Award-winning film director Gilbert Chan given six weeks' jail for assaulting taxi driver

SINGAPORE - While intoxicated, award-winning local film director Gilbert Chan Khai Chuen assaulted an elderly taxi driver after a fare-related dispute.

Chan, 42, who wrote and directed popular 2011 horror movie 23:59, was sentenced to six weeks' jail on Tuesday (July 17) after he was convicted of causing hurt to Mr Ooi Him Chieng, 64.

District Judge Carol Ling found him guilty of the offence on July 3 following a two-day trial.

After consuming alcohol, Chan boarded Mr Ooi's taxi from Goodwood Park Hotel to go home in the wee hours of April 20 last year. The fare totalled $26.35 when the vehicle stopped at around 2am in Canberra Drive off Yishun Avenue 7.

During the trial, Mr Ooi testified that Chan did not pay the correct fare and this led to a disagreement between the pair.

In his submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum said: "The victim was asking for no more than what he was owed on the night... before being beaten by the accused.

"The panicked cries of help by the victim as he was being punched, kicked and chased by the accused... attracted the attention of independent eyewitness Saravanan Subramaniam who was on duty as a security guard at a nearby condominium."

Mr Saravanan alerted the police and officers later arrived at the scene. An ambulance took Mr Ooi to hospital where he was treated for a bruise on his left shoulder.

Chan testified during the trial that he thought it was a relatively small case. The film director had also claimed that he and Mr Ooi fell when they grabbed each other.

On Tuesday, the court heard that before the trial, Chan paid the taxi driver $100 to compensate for his medical bills. Chan also gave the older man another $320 as restitution for his four-day loss of income.

DPP Lum urged Judge Ling to sentence Chan to six weeks' jail and stressed that the elderly taxi driver was a vulnerable victim.

He said in his submissions: "Public transport workers such as taxi drivers provide the larger community with an invaluable and essential service and have every right to work in a safe and secure environment. The present case reminds us of this ever-present need for the courts to deter violent offences committed on taxi drivers."

Chan, who was unrepresented, pleaded for just a fine. He also told the court that the offence was not premeditated.

After he was sentenced, he told Judge Ling that he would be filing an appeal and was offered bail of $10,000.

Chan's accolades include winning the top prize in the Singapore Screenplay Awards in 2001. Love Matters, a movie he co-directed with fellow filmmaker Jack Neo, was a box-office success in Malaysia and Singapore.

For assault, Chan could have been jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.