TWO hundred applicants and 20 auditions later, local filmmaker Eric Khoo still can't find his Rose Chan.
And he's getting desperate as the deadline for the biopic looms near.
He only has three months left to find a suitable actress to play the '50s cabaret queen and sex symbol, and lock in the other cast members, none of whom has been confirmed thus far.
Even after finding his Rose Chan, Eric and producer Gary Goh, 30, will still have to look for two other actresses to portray Rose as a child and as an old woman.
Filming for the $2.3m production, titled Chinese Rose - a collaboration between Zhao Wei Films and Raintree Pictures - is scheduled to commence in October.
As a result, Mr Goh is looking across the border and has engaged talent scouts in Malaysia to help in the search.
The casting call first began a year ago when the movie was publicised through a press conference.
Nearly 200 candidates - mostly small-time models, dancers and part-time actresses - had read about it and applied, but most of them "lacked the babe factor", Eric, 43, told The New Paper.
Some were not tall enough. The late Rose, a well-known striptease performer, stood at 1.73m.
So ideally, what features must the girl have to play the China-born Rose?
Said Eric: "She should have the sultry lips of Shu Qi, the voluptuous figure of Fiona Xie, the height of Beatrice Chia, and the poise and complexion of Gong Li."
"Hopefully, she can also act like Maggie Cheung and can tell jokes like Irene Ang," he added.
On top of all that, she must be willing to bare all for the camera - she will be cast in two scenes with full-frontal nudity and a rape scene.
An impossibly tall order, perhaps, as producer Goh himself admits: "It is hard to get local female artistes to strip."
As if all that wasn't enough, the girl should also be in her 20s, be able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese, and get this, be comfortable around snakes, as the late Rose's signature act involved her performing with serpents.
But putting all that aside, if there was one thing that Eric wants most, it's the ability to act.
"Rose is a strong character. She's almost a feminist of those days, yet she also had her emotional moments. The female lead must bring out these different sides of her," said Eric.
It was something lacking in the 20 actresses shortlisted to audition.
In them, the prospective Rose Chans had to read lines and perform basic dance moves before the director, scriptwriter and producers, although no stripping was required at this stage.
She'll get implants
One person who's keen to play Rose is Ms Sun Hua Qing, a music student with small appearances on local TV.
Ms Sun - who acted as a bar hostess in local drama series By My Side, Love Blossoms and The Ultimatum - told Shin Min Daily News last month she was interested in the role.
MsSun is so keen to play the buxom star that she claims she's even willing to go for breast implants to increase her cup size - from a B-Cup to whatever was required.
But Eric told The New Paper: "Our Rose obviously can't be flat-chested, but a B-Cup is fine."
Ms Sun has since sent Mr Goh her picture for consideration and initial discussion is underway.
While the role of Rose is still up in the air, fortunately for Eric, a likely candidate to act as Rose's first lover and husband has already been shortlisted.
China-born local artiste Qi Yuwu, 32 - who appeared in the movies 881 and 12 Lotus and local drama The Little Nyonya - is interested to take the role.
Eric said: "We are in the midst of discussion to confirm his casting."
Another challenge in making Chinese Rose is putting the script together, which took scriptwriter James Toh, 43, 1 1/2years of intensive research.
After tracking down eight of Rose's patrons and fellow dancers and browsing through numerous news clippings, he recently completed the final script - which had nine drafts in total.
According to him, Rose was sold at the age of 7 to be a performer. She worked her way up, and at the peak of her career, was rich enough to drive a Rolls Royce.
She was married five times. Her first husband was Singaporean.
But when the high-profile sex symbol died at 62 of throat, lung and breast cancers, she was a lonely woman. Her two adopted daughters were absent from her funeral.
To retain authenticity of the script and to capture village scenes, the crew will also be filming in Malaysia and Thailand, apart from Singapore.
This article was first published in The New Paper.