Photos: Teo Sijia & Joanna Goh
Video: Foong Minshi
After sweeping accolades at international film festivals and award shows around the world with Ilo Ilo, local auteur Anthony Chen is ready to sink his teeth into his next project – an international film called ‘Distance’. Instead of helming the film as director, he’d come in as an executive producer, under his newly-established production company Giraffe Films.
An omnibus film set in four countries and centered on three overarching themes - kinship, love and friendship, Anthony will be working with three budding directors Tan Shijie from Singapore, Xin Yukun from China and Sivaroj Kongsakul from Thailand, and lead actor Chen Bolin from Taiwan for the film.
While he may be “taking a backseat” from directing, the 29-year-old assured that it will be given a ‘stamp of quality’ because his “control freak” ways are bound to get the better of him. Anthony, who is currently also in the thick of preparations for two other films in London, says no stone will be left unturned, from nitpicking over tiny details like the translation of subtitles to perusing font-type used in the opening credits.
And it seems his directors have already been given a primer on what’s to come in the next few months when filming commences in January.
Recounting their firsthand experience with Anthony at Distance’s press conference yesterday, the trio shared that they had met up in London to work on the script. They travelled straight to his apartment upon arrival and according to Yukun, who spent 6 days working laboriously on his script drafts, the only sightseeing he did in London was on the car – when they were travelling to-and-fro meal locations.
Chiming in, Shijie added, “It was my first time in London and I wanted to see more of the city. But all I saw were the four walls of Anthony’s apartment (chuckles).”
Contrary to what Yukun and Shijie experienced, Bolin has been spared from the scrutiny (for now). That said, the 31-year-old whose most recent movie projects are Campus Confidential and The Continent, said he prefers to think of Anthony’s “control” as his love and “care” for the movies, during his interview with xinmsn in the ArtScience Museum yesterday,
“You only become a control freak [like Anthony] when you’re so passionate about movies. I think being a control freak does not necessarily mean you want to control it, but care for it. Care is more important than control because [when you care it means] you love what you do,” he shared.
Well, it takes one to know one, and it’s of no wonder the two hit it off right away at their first face-to-face meeting in Bolin’s Taipei work studio. Habouring a common passion for the movies, the two confessed that they chatted and discussed at lengths about movies, actors and everything under the sun that day.
Sharing his first impression on Bolin, Anthony said, “He’s not like what I’ve imagined him to be. (Bolin: Why?) He doesn’t have the airs of a star and he’s very endearing… I identified with what Bolin said when he touched on the topic of fate earlier. Personally, for me too, how I pick actors to work with ultimately depends on the connection [I have with them].”
Apart from agreeing with what Anthony said, Bolin, on the other hand, shared he was more than impressed by Anthony’s trailblazing feat of a film for Ilo Ilo.
“I read some of his previous interviews and watched his award-winning moments and in real life he just feels so impressive,” he gushed before adding, “He’s a person of substance, he has a huge database and is a very sensitive man… People usually think only sentimental people are sensitive, but he’s someone who really loves living and that’s the kind of vibes I get from talking to him.”
Set to play three different characters in Distance, both Bolin and Anthony shared that they have been trying to work out and fine-tune the overall styling of these roles for the past few days. “I hope we can see a completely different Chen Bolin that doesn’t mirror anything he has done in the past,” said Anthony.
Agreeing with the latter, Bolin adds that he actively avoids taking on recurring roles and characters if they overlap in terms of style too because presenting a brand new side of “Chen Bolin” is what he sets out to achieve with each new project he takes on.
“The scripts are very clear-cut,” he replied, when asked if it’d be a struggle to juggle between three roles. “What’s really important would be differentiating the imaging of these characters.”
While he actively tries to showcase different sides of himself through his roles, at the same time Bolin says that he finds it heartening when fans remember a particular project or character he has played. And one fine example raised during the interview is his iconic role as “Li Da Ren” (A.K.A. Da Ren ge) in award-winning Taiwanese drama series, In Time With You, where he is portrayed as the perfect boyfriend. Thanks to that, his name is now synonymous with perfect lover “da ren ge” but that label doesn’t faze him a single bit.
“That’s fine [to be recognised as “da ren ge” instead], I’ve done a few more movies after that which have gone on to perform well at the box office too and that makes me happy… Ultimately I think it boils down to sincerity and doing the best in every role that you do.”
And so how is he preparing for the challenging role ahead of him now? “It’s all inside,” he pointed to his head, grinning, “It’s really busy inside (chuckles).”
A Giraffe Films collaboration with China’s Guangxi Film Group, Distance will begin filming in Jan 2015 and is slated for a year-end release in 2015.