It looked like a scene out of Chinese New Year in a typical heartland coffee shop. But instead of food and drinks, people were carrying cameras, scripts and costumes.
Within minutes, passers-by realised that the stalls at Kim Keat Food & Drinks Centre were temporarily closed for filming. They instantly snapped out their phones, hoping to steal a few shots of their favourite television stars.
The Toa Payoh coffee shop is a central location in Eat Already?, a dialect drama series catering to seniors. Named after the direct translation of the common Hokkien greeting "jiak ba buay", it aims to convey government schemes and important topics such as healthcare and retirement planning in languages seniors are familiar with.
The series - a collaboration between the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and Mediacorp - is in production for its third season. Home-grown director Kelvin Tong will be taking the reins from director Royston Tan, who helmed the first two seasons.
One of the series' stars is veteran actor Chen Shucheng, 67, who plays stallholder Uncle Yuan, both in seasons two and three.
Teochew, one of the dialects in the show, has always been close to Chen's heart. He was a voice actor in Teochew radio plays for 18 years.
Years later, he has the chance to use Teochew again in Eat Already?, which started last year.
"My largest reward is being able to recall Teochew phrases which are in decline, and to refresh the audience's memories with these phrases," Chen told The Straits Times on Saturday on the set.
In the new season, the coffee shop will try to stay relevant in the digital age, said director Tong. Trouble looms when a menacing restaurateur arrives to settle old scores, he added. The third season will explore themes such as water conservation, forward planning, community service and neighbourly tolerance.
FAMILY BONDING OVER LANGUAGE
For the younger audiences, my hope is that, if they tune in, they can watch something that allows them to connect with their grandparents. That is also a kind of social messaging at play.
DIRECTOR KELVIN TONG, on the drama Eat Already?, which features dialects like Hokkien and Cantonese.
It will feature cast members, such as Chen and Hong Huifang, from the previous seasons. There will also be new faces, such as Felicia Chin and Nick Shen, and new dialects, namely Hainanese and pasar Melayu, in addition to Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew. Tong said: "There are many dialects in Singapore, and not only Chinese ones."
One of the new season's main characters is Hainanese, and Tong is also introducing pasar Melayu.
"It's the kind of Malay that our parents and grandparents grew up with, because they went to the market to buy stuff from the makcik."
More dialects will make the show's soundscape "a lot more realistic and diverse, reflecting our actual background", he added.
Eat Already?'s first two seasons have attracted more than 200,000 TV viewers on average per episode.
Before the series started, MCI produced television interstitials in dialects for the Chinese-speaking pioneer generation, to raise their awareness of the Pioneer Generation Package. Malay and Tamil segments were also produced.
MCI then decided to start a weekly drama series to enhance its communication of government initiatives and schemes to seniors.
By packaging the information into bite-sized formats, seniors will be able to better absorb and remember it, said Ms Karen Tan, senior director of MCI's public communications division.
Royston Tan said: "The series is a form of social service as it is a means of reaching out to the older generation."
Tong said: "For the younger audiences, my hope is that, if they tune in, they can watch something that allows them to connect with their grandparents. That is also a kind of social messaging at play."
Season three of Eat Already? will air on Channel 8 from Aug 18.