Anthony Chen only has patience for children and animals

The filmmaker tells us what it’s like to work with an elephant; plus, how does he appease his wife when he has to leave the country for work?

Anthony Chen only has patience for children and animals
10 Apr 2017

Anthony Chen only has patience for children and animals

Photos: Tammi Tan, Golden Village Pictures

American comedian W. C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals,” and anyone who has ever done so can probably see why: they can be unpredictable, hard to control and may even cause unnecessary trouble.

Singapore-born filmmakers Anthony Chen and Kirsten Tan experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations of collaborating with the world’s largest land mammal when they made Pop Aye, a movie about an architect in the throes of a midlife crisis who embarks on a journey to take his long-lost elephant back to his childhood village.

The animal protagonist is played by 21-year-old Asian elephant Bong, and his involvement caused complications even before shooting began in northern Thailand. At a press conference last week, Kirsten recalled all the permits to clear and hoops to jump through “just to get an elephant to walk down the road” in her directorial debut.

Anthony, who served as the film’s executive producer, also recounted their nightmare when Bong started uprooting and devouring trees in neighbourhoods around the city. “Wherever he went, he would just eat!” he said, as Kirsten added, “We were sweating when we saw the number of property damage. I know every first feature is hard but this one was hard times a million.”

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Producer Lai Weijie, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen
10 Apr 2017

Producer Lai Weijie, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen

Thankfully, her suffering turned to satisfaction when she became the first Singaporean to win an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in January this year. And most important of all, she and Anthony, whom she’s known since their Ngee Ann Polytechnic days, are pleased with the end product – although it could very well be the last time any of them ever work with an elephant again!

In spite of the occasional frustrations, Kirsten and Anthony still had plenty of reasons to rave about their tusked, trunked star. In an interview with Toggle, Anthony called Bong “the most talented elephant I’ve ever met”. “Most of the time he actually hit all his marks, and I think the human actors probably had more NGs (no good takes) than the elephant!” he said with a chuckle.

And before any overzealous animal rights activists get all worked up, Anthony emphasised that Bong was pretty much treated like royalty on set, complete with his own well-stocked food truck following him around, and that they made sure to give it enough rest when it got tired or grumpy.

So now that Anthony has worked with both animals and children (namely, then-12-year-old Koh Jia Ler in his multi-award-winning feature Ilo Ilo), is it as bad as people say?

“What’s interesting is, my wife tells me I have such a short temper, and I tell her that the only patience I have is for two things: children and animals! (laughs) I have very high expectations of my crew – grownups should be able to perform and not make unnecessary mistakes,” said the 32-year-old, who is married to Rachel Yan.

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Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen at the 'Pop Aye' gala premiere screening
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen at the 'Pop Aye' gala premiere screening

Something else Anthony’s missus tells him – that she’s much unhappier with – is that he travels too much. While making Pop Aye, he shuttled between Thailand, Singapore and his home in London for six to eight weeks and soon, he’ll be away again to shoot a new film for at least four months.

“She’s not very pleased,” admitted Anthony sheepishly. “She has said that if she knew my job was going to be like this, then maybe she wouldn’t have married me! (laughs)”

But don’t let it be said that he’s a bad husband – far from it. Every time before he jets off for an overseas project, Anthony makes at least five bags of dumplings and pops them into the freezer so that Rachel can have proper meals during his absence. “I’m the one to cook at home, so if I’m away for too long it usually means she will have to eat instant noodles or something that’s not too great,” he explained.

With his globetrotting schedule, does that mean that plans to start a family have taken a backseat? “Not really, no!” he exclaimed. “We’re on it. (laughs)”

Pop Aye opens in cinemas on April 13.

Anthony Chen and Kirsten Tan share a laugh during the press conference
10 Apr 2017

Anthony Chen and Kirsten Tan share a laugh during the press conference

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Kirsten Tan
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Kirsten Tan

Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen with The Freshman
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen with The Freshman

Ben Yeo and Kirsten Tan at the gala premiere
10 Apr 2017

Ben Yeo and Kirsten Tan at the gala premiere

Jayley Woo, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Hayley Woo
10 Apr 2017

Jayley Woo, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Hayley Woo

Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Nat Ho at the gala premiere
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan and Nat Ho at the gala premiere

Andie Chen, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan, Anthony Chen, Randall Tan and Melody Chen
10 Apr 2017

Andie Chen, Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Kirsten Tan, Anthony Chen, Randall Tan and Melody Chen

Royston Tan, Kirsten Tan and Joi Chua at the gala premiere
10 Apr 2017

Royston Tan, Kirsten Tan and Joi Chua at the gala premiere

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Bong in a still from 'Pop Aye'
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Bong in a still from 'Pop Aye'

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Bong in a still from 'Pop Aye'
10 Apr 2017

Thaneth Warakulnukroh and Bong in a still from 'Pop Aye'

Watch: Anthony Chen's wife regrets marrying him!?

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