Zhang Zhen Huan lost 5kg on a diet of coffee and stress

No lines, no problem? Think again (also, why did the ‘Reach for the Skies’ actor keep giving us the middle finger?)

Zhang Zhen Huan lost 5kg on a diet of coffee and stress
Zhang Zhen Huan lost 5kg on a diet of coffee and stress
27 Feb 2018

Zhang Zhen Huan lost 5kg on a diet of coffee and stress

We were nearing the end of a media tour through the Studio 2 set of upcoming long-form drama Reach for the Skies yesterday morning when one of its stars, Zhang Zhen Huan, showed us unsuspecting reporters his middle finger. Twice.

Now, we didn’t do anything to offend him (at least, we hope not). The Sichuan-born actor plays a mute minimart employee in the series, and he was simply demonstrating the sign language gesture for “da jie” (eldest sister), which involves placing the middle finger on the chin for the word “da”. “I always get laughed at when I do this,” he chortled, adding that this happens to be the term he “says” the most in the show.

Being hilariously misunderstood is the least of the 34-year-old’s problems while shooting the 150-episode programme. Despite not having any verbal dialogue, having to learn, practise and execute sign language for his role gave Zhen Huan so much stress that he lost his appetite during filming, which led to him dropping the 5 kilograms he gained while lounging around in his hometown last year.

He even went so far as to declare that filming Reach for the Skies “is even more tiring than World at Your Feet” (which says a lot, considering he played an athlete in the latter). “A lot of people think I have it easy without any lines, but that’s not true at all.”

For starters, his daily preparations take at least 10 times longer than usual. “I usually only need about 15 minutes to memorise my lines, but now, I spend two or three hours practising my sign language every night,” he told us. In addition, Zhen Huan has lessons with a sign language teacher for about six hours a week to prepare for the following week’s scenes.

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Here's a more complete look at Zhen Huan signing
Here's a more complete look at Zhen Huan signing "eldest sister"
27 Feb 2018

Here's a more complete look at Zhen Huan signing "eldest sister"

Despite his intense revisions, Zhen Huan still doesn’t get to relax when he’s on set as he spends even his break times watching videos to brush up on his signing skills. It’s unsurprisingly a tiring affair, so in order to keep his energy levels up, he’s been bingeing on so much coffee that he apparently had no room to consume anything else, contributing to the aforementioned appetite loss.

Things are even more nerve-wrecking for the poor chap when his teacher isn’t on set to help point out his mistakes. “There are times when I think I’ve signed something correctly, but my teacher says it’s wrong,” he said, explaining that subtleties – such as not sticking one’s thumb out when pointing at someone – can be the most confusing. “I feel more at ease when my teacher is around.”

The only time Zhen Huan gets to loosen up is when he shares scenes with his onscreen love interest, played by He Ying Ying. Unlike his fictional family members, she does not understand sign language, so their characters communicate with each other by typing their words out on a phone. “When I see her, all my stress goes away,” he said with a chuckle.

Speaking of love interests, has there been any progress between Zhen Huan and his – ahem – special friend, makeup academy student Sally Pan? “No,” he said. “In fact, these days I want to meet my sign language teacher more often than her! (laughs)”

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Kym Ng
Kym Ng
27 Feb 2018

Kym Ng

Zhen Huan isn’t the only person who struggled with sign language for the show. Although she doesn’t have to make any of the gestures herself, Kym Ng, who plays his older sister, had to get familiar with his signs so she could respond to them correctly and naturally. Despite the double work, the professional actress-host made sure to be extra well-versed with her own script, and as a result, they have been able to avoid too many NG (no good) takes so far.

We think Kym’s husband deserves a special mention for helping to make life easier for her during this packed period, especially over Chinese New Year. “He knows I’ve been busy lately, so he did all the housework by himself,” said the 50-year-old, drawing gasps of admiration from us. “He swept the floor, cleaned out the refrigerator and wiped all the windows – actually he does this every year, which is very sweet of him. I reward him with a good meal.”

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Bryan Wong
Bryan Wong
27 Feb 2018

Bryan Wong

After many CNY holidays spent working, 2018 was finally the year that Bryan Wong got to enjoy a nice home-cooked reunion dinner with his family in the comfort of his own home (he even gushed about getting to help wash the dishes afterwards). It sounds simple, but the busy actor-host asserted that it’s not something he takes for granted (and we guess the rest of us shouldn’t, either).

Another lavish trip could also be in the pipeline after Reach for the Skies wraps up filming in around September. At the moment, the 47-year-old is looking to potentially tour major European cities like London, Paris and Vienna. He also seemed gleeful at the thought of returning to Tromsø, Norway and venturing further up to explore the northern islands.

While it seems as though that part of the world is fast becoming his second home, Bryan reiterated that when it comes to permanent residency, the Little Red Dot is still the best place. “When you visit somewhere as a tourist, you don’t see all the problems that may come with living somewhere long-term,” he said. “Singapore is still home to me.”

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Pan Ling Ling
Pan Ling Ling
27 Feb 2018

Pan Ling Ling

Pan Ling Ling has one teensy problem with her “classy bimbo” (as she put it) character: her out-of-control love of the colour pink. “I used to like pink as well, but after being surrounded by boys, I became more partial to white and blue,” she said. In addition to her two teenage sons, the 47-year-old is also godmother to Huang Biren’s and Ivy Lee’s boys (that is a lot of testosterone).

Our half-joking suggestion for her and her husband, former actor Huang Shinan, to try for a girl (y’know, to break the mould a bit) was immediately shot down with her report from a fortune teller, who had told her that “if I had 10 children, all 10 of them would be boys”. “And besides,” she said. “Now that my sons are grown up, I want to enjoy my life and relax a bit. (laughs)”

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Sheila Sim
Sheila Sim
27 Feb 2018

Sheila Sim

Singlehood isn’t the only thing Sheila Sim bade farewell to when she wed banker Deon Woo last month: she also has to get used to not receiving red packets every Chinese New Year (and will have to adjust to giving them out next year, after being exempt this time).

On the bright side, she will also no longer be bombarded with those pesky “when are you getting married” enquiries from nosy relatives, and for now, she is still blissfully safe from being bugged about having kids. “At the moment there are only well-wishes [to have children], not demands,” she chuckled.

Forget babies – the newlyweds haven’t even had time to plan their honeymoon yet, which can only take place after Sheila completes filming for Reach for the Skies much later this year. The 33-year-old sheepishly admitted that her hubby has been getting a little “pissed off” at her indecisiveness: one moment she is dreaming of Europe or South Africa, and the next, she is thinking about China (before setting her sights back on Europe again).

“He told me, ‘You know what, I will wait until we book everything before starting to invest my emotions into this honeymoon’,” she laughed. Aiyoh, Sheila, don’t do this to your poor new husband.

Sheila, Brandon Wong, Ling Ling and Bryan give a brief introduction of their characters
Sheila, Brandon Wong, Ling Ling and Bryan give a brief introduction of their characters
27 Feb 2018

Sheila, Brandon Wong, Ling Ling and Bryan give a brief introduction of their characters

Kym and Zhen Huan fool around with their onscreen father Zhu Hou Ren
Kym and Zhen Huan fool around with their onscreen father Zhu Hou Ren
27 Feb 2018

Kym and Zhen Huan fool around with their onscreen father Zhu Hou Ren

The cast joked that they feel like a boy band while walking down this hallway
The cast joked that they feel like a boy band while walking down this hallway
27 Feb 2018

The cast joked that they feel like a boy band while walking down this hallway

Bryan pokes fun at the backdrop, saying that the vehicles never move
Bryan pokes fun at the backdrop, saying that the vehicles never move
27 Feb 2018

Bryan pokes fun at the backdrop, saying that the vehicles never move

Ling Ling shows us her desk, which is stocked with loads of pink items
Ling Ling shows us her desk, which is stocked with loads of pink items
27 Feb 2018

Ling Ling shows us her desk, which is stocked with loads of pink items

Sheila sits at the receptionist's desk at the drama's Hope Training Centre
Sheila sits at the receptionist's desk at the drama's Hope Training Centre
27 Feb 2018

Sheila sits at the receptionist's desk at the drama's Hope Training Centre

Bryan reveals they never know what they're drinking until they actually try it
Bryan reveals they never know what they're drinking until they actually try it
27 Feb 2018

Bryan reveals they never know what they're drinking until they actually try it

It's never actually real beer inside those cans.

Kym and Zhen Huan play siblings in 'Reach for the Skies'
Kym and Zhen Huan play siblings in 'Reach for the Skies'
27 Feb 2018

Kym and Zhen Huan play siblings in 'Reach for the Skies'

Kym reveals the shelves in her character's minimart must be shorter than her
Kym reveals the shelves in her character's minimart must be shorter than her
27 Feb 2018

Kym reveals the shelves in her character's minimart must be shorter than her

Zhen Huan signs
Zhen Huan signs "I love you" (awww)
27 Feb 2018

Zhen Huan signs "I love you" (awww)

Long-time collaborators and friends, Kym and Bryan
Long-time collaborators and friends, Kym and Bryan
27 Feb 2018

Long-time collaborators and friends, Kym and Bryan

The cast shows us the
The cast shows us the "pantry" on set
27 Feb 2018

The cast shows us the "pantry" on set

The stars joke around among themselves during the introductions
The stars joke around among themselves during the introductions
27 Feb 2018

The stars joke around among themselves during the introductions

Reach for the Skies debuts on April 2, 7.30pm on Channel 8.

Related:
Zhang Zhen Huan cannot commit to not-so-mystery girl
Bryan Wong pampers family with “freaking expensive” Europe trip

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