Photos: Toh Zi Yi
Video: Tay Yixuan
For the first time in local television history, viewers will be treated to a hearty dose of the good ol’ days, where Chinese dialects reigned supreme over the less-commonly spoken Mandarin.
Premiering next week, September 9, upcoming drama Eat Already! is a 10-episode Hokkien weekly drama set in a local coffeeshop that tackles issues pertinent to the Pioneer Generation. Toggle met some of the cast members Li Yinzhu, Wang Lei, Marcus Chin, Brandon Wong and Elvin Ng, as well as director Royston Tan at the drama’s press conference yesterday to find out more about the challenges of filming this show.
Royston first made his name as the director of local movies 881 and 3688, which had a liberal use of local dialects, and Eat Already! will be the local auteur’s first foray into the world of TV dramas.
“Firstly, the entire script was actually in Chinese, not Hokkien. When filming a drama, you have to be really fast and accurate, as opposed to a movie where you’ll have more time to get in the mood and discuss with the actors. Secondly, I’ve never filmed a gambling or a suicide scene where the actor has to jump down a building, so this drama does hold a lot of ‘firsts’ for me,” shared Royston, who divulged that he faced certain difficulties while directing the drama.
A particular standout amongst the cast present yesterday was definitely ‘young blood’ Elvin Ng, who plays Ah Bee, an ah beng who is saddled with a huge debt after getting addicted to gambling.
“When Elvin came to our auditions, his Hokkien wasn’t very good,” Royston recalled. “But, he has that ah beng blood in him, that ah beng DNA, so we eventually chose him after a few more rounds of auditions.”
However, the struggle was not over for Elvin just yet, who had to deal with a script that was written entirely in Chinese.
“I did regret [accepting the drama] at first,” Elvin shared. “The lines were very complex, and my command of Hokkien is quite rudimentary. [What made it worse was that] an ah beng needs to be fluent in Hokkien!”
What followed was an intense cramming session, with Elvin seeking out the Executive Producer Soh Bee Lian, for help regarding the translation and pronunciation of the dialect.
“I couldn’t be like the rest of the cast who were more familiar in Hokkien. They can just go on set and translate the script immediately,” Elvin, who is a Singaporean Hokkien himself, revealed.
Royston also set some “homework” for Elvin, often asking the actor a difficult questions via voice message, with Elvin replying him in Hokkien.
All of Elvin’s hard work paid off, though and Royston, who initially gave Elvin’s Hokkien a 0 (out of 10) when filming started, had nothing but praises to sing of the latter’s skills now.
“There was a scene where he had a verbal fight with Marcus Chin, and the two of them just went at it! He really worked hard to improve his Hokkien. I’d give him an 8 [out of 10] now, an ‘O’ Level pass,” Royston laughed.
Local veteran actress Li Yinzhu, who used to be a stalwart on our local screens, will also be starring in the drama as Ah Niu Sao, a single mother who raised Ah Bee and Ah Qiang single-handedly for 20 years.
Although Yinzhu has since retired from showbiz, the 66-year-old still takes on roles occasionally, with her most recent production being a Royston-directed Channel 8 telemovie, Provision Shop, which aired in August this year and Don’t Worry Be Healthy, which aired earlier this year.
Though Yinzhu now occupies her time by “being a chauffeur” for her three grandsons, and occasionally going on holidays with her friends and family, she revealed that she was really excited when she first heard about Eat Already!.
“It’s my first time acting in a Hokkien drama, despite being in the industry for over 40 years. I’ve also worked with Royston before, [so I agreed to make a comeback],” she revealed.
However, Yinzhu will not be making a full comeback to our local screens. While the actress did share that she will return if she “sees a suitable script”, she would like to avoid being too caught up in work again. “At my busiest, I only returned home when my daughters were asleep, and I’d like to avoid that now.”
Catch Eat Already! every Friday, 12pm on Channel 8, starting September 9 2016.
Watch Royston’s telemovie Provision Shop on Toggle.