To act or not to act, like mum and dad

Some home-grown celebrities choose to keep their kids away from the public eye, while others let their children enter show business at a young age.Gwendolyn Ng finds out if some of these children are keen to follow in their parents' footsteps

Working as mum's personal assistant

Who: Computer graphics artist Chen Yi Xi, 25, and Secondary 4 student Chen Yi Xin, 16

Parents: Actress Xiang Yun, 54, and actor Edmund Chen, 55, who runs content creation firm Asiatainment

Fresh graduate Yi Xi has nabbed himself a temporary job as the personal assistant to his Channel 8 actress-mother Xiang Yun.

He pulls 12-hour shifts - making her coffee, getting her food and massaging her tired shoulders.

"When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to work and I would watch them filming. It's nostalgic to be back after 15 years. It's also a good chance for me to spend quality time with her," says Yi Xi, who starts work at a games company in September.

He may be hovering on the sidelines of film sets for now, but he has already started auditioning for roles.

His interest in acting grew while studying animation at the Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media.

"My teacher told us we have to act to make animation. We have to know the emotions, the pain, the gestures of the character to be able to draw them.

"We animators had a mirror next to us and we tried to mimicexpressions."

He says he will try both animation and acting before deciding which path to pursue. Last Friday, he was named as a cast member of Singapore music icon Dick Lee's upcoming film, Wonder Boy.

The Chen siblings have some acting experience. They both had cameos in the film Echoing Love (2011) - featuring six shorts revolving around love - produced by their father.

But Yi Xin recoils from the memory of that experience.

With her face contorted in mock horror, she says: "The experience was terrifying. My face was so stiff. I don't think I can act."

Busy concentrating on getting through her O-level examinations, she says she is putting any career plans aside, acting or otherwise.

If she changes her mind, mum is supportive and has sound advice for her. Xiang Yun says: "Watching the rookie actors struggle with emoting at times, I feel their frustration. You must have the passion for acting, if not, it will be difficult."

Brothers in front of and behind the camera

Actor Zhu Houren with his wife Vera Hanitijo and their sons Joel (left) and Jonathan (right).  ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Who: Freelance director Jonathan Choo, 27, and full-time national serviceman Joel Choo, 22

Parents: Veteran actor Zhu Houren, 61, and housewife Vera Hanitijo, 56

The two brothers are both in show business, but have vastly different temperaments.

The older, more reticent one, Jonathan, prefers to stay behind the scenes.

As a teenager, he would spend his school holidays helping out at his father's production company G&J Creation, which has put out children's shows and the local basketball movie Meeting The Giant (2014).

"That's where I learnt my basic skills in directing. I was mostly a script supervisor, taking note of continuity (of the shows)," says the digital film-making graduate, who was speaking to The Sunday Times before his convocation at Nanyang Technological University last Wednesday .

In contrast, his younger brother Joel is a natural performer who is comfortable in the spotlight.

The Singapore Polytechnic music and audio technology graduate is the singer and guitarist in his band Maxime. He was roped in to do cameos for their dad's company productions, such as the telemovie Aunty Lucy Slam Dunk (2009).

"Watching my dad act as I grew up definitely influenced me and my interest grew when I started acting in my friends' short films," he says.

One of his father's memorable roles was the cunning gambler in the iconic gambling serial The Unbeatables I (1993).

Jonathan cast his famous dad in his short film, Han. Zhu plays a father whose son kills a Korean woman in a car accident in Singapore. He then flies to South Korea to look for the victim's parents.

The 20-minute short bagged the Best Direction prize at the National Youth Film Awards on July 23.

Of his dad's performance, he says: "He really embodied his role, I didn't really have to do much. It just unfolded."

In turn, his father said it generally takes time to build rapport with new directors, but there was no such issue with his son in the director's chair.

" I know him well, I see him every day."

Filming for social media

Actors Zheng Geping and Hong Huifang with their children Ying and Calvert.  ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Who: Polytechnic student Tay Ying, 20, and Secondary 4 student Calvert Tay, 16

Parents: Actor Zheng Geping, 52, and actress Hong Huifang, 56

Both teens have inherited their parents' good looks and, one of them, their social media savvy.

Tay Ying, has almost 11,000 followers on her Instagram account and YouTube channel, where she uploads make-up tutorials and travel videos for close to 400 subscribers.

For her social media presence, she was signed on by talent agency Nuffnang last month.

Are social media skills genetic? Maybe. Her hunky father has more than 65,000 followers on Instagram and her mother more than 37,000.

But acting may be a different kettle of fish.

The 1.7m-tall Ying, who is in the final year of her diploma in hospitality and tourism management at Temasek Polytechnic, has turned down acting offers from producers her whole life because she is "very shy". "I get tongue-tied when I do school presentations and when I film myself for my YouTube channel."

The difference between acting in a film for someone else and filming herself for her YouTube channel is that "it's fine if I have 100 NG (No Good) takes".

"But I'll feel bad if I keep having NG takes on a film set."

She has starred in television commercials hawking mooncakes and biscuits.

Joining the agency was a way for her to expand her social media reach.

A Nuffnang spokesman said Ying was signed on for her unique personality, and that she does not "let her identity as a child of celebrities define her".

She plans on taking a gap year after her diploma to train in dance and promote her budding social media career.

As for 1.79m-tall Calvert, he would not mind dabbling in acting or modelling.

But first, he must sit his O levels. Then he hopes to start a band with his pals.

Calvert, who plays the piano and is learning to play the guitar, says: "My friend introduced Japanese pop rock band One Ok Rock to me and I've been listening to them since last year. They inspire me to form a band."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'To act or not to act, like mum and dad'. Subscribe