“Siao on” or slacker: what were stars like in the army?

‘When Duty Calls’ actors Romeo Tan, Desmond Tan, Shane Pow, Pierre Png and Zheng Ge Ping recall their days as National Servicemen

The uniformed cast of 'When Duty Calls'
The uniformed cast of 'When Duty Calls'
21 Feb 2017

The uniformed cast of 'When Duty Calls'

Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Tan Shi Qi

This year marks the 50th anniversary of National Service (NS), a rite of passage for every Singaporean son, and Channel 8 is collaborating with MINDEF and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to commemorate the milestone with upcoming NS50 drama When Duty Calls.

A bevy of top local stars will be suiting up in camouflaged gear to portray various military personnel, from new recruits to reservists and high-ranking commanders. Some of them, including Shane Pow, will even be shaving their heads.

“This is my second time shaving my head for a role, but I’m fine with it as this is my last time playing a recruit!” exclaimed the 26-year-old actor, who also went bald for 2013’s The Recruit Diaries, in an interview with Toggle at yesterday’s (Feb 20) lensing ceremony.

In addition, the former Manhunt finalist, who plays a naval officer trainee, will have a topless scene in the show, and promised to showcase a much better physique compared to his previous body-baring adventure in last year’s House of Fortune. “I’m going to go back to a stricter diet and spend more time training,” he said. “I aim to look like a proper soldier instead of a reservist who eats too much! (laughs)”

While Shane’s co-star, famed “hunkle” Zheng Ge Ping, is not required to forgo his shirt at the moment, there is a possibility for that to be arranged. However, the 52-year-old, who plays an Air Force pilot, told us that he will have a discussion with the director beforehand as he feels that his current form is not 100 percent up to his high standards (just “75 to 80 percent” there, in case anyone’s wondering).

As for Romeo Tan, who plays a company commander, he’s aiming for a sun-kissed complexion when filming commences. “I’m naturally very fair, so I need to work harder to maintain a slight tan – but I won’t be as dark as Desmond (Tan)!” said the 31-year-old with a laugh.

(Continued on next slide)

The ladies of 'When Duty Calls': Jasmine Sim, Paige Chua, Felicia Chin
The ladies of 'When Duty Calls': Jasmine Sim, Paige Chua, Felicia Chin
21 Feb 2017

The ladies of 'When Duty Calls': Jasmine Sim, Paige Chua, Felicia Chin

Two of the roses among the thorns are Felicia Chin and Paige Chua, who play a combat medic and navy captain respectively.

Felicia, who now sports drastically cropped locks (courtesy of celebrity coiffurist David Gan), jokingly complained that her hair is now shorter than that of boyfriend Jeffrey Xu’s, but gushed about how much easier it is to take care of. The makeover was suggested by her stylists, who thought it would suit her and her character.

Besides the mane change, the 32-year-old is also watching war films, such as Hacksaw Ridge, to prepare for her role. She also plans to bulk up slightly in order to look more convincing as a fit army medical officer.

When we asked Paige why she didn’t follow in Feli’s footsteps and go for a short cut, the 35-year-old actress shared that it wasn’t her call. “I also thought I would need to look like a tough cookie, but my character, while firm and fierce when she’s on duty, is actually very gentle and feminine,” she said.

Paige also revealed a surprising fact about herself: before she went into modelling, she considered joining the military, and even applied to become a paramedic (however, she was rejected). “I was physically active so while I don’t think I’d made a perfect soldier, I wouldn’t be too bad!”

While their onscreen military journey is about to begin, the male cast members already had army day tales to regale us with: who rated himself a 9.9 upon 10 on the “siao on” (over enthusiastic) scale, and who had a terrifying supernatural encounter on Pulau Tekong? Read on for more:

Desmond Tan
Desmond Tan
21 Feb 2017

Desmond Tan

What were you like in NS?
I was a commando officer and was as siao on as my character in When Duty Calls (high-ranking sergeant Lu Jun Guang). The first day I stepped into my barracks, I told myself, “You must do your best or slack all the way”, but slacking is not in my nature.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how “siao on” were you?
I would give myself a 9.9! Every day, I would ride a bicycle from my house in Jurong to my camp in Changi, book in two hours early, then go jog or swim at Changi Beach. I even joined a triathlon! Now when I look back, I don’t know what strange drug I might have been on. (laughs)

I even considered postponing my ORD (Operationally Ready Date) for a month to join the Ranger Course [ed’s note: a notoriously tough leadership course], but in the end I didn’t. If I did, I wouldn’t have joined Star Search, and I wouldn't be in this industry.

What’s your most memorable moment from NS?
The first time I did a parachute jump from a plane. When I saw the door open, I was a bit scared, but we were all out of the plane in a minute. I felt very free and at peace while I was flying through the air.

What was the toughest part about NS?
The overseas training. I endured three days and three nights of nonstop trekking without sleep in Taiwan, and when I got home and looked in the mirror, I was shocked to see I had lost so much weight.

What’s the worst trouble you ever got into in NS?
I was very disciplined and almost never got into trouble. The only time I ever got punished was because of my friend, who mistakenly convinced me to fold my sleeves the wrong way.

Romeo Tan
Romeo Tan
21 Feb 2017

Romeo Tan

What were you like in NS?
I was a lieutenant with the Ground Based Air Defence. I didn’t fly a plane, but I was in charge of shooting down hostile aircraft.

What’s your most memorable moment from NS?
My BMT (Basic Military Training) period left a deep impression on me because I remember that feeling of being excited yet nervous of being in a new environment. I also remember crying on the weekends when I couldn’t book out, and hiding under my blanket at night, typing text messages to my mum. It’s memories like these that make me miss those days.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how “siao on” were you?
I would say, six out of 10? I had a lot of friends who were the siao on ones, so I held back a bit because you need balance. It’s like in a family, you need “angel” and “devil” parents, so I was the “angel”.

What’s the worst trouble you ever got into in NS?
During my BMT days I lost my rifle’s safety pin, and everyone had to help me look for it. I don’t remember if we ever found it, but because of me, everyone was punished with a late book-out, and I couldn’t book out at all.

Shane Pow
Shane Pow
21 Feb 2017

Shane Pow

What were you like in NS?
For the first half of my army life, I was with the RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force) basketball team, but in my second year, I got into an accident and had to take four months’ medical leave. So to have the chance to relive NS in a more intense way is quite exciting.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how “siao on” were you?
I think, 0.5. (laughs) I wasn’t too keen on joining the army because I personally don’t like to be controlled by people, so it was something that I felt obligated to do. But I made many new friends and learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned in school.

What’s the worst trouble you ever got into in NS?
Nothing too serious like skipping training or getting into fights. It was mostly things like not being able to wake up on time or being late.

Pierre Png
Pierre Png
21 Feb 2017

Pierre Png

What were you like in NS?
I was a military policeman and I was very on the ball and very proud of being a policeman. I also had a very easy life during reservist – I did office management and I managed the office very well.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how “siao on” were you?
I would say, 6? I was a little above average, but I made sure I wouldn’t stand out so much because back then, I didn’t feel like it was my duty lah, so now when duty calls, I’ll do the best I can. (smiles)

What’s your most memorable moment from NS?
Oh, too many. I think the best part was learning how to use different types of weapons and learning the different duties during wartime and peacetime.

What was the toughest part about NS?
Being disciplined for just about everything – there was nothing you could do that was right, and half the time you were on the floor doing push-ups!

What’s the worst trouble you ever got into in NS?
I lost an equipment or something and had to burn my weekend. (But other than that) I was a very obedient soldier who never did anything wrong, I always followed the rules.

Did you ever have any spooky encounters in NS?
Yes, it’s a long story, but basically someone from my company got possessed and we had to be evacuated from Pulau Tekong. I remember exactly what happened because I saw it happen right before my very eyes.

Zheng Ge Ping
Zheng Ge Ping
21 Feb 2017

Zheng Ge Ping

What were you like in NS?
Instead of NS, I served in the Police Force for two and a half years. I’ve only had the chance to experience the life of an army recruit on screen!

What’s your most memorable moment from your time in the Police Force?
We got to deal with real cases every day, including some dangerous situations. I racked up quite an impressive record of catching thieves and was even asked to join the Police Force full-time, so if I didn’t enter into showbiz, I would have been a police officer.

What were the most dangerous situations you encountered?
There are two, and they both involved mentally unstable people. The first happened at Alexandra Hospital where a patient was making threats with an iron bedpan, but we couldn’t use brute force because he would hit you back. Instead, we spent two hours trying to coax him before restraining him.

The other incident happened at Redhill, where a naked man was wielding a parang knife, and all we could do was charge ahead with our shields before holding him down.

Did you ever get injured?
Thankfully not!

Felicia Chin
Felicia Chin
21 Feb 2017

Felicia Chin

Paige Chua
Paige Chua
21 Feb 2017

Paige Chua

Desmond Tan helps adjust Felicia Chin's beret
Desmond Tan helps adjust Felicia Chin's beret
21 Feb 2017

Desmond Tan helps adjust Felicia Chin's beret

The hunky men of 'When Duty Calls': Pierre Png, Romeo Tan, Desmond Tan
The hunky men of 'When Duty Calls': Pierre Png, Romeo Tan, Desmond Tan
21 Feb 2017

The hunky men of 'When Duty Calls': Pierre Png, Romeo Tan, Desmond Tan

The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'
The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'
21 Feb 2017

The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'


The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'
The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'
21 Feb 2017

The cast and executive producer Chong Liung Man (third from right) of 'When Duty Calls'

When Duty Calls premieres July 31, 9pm on Channel 8.

Watch:
Will Shane Pow have topless scenes?
What did Romeo Tan do to cause his whole platoon to be punished? 

Related:
“Of course I’m worried”: Shane Pow’s restaurant venture fears

Report a problem