As her latest feature film Lulu The Movie hits the screens, we talk to Michelle Chong about her transition from being under the spotlight to sitting in the director’s chair, or in this instance, doing both at the same time.
Michelle Chong directs and stars in her latest film, Lulu The Movie. (Photo credit: Huat Films)
By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
She’s back! Lulu, the KTV hostess character created by Michelle Chong for the popular TV show The Noose, is making her debut on the big screen after a hiatus and she has lost none of her sassiness and grit.
Three years in the making, Lulu The Movie is Michelle’s third feature film as a director, and has proven a labour of love as she gets involved in every step of the production process.
Shot as a “mockumentary” across Singapore, Shanghai and London, the film contextualises the story of the beloved flamboyant character, providing background including her reasons for coming to Singapore (to meet her online boyfriend), her rise to stardom, battling preconceptions and prejudice against her ‘unique’ fashion sense (short skirts, leopard prints and bouffant hair) and her often barely understandable English.
IMpact speaks to the talented comic actor and director to find out more about her experiences.
Where did you first find the inspiration for this character?
She's not really inspired by anyone I know. I watched a lot of TV when I was young and she’s more perhaps a stereotype of nightclub hostesses, the kind that was portrayed in clichéd Chinese drama series 20 years ago. Lulu’s look might be dated but her personality is very relevant in today's society — entrepreneurial, determined, vivacious, ambitious, but ultimately a good-hearted person in a foreign country.
What were the main challenges of directing and starring in Lulu The Movie?
Stepping out of my comfort zone and walking around in London in very loud and outlandish get-ups and getting people to talk to me in front of the camera when I clearly do not look or sound like a fashion host, even though I claim to be one. When I came back to Singapore, a friend asked me if I had been in London recently. Apparently, I had asked one of his friends for directions when taking the Tube and his friend messaged him: “Some Chinese tourist with big hair just asked me for directions but she really looks like your friend Michelle.” His friend has been away for years and doesn’t know Lulu!
As the film takes the form of a mockumentary, did this create other opportunities for unexpected and funny unscripted moments?
When I was in Shanghai, I asked a Caucasian tourist, “Do you speaka Engalishi?” and she replied, “Yes I do. Do you speak English?”
You set up your own film and TV production company, Huat Films, in 2011. What were some of the early challenges?
Early challenges faced and probably still facing are unconscious biases by the people in the industry who think an artiste can’t direct or a female director can’t know or do very much. But that's inevitable. I have no regrets, except that I should have started making films earlier!
This is now your third feature film as a director. How was this experience different from the previous two?
My first two films were considered luxury shoots as compared to my third one. This time, I worked with minimal crew and cast. But I think for my fourth film, I am not going to work so hard.
What advice would you give a young filmmaker?
If you are going to do everything yourself, maybe start with short films. Get some experience working on bigger film sets and with marketing/distribution teams. After that, try to either become famous so you can get some sponsorships or get to know investors who would believe in you.
You are a multi-tasker — writing, directing, acting, producing. What do you enjoy most and what do you see yourself doing more of in the future?
I enjoy the creative aspects of all the above, with producing and acting probably being my least favourite. My dream is to just write and direct, and have a big beautiful team doing the rest.
IMDA Accreditation sets IOT start-up Willowmore on path to success
Willowmore’s Joseph Tey shares how IMDA Accreditation has opened doors to new partnerships.
Unveiling Singapore's Gems in the film industry: Meet Mark, Xander and Kin
Singapore's rising stars and their valuable contributions help Made with SG films captivate global audience – supported by IMDA