Neo builds pig pen for new film

The sewing area (above) and patio of the one-storey Ipoh home, rented from a carpenter, where director Jack Neo is shooting scenes for Long Long Time Ago.
The sewing area (above) and patio of the one-storey Ipoh home, rented from a carpenter, where director Jack Neo is shooting scenes for Long Long Time Ago. PHOTOS: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
The sewing area and patio (above) of the one-storey Ipoh home, rented from a carpenter, where director Jack Neo is shooting scenes for Long Long Time Ago.
The sewing area and patio (above) of the one-storey Ipoh home, rented from a carpenter, where director Jack Neo is shooting scenes for Long Long Time Ago.
Four life-size “pigs” in a rickety wooden pig pen add rustic charm to the film set.
Four life-size “pigs” in a rickety wooden pig pen add rustic charm to the film set.

Director Jack Neo also made fake pigs to add a kampung feel to his movie, Long Long Time Ago

In the middle of the real-life Malaysian kampung that director Jack Neo is using for his upcoming movie, there sits a rickety wooden pig pen - but none of the pigs in it is real.

Made of what looks like papier mache, the four life-size pigs are almost laughably kitsch when scrutinised - yet add a certain rustic charm when viewed from afar.

Neo, 55, says with a grin that he insisted on constructing a pig pen for the background to add to the "homely village vibe" for his film - real pigs or not. Apparently, he would have had to get a special licence from the local authorities to borrow live pigs, due to hygiene concerns.

"This kind of scenery, with some farm animals right in front of the house, besides lots of home-grown vegetables - that's the look I remember growing up in a kampung. I wanted to recreate that," says the film-maker in Mandarin, who grew up in Singapore's Kampung Chai Chee for 16 years before moving to a Housing Board flat in Eunos.

  • It's just so liberating, living here. I haven't even shaved my armpits - on Jack's orders, because back then, women didn't have that habit.

    LONG LONG TIME AGO LEADING LADY AILEEN TAN (above) on filming in Ipoh

He was speaking to Life in Kampung Lubok Pusing in Ipoh, Malaysia, where he has been shooting scenes for his new film, Long Long Time Ago, for the past 11/2 months.

Slated for release during Chinese New Year, the $5-million movie hopes to capture the large-scale shift of Singaporean families from kampungs to housing estates, which Neo says "had an impact on the economy, people's emotions, families and the society at large".

The movie is centred around a family headed by a conservative old man (Wang Lei), who prefers sons over daughters.

The Ipoh location was the most "authentic" the director could find in the region, given how modernised Singapore has become, he says.

"When I saw this place, I knew I had to film the movie here. It's exactly how I remember 1960s and 1970s Singapore had looked like."

He was clearly in good spirits, eagerly showing this reporter around the main house featured in his film, pointing out the partly reconstructed, partly real details ranging from antique electric fans to the charcoal stove in the kitchen.

Built mostly of wood panels and cement, the one-storey structure was rented from a carpenter whose family has been living there for the last 50 years.

"I have the best memories of my kampung days. Life was a lot simpler then. We were friendly with our neighbours and you could leave the house with the doors wide open. There were very few worries in life," he recalls fondly.

It would seem that the laidback vibes rubbed off on his cast too, who bonded easily on set - perhaps also because there was simply little else to do without a Wi-Fi connection. Rather than being glued to their smartphone screens, they played cards and picked durians from the nearby trees to eat, says the director.

The film's leading lady Aileen Tan, who plays the unwanted second wife of an older man who is forced to return to her own family, has enjoyed her time here so much that she has not flown back to Singapore for more than 40 days.

The 48-year-old, who grew up in a kampung in Lorong Chuan, says with a laugh: "It's just so liberating, living here. I haven't even shaved my armpits - on Jack's orders, because back then, women didn't have that habit."

Comedian Mark Lee, 46, who plays her self-centred younger brother, says that his time on set has made him appreciate all that he has.

"When you don't have certain things, you don't feel the need to want them. For example, when you're here, you don't have access to a McDonald's restaurant, so you won't crave a burger and fries.

"You cook with your family and friends in the kitchen and you eat fresh fruit from the garden, which is what we've been doing, and it has been so much fun. I don't think I've had this much face-to-face communication on a daily basis with my castmates for a long time."

Suhaimi Yusof, 46, who plays a Malay friend and neighbour, says with a laugh: "And the best thing is, whenever we pick fruits from the ground here, we won't get fined."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Long Long Time Ago is slated for release during Chinese New Year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Neo builds pig pen for new film'. Print Edition | Subscribe