How ‘The White Girl’ was built from trust

Co-directed by Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle, this film was made in just 14 days on a shoestring budget and a whole lot of faith

How ‘The White Girl’ was built from trust
How ‘The White Girl’ was built from trust
30 Nov 2017

How ‘The White Girl’ was built from trust

Video: Philip Ang
Additional photos: SGIFF

When it comes to movies, it’s not every day that you hear of the intricacies of what went into the production process, but for The White Girl, co-directors Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle were more than happy to share more about their labour of love, shot within a mere two weeks and on the budget of HK$10 million (S$1.725 million).

In town as part of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), the co-directors, along with cast members Angela Yuen, Joe Odagiri, Jeff Yiu and Tony Wu, sat down with members of the media and public in an In Conversation session at the ArtScience Museum to talk more about their film, which revolves around a fictional last fishing village in Hong Kong, and explores how the very different worlds of their characters intersect and intertwine.

In interviews with Toggle after the session, we took the opportunity to ask them more about what the movie meant to them – in particular, the directors, who joked that they gave “every single penny we had” to the cast members, and gave their full trust to their actors.

Joe and Angela also revealed why they decided on take on this movie, and how having scripts with not many words on them at all was a way for them to express themselves in a brand new way.

Read on for more.

Angela Yuen on how she felt about her big screen debut
Angela Yuen on how she felt about her big screen debut
30 Nov 2017

Angela Yuen on how she felt about her big screen debut

Hong Kong actress Angela Yuen might not be a familiar face to many – the 24-year-old made her debut as a model in 2015 and has participated in a number of acting projects, but her first big break (as she calls it) is taking on the lead role in The White Girl.

For the young star, who looks up to Faye Wong and Emma Watson as her role models, she shared that the greatest challenge she had while filming was to overcome the concerns she had about her own performance.

“I wasn’t sure about a lot of things at the start – for example, I wanted to do more research to build up my character, but the director told me that it was fine, and that I could just be myself.
"As a rookie, I’d worry that what I prepared wasn’t enough, and if what I was doing was right. This is what I’d worry about a lot, but the directors somehow didn’t share the same sentiments,” she mused. “I guess my middle name should be ‘Worry’.”

(Continued on next slide: What was her mother’s reaction to her joining showbiz?)

What was her mother’s reaction to her joining showbiz?
What was her mother’s reaction to her joining showbiz?
30 Nov 2017

What was her mother’s reaction to her joining showbiz?

Having studied accountancy back in school, Angela shared that her mother wasn’t initially particularly enthused by the thought of her daughter stepping into showbiz.

“From a young age, she’d always tell me that what I see on television might not be the real thing, and that there’s a lot more going on that we might know about. She keeps worrying that I’ll change (after joining showbiz) and become a different person, but I realised that it’s not as she imagined, and definitely not as scary,” she grinned.

She continued, “I’m very lucky, because I’m someone who was given opportunities even though I haven’t learned about the essence of performing. I’ll work harder to become an even better person.”

(Continued on next slide: Jenny Suen on falling in love with Angela Yuen at first sight)

Jenny Suen on falling in love with Angela Yuen at first sight
Jenny Suen on falling in love with Angela Yuen at first sight
30 Nov 2017

Jenny Suen on falling in love with Angela Yuen at first sight

Before you misunderstand – we meant it in a director-actor way, and not anything else.
Jenny candidly told us in our interview with her, “I don’t believe in the word casting – you’re choosing the people that you want to spend time with (…) I took five years to find The White Girl, but does it mean that I’d settle for somebody else just because I couldn’t find her? No – I kept looking, and in the end, I found her.”

A large portion (over 85 percent, according to Jenny) of the process in which she chose her actors was spent talking to the candidates about themselves, and the final portion would be of them reading through a short segment of the script.

So powerful did Angela’s impact that Jenny texted her the same day to tell her that she got the role, and the rest, as they say, is history.

(Continued on next slide: How Christopher and Jenny’s unique working style made ‘The White Girl’ what it is)

How Christopher and Jenny’s unique working style made ‘The White Girl’ what it is
How Christopher and Jenny’s unique working style made ‘The White Girl’ what it is
30 Nov 2017

How Christopher and Jenny’s unique working style made ‘The White Girl’ what it is

Instead of mountains of scripts to work with this time around, Jenny and Christopher instead put very few words on the scripts that were handed to the actors, and “told them to just go, do their thing”.

What made them give their full trust to the actors, given that this is the first time they’d worked with them? “We paid them everything that we were supposed to be paid,” Jenny quipped. “We gave them all our money – every penny we had, we gave to the actors,” Chris added in mock distress.

“We chose people that we believe in – and I think that’s really important,” Jenny shared.

With the original script needing 25 days of filming, which eventually got cut down to 14, Jenny went on to share that instead of calling the parts that had to be cut out sacrifices, she thinks of it as a way to remind themselves to stay focused on the original message that they wanted to send out.

“In Chris’ words, there’s no time for regrets, so we don’t regret anything.”

(Continued on next slide: Why Joe Odagiri decided to take on this role)

Why Joe Odagiri decided to take on this role
Why Joe Odagiri decided to take on this role
30 Nov 2017

Why Joe Odagiri decided to take on this role

Japanese actor Joe Odagiri boasts an impressive filmography – not only has he worked on numerous films since 1999, he’s also been working on numerous dramas as well. Given his track record, what made him decide to take on a smaller production this time around?

“What I experienced this time around is very different from my past projects – the way they work; Christopher and Angela themselves – they’re very different,” he mused.

Having to trek 30 minutes up a mountain every day (and 30 minutes down at the end of the day) was also part of his job, as the location in which his character stayed in was on top of that very mountain.

However, he’d always get a good start to the morning because of the staff members, who he described as very caring. “They had a habit of cooking congee every morning, so what left the strongest impression on me is waking up every morning and being able to have that congee. That was really a warm feeling.”

Click on for more photos of The White Girl's Gala Premiere in Singapore!

Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle
Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle
30 Nov 2017

Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle

Jeff Yiu and Tony Wu
Jeff Yiu and Tony Wu
30 Nov 2017

Jeff Yiu and Tony Wu

Oon Shu An
Oon Shu An
30 Nov 2017

Oon Shu An

Fiona Xie
Fiona Xie
30 Nov 2017

Fiona Xie

Desmond Tan
Desmond Tan
30 Nov 2017

Desmond Tan

Pierre Png
Pierre Png
30 Nov 2017

Pierre Png

Romeo Tan
Romeo Tan
30 Nov 2017

Romeo Tan

Royston Tan
Royston Tan
30 Nov 2017

Royston Tan

Carrie Wong
Carrie Wong
30 Nov 2017

Carrie Wong

WATCH: Who is The White Girl? 

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