Shanghai surprise

SINGAPORE - Another local movie is waving the Singapore flag high and proud overseas.

That Girl In Pinafore is a nostalgic coming-of-age tale about a group of youths who bond through the love of xinyao. The Mandarin folk music movement was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

The movie stars former The New Paper New Face finalists Julie Tan and Jayley Woo, local actor-singers Hayley Woo and Daren Tan, as well as newcomers Kelvin Mun, Kenny Khoo and Seah Jiaqing.

Director Chai Yee Wei, 37, said that he never intended to take That Girl In Pinafore to Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), as he was still putting the final touches to the movie, which opens in Singapore on Aug 1.

SIFF, explained Chai, is one of the few film festivals that accepts submissions of work-in-progress movies.

Chai decided to submit That Girl In Pinafore on a whim, and was caught off-guard when it was accepted by SIFF.

The movie premiered to about 200 people at Starlight Cinema on Tuesday, and Chai was surprised that people clapped at various parts of the movie and also applauded when the credits rolled.

"They even sat till the end of the credits, which is really rare. One of them even shouted that she loved the songs after the screening," the film-maker told The New Paper in an e-mail from Shanghai.

This is the second time in recent months a Singapore film has been well received at a foreign film festival.

Last month, Ilo Ilo, directed by Anthony Chen, won the best debut feature film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Chai said he was surprised that That Girl In Pinafore could connect with the Shanghai audience, given the difference in culture.

He said that the movie is "shamelessly local and Singaporean in nature" and is "about the Singapore songs that we all grew up with".

"At the end of the screening, the audience grabbed the cast members for autographs. They also wanted to know where they could get the soundtrack, which they loved.

"I guess the music helped bridge cultural differences. They also related to the schooling portions (in the movie)."

Some of the catchy xinyao hit tunes include Xi Shui Chang Liu (Friends Forever), Xin Kong Xia (Starry Sky) and Yi Bu Yi Bu Lai (One Step At A Time).

Chai said the audience was also impressed by the young cast, in particular lead actress Tan, who couldn't be at the premiere due to work commitments in Singapore.

"Many wanted me to pass her the message that they loved her performance," said Chai.

"I shared the feedback with Julie the following day, as there's no Facebook or Twitter (in Shanghai). It was tough to get the news out to her.

"Julie so wished she was with us at Shanghai."

Tan, 21, was clearly still excited when The New Paper contacted her on Friday.

"I'm really very happy. We didn't expect anything from the premiere. No one knew what the response would be," said the MediaCorp actress.

"I'm really disappointed that I couldn't join Yee Wei and the rest of the cast in Shanghai.

"I tried so hard to take leave, but because I'm currently filming now, I can't leave town."

Tan took consolation that her performance was recognised overseas. "It gives me more confidence, and I'm motivated to do even better."


Jayley, who was at the premiere, is also encouraged by the response.

The 21-year-old MediaCorp starlet, who acts in the movie alongside her twin sister Hayley, said: "I was pretty calm at first, but was totally overwhelmed.

"It had been one year since we filmed this, and watching it on the big screen was emotional.

"It has always been a dream of mine to work overseas, and this has been a very fruitful trip."

Chai is also grateful for the opportunity. He said: "This is also probably the largest film festival in China, and so it is easy to get overwhelmed.

"It is just humbling to be part of this huge festival, and I am just happy to be able to have represented a part of Singapore in Shanghai."

Chai said that following its local release, That Girl In Pinafore will be screened in Malaysia and Taiwan.

"I'm now excited to see how the audiences there react to it."

Chai, whose earlier films Blood Ties (2009) and Twisted (2011)were well-received locally, admitted that he hopes the buzz surrounding That Girl In Pinafore will translate into good box-office receipts.

"I hope Singaporeans will be more open-minded and give local films a chance, because no amount of support overseas can ever compare to acceptance at home."

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