind of like the breadwinner so I’m so used to looking out for my family, so this one is really like Angela [her character].

Is she a very serious character?

Song: Yeah, very serious. Very powerful, strong woman.

Is it similar to how you are in real life?

Song: I can be quite serious, but I can be quite…it depends, everyone is acting all the time. Like if I go home, I have to play a role, being the eldest daughter. If I go out with my friends, I have to play the role of [a friend]. So everybody is constantly acting in different role.

For this series, most of it was filmed on stage, the Egress Hotel was a set that was built. What was it like working in that environment and what is the impact of that location?

Young: I think the set design was fantastic. We filmed in a new studio, Infinite Studios in Singapore. And that’s a testament to how much Singapore has come in terms of doing international [productions] that can compete globally, that sort of production. When I went on the first day into that hotel and the sets, the way it was set up, the rooms and the hotel corridors and everything, just amazing what they’ve done with it in that space. For me it was just exciting to witness that in Singapore, in Asia, to get to do that, to get a global-quality experience on the production.

One of the things that I found interesting was the creepy confinement nanny. What elements of culture or tradition that were incorporated into the series did you find the most interesting? Tony was also talking about trying to make it accessible to viewers who might be unfamiliar with the culture but also authentic.

Young: For me, I have an Asian dad, a Greek mum but I grew up in England and have only been in Singapore for three years so I think it’s a good litmus test for me to experience what I read and what I saw, the confinement nanny, the different sorts of Asian themes and the ghost stories you hear, and as that sort of outsider to it but with a little connection to it, I could relate to it, I could understand it easily so that I think will relate to the audience members, so audiences members who may not be as familiar with it as [those] in Singapore and the rest of Asia. It translates equally as well to the other hemisphere, so I think I was a good litmus test, that sort of canary [in the coal mine] experience to experiment on.

When series with Asian themes are done in the west, there’s sometimes the danger of it being exoticised or there being an Orientalist slant to it, making things mystical and weird. How do you think Grace avoided that and how did you think it tries to be authentic in presenting this?

Song: I think it’s more like…it’s very different from Japanese or Thailand horror movie[s], it’s always that scary look that scares you. But this one, I think it’s more on suspense, thrill, that keeps you hanging there all the time. So I guess this aspect of communication, of keeping the audience watching, is strong enough. It’s not like very Asian any more, it’s like playing with you, psychology.

Young: What’s seen vs. what’s not seen. It’s a nice combination of it. Another thing is that yes, some Asian-themed series may go overboard with the Orientalism as you say, but this was shot here, shot in Singapore and with people who are knowledgeable about it. It’s an HBO Asia production, an HBO Asia original, so of course they’re sensitive to that and not going too extreme. They’re familiar with the territory so they get to play with it whilst understanding being sensitive to that sort of [thing].

Are you superstitious?

Song: Superstitious? I try not to [chuckles] yeah. But I believe in all this, I believe in the supernatural that they exist.

Have you had personal experiences?

Song: Yeah, I was sharing that there was once I encounter in the lift, it’s a lift encounter. Somebody stop somewhere, the door opens, but actually there wasn’t anybody there. So, I close the door, and then when I was about to close, the door open again, about three times. That was my scariest encounter.

With the family drama element, would you say there are aspects of a soap opera to this with the skeletons in the closet?

Young: That’s a good point. What they do, what I’ve found when I read it and we did it is that it connects the audience to this very real family thing which we all have, everyone can relate to a family relationship, the tribulations and trials that happen in a family. And they keep that real, they don’t make it into a soap opera thing with the dialogue or anything. And once they get you with that, the real element that grounds you, they can hit you with whatever else that comes that way. So that family drama is kind of the vehicle that leads you into whatever happens next, that’s how it works. And I don’t think it’s very sensationalised or anything, it’s kind of a real family.

Constance, how would compare the story of Grace to the stories of Channel 8 dramas that you’ve acted in?

Song: Like I say just now, Chinese drama always, the flower is red, we can take four pages to talk about the flower is red. But for English drama is like “okay, just two sentence” can tell everything. The difference is I think the actions is more than the words. They show you there and then what’s happening. But Chinese drama they use a lot of dialogues to deliver “what happened last night?” so that’s the main difference. [To Young] You enjoy Channel 8 right?

Young: Yeah, I want to do more!

After Grace, will you be doing more projects in English?

Song: I’m doing one for Channel 5, this time round it’s a comedy, not horror. I’m looking forward to that, it’s a character that I’ve always wanted to play.

George, what was it like working with the baby?

Young: Uh, the baby…

We see you in the series, you have a baby…

Young: Um, I don’t know how much we can talk about that. It’s something that is…I can’t really say much about it, I guess.

Grace takes place in an unspecified Asian location and Russell was saying that originally, they were thinking of making it take place in Hong Kong. What was it like filming in Singapore but knowing that in the story, it’s not really Singapore?

Young: I think that gives credence to…I mean compliments Singapore in a way that it’s increasingly becoming a scenario where you can film in Singapore for any sort of thing – futuristic, modern, past…you’ve got elements in certain elements in Singapore where you can film the historical side of Asia. I think that’s a good sign, because the fact that you can do that in Asia here gives more flexibility to Singapore and more productions as well. The fact that we can do that, you know that it’s in Asia, it’s got a very Asian feel and what they wanted that to translate not just in Asia, South-East Asia but the world, really this show, it can do that, Singapore can do that, so I think it’s a good thing.

Do you think this can travel well to the west?

Young: Yeah.