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Chicken rice seals the deal

All it took was a plate of chicken rice to convince popular actor Chen Hanwei to film Ghost Child - his first movie. -ST
Yip Wai Yee

Sun, Mar 10, 2013
The Straits Times

Stars of the horror movie, Ghost Child (from left) Carmen Soo, Chen Hanwei and Jayley Woo.

SINGAPORE - All it took was a plate of chicken rice to convince popular actor Chen Hanwei to film Ghost Child - his first movie.

At a press conference to promote the new horror film earlier this week, the veteran Channel 8 star admits that he was in fact "very nervous" to meet producer Lim Teck and director Gilbert Chan for the first time over lunch and could barely stomach the dish at all.

"I could not even eat that chicken rice properly because I didn't know anything about film and film people, so I was very nervous. I was starving all morning before the lunch, but I still couldn't bring myself to eat it," recalls Chen, 43.

"They told me that they really wanted me to be in the movie and I felt a lot of pressure because of that."

Mr Lim, 38, managing director of producer Clover Films, says with a laugh: "Chen Hanwei is a big star on TV and he has so many acting awards, but we got him on board by buying him only one plate of cheap chicken rice at our very first meeting.

"I'm so happy that it was so easy to get him to agree to star in the movie."

In Ghost Child, which opens in cinemas today, Chen plays a widowed Singapore businessman who finds a new wife in the mysterious Indonesian Na (Carmen Soo).

A ghost child - or toyol in Malay - is said to be raised by black magic from a miscarried human foetus and used by humans to carry out mischievous deeds.

The allure of chicken rice, however, is only part of the story in the wooing of Chen.

The actor has previously said that he agreed to work on the movie as he is a fan of the people behind the project.

Award-winning film-maker Eric Khoo, 47, known for putting Singapore on the international film festival circuit with films such as Tatsumi (2011), Be With Me (2005) and Mee Pok Man (1995), is the executive producer of Ghost Child.

And director Chan, 37, helmed the 2011 army horror flick 23:59. It was the second-highest grossing local flick that year, taking in $1.55 million at the box office, behind It's A Great Great World with $2.43 million.

Now that Chen has had a taste of working on the big screen, he says: "Acting in movies is really a lot more subtle than acting on TV.

"On TV, you have to play things up a bit and exaggerate a little. But, in films, where the screen is so huge, you really have to be as natural as possible," says the four-time Best Actor winner at the Star Awards, MediaCorp's annual ceremony.

"That is why I just look like a regular uncle in the movie," he adds with a laugh.

Director Chan says: "He is not an award-winning actor for nothing. Even before we cast him, I already thought he would be perfect for the role because he is such a quality actor and he really delivered."

The film-maker is equally happy about the rest of his main cast, actresses Carmen Soo, 35, and rising star Jayley Woo, 21.

On Malaysian actress Soo, he says: "Carmen has a few crying scenes and there were times when she would really cry. You could see the tears flow and I would think she did a good enough job. But she would tell me that even though she was tearing, she didn't feel sad enough inside and kept asking for re-takes. She is a real professional."

As for Woo, there was also "plenty of crying" - though not all of it was necessarily called for.

Chan recalls with a laugh: "She is really very, very scared of horror movies and supernatural things, so sometimes she would be so scared that she would burst out crying.

"And it's the intense type of crying that lasts for 10 minutes. I had to tell her to go to a corner and sit by herself to recover, because she seemed so affected. But no matter how scared she was, she came to the set and did what was required and more. I think she has real potential."

The press conference then starts buzzing with stories of "ghostly happenings" on set - almost a requisite with all media events promoting horror flicks.

Tales range from mystery faces appearing on photographs to crew getting injured for no reason.

Trust Chen then, the fuss-free leading man, to bring everyone down to earth.

He points out rather seriously: "You know, a lot of it could just be a coincidence, or purely psychological.

"We were filming a horror movie right in the middle of the Seventh Month of the Chinese calendar, so naturally, you would be in that spooky frame of mind. It could all just be a case of us thinking too much."

yipwy@sph.com.sg


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