How explosively hilarious will it be when Singapore's comedy king Mark Lee is paired with Hong Kong's comedy king Chapman To in a movie?
Audiences will find out when the upcoming local flick King Of Mahjong is released early next year. The movie, which starts shooting on Sunday in Singapore and Malaysia, sees the two motor-mouthed comedians playing a pair of feuding mahjong experts.
Mr Lim Teck, executive producer of the film, says he is just as excited as anyone to see the two actors work together: "This movie is a comedy, so right from the start, we knew we wanted to look for natural comedians to join the cast. Both Chapman To and Mark Lee are true comedy kings in their respective regions, so they were really our top choices." He was speaking at a press conference on Thursday to announce the project.
To bump up the laughter quotient even more, many big-name comedians from Singapore and Hong Kong will also be making cameos in the film, including Hong Kong veterans Eric Tsang, Lo Hoi Pang and Siu Yam Yam and Singapore stars Richard Low, Marcus Chin, Dennis Chew and Patricia Mok.
Malaysian director Adrian Teh (The Wedding Diary, 2011), who will be at the helm of the project, says at the press event that as a fan of mahjong-themed movies such as Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's Fat Choi Spirit (2002), he is "excited to finally direct one myself, what more with an all-star ensemble cast like this".
He adds that he has been doing his homework and researching all the different types of mahjong playing styles in recent months.
"Some of the meetings that our production team had about the movie were held over the mahjong table. We'd be talking while playing a mahjong game. Once, I even managed to get a 'qing yi se'", he said with a laugh, referring to the high-scoring hand where all the tiles are from the same suit.
In the $2 million film, Lee's obnoxious character challenges To's more subdued protagonist to an international mahjong competition, much to the latter's reluctance. It is a rare villainous outing for Lee, who often plays crude characters with a heart of gold.
Says Mr Lim, who is also managing director of Clover Films: "When we first got Mark to sign on, he actually told us he wanted to play the villain, which got us very excited. It'll be interesting to see him expand his range and play a baddie."
Other than To and Lee, former Hong Kong TVB actress Michelle Ye has signed on to play the wife of To's character. Rising TVB starlets Venus Wong and Cheronna Ng will play the two men's daughters.
Teh says repeatedly that the new movie, produced by Clover Films in association with Asia Tropical Films, and funded by Zingshot Productions, is not meant to promote gambling. "That's not the focus of this movie. Mahjong here is all about how the players communicate and bond over the game."