Actress-director Sylvia Chang on the fine art of letting go

The directorial debut by Malaysian film-maker Tan Seng Kiat (above right) stars Jack Tan (above left) and Sylvia Chang.
The directorial debut by Malaysian film-maker Tan Seng Kiat (above right) stars Jack Tan (above left) and Sylvia Chang. PHOTO: MM2

Veteran actress Sylvia Chang stars in Shuttle Life, a film by a first-time film-maker

With each passing year, Taiwanese actress-director Sylvia Chang is learning the art of restraint - both at home as well as on the film set.

When it comes to mothering her 25-year-old son, Oscar, she has had to consciously let go of some control, she says.

"The relationship between a mother and son is very deep and special and it's hard to let go of him completely. But he's an adult and so, I must watch myself.

"Now that he's older, I'm hoping that we can work towards having a relationship in which we are more like friends as opposed to a mother and son," the 62-year-old, who is married to a businessman, tells The Straits Times and other Singaporean reporters in a telephone interview earlier this week.

That kind of peer-to-peer respect is the same attitude she takes to the film set of Shuttle Life, an upcoming Malaysian flick in which she is the leading lady.

Over the past 10 days, she has been in Kuala Lumpur to shoot the film, in which she plays the part of a mentally unstable single mother of an impoverished family.

The RM2 million (S$682,000) film, directed by first-time Malaysian film-maker Tan Seng Kiat, also stars rising Malaysian singer-actor Jack Tan in the role of Chang's teenage son, who has to shoulder the family's burdens.

Although Shuttle Life is being helmed by a newbie, Chang is careful not to overstep her boundaries as an actress and instruct him on how to direct.

"A lot of new directors these days do not need any advice from anyone else because they have all done their prep work before shooting. They know what to do and are good at it.

"On this set, I'm only the actress, so I won't give the director silly advice on directing just for the sake of it," says Chang, who has directed features such as Murmur Of The Hearts (2015), 20 30 40 (2004) and Tempting Heart (1999).

Although she was approached only last year to star in the film, she remembers the project clearly from two years ago, at Taipei's Golden Horse Film Festival, where she had served as the event's executive committee chairman.

The idea for Shuttle Life had been the top-prize winner at the festival's Golden Horse Film Project Promotion arm, the funding platform where new movie project ideas are matched with potential investors. Along with the title, the project also won a cash grant of NT$1 million (S$42,000).

She says: "There was no proper script at the time because it was sold as an idea, but it intrigued me. It spoke about poverty and family and it was interesting.

"I knew I wanted to see the film come to fruition, but I was surprised when they approached me to act in it."

She has confidence in the director and crew, she says, but she admits to having had reservations initially over her abilities at getting the role right.

She says with a laugh: "I wasn't sure if I could convincingly play a Malaysian-Chinese woman. It's important that I get the intonations of the language just right.

"But someone pointed out that if I could act in Singapore's Rice Rhapsody (2004), I could do a Malaysian movie."

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

• Shuttle Life is slated for release next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Taking her cue from new directors'. Print Edition | Subscribe