Production Talk - 'Labour Day' by He Shuming

Synopsis

Cik visits her old flat to collect rent from her two foreign worker tenants who are on their way to work – Zoe, a frumpy 30-year old Malaysian Chinese whose second application to be a Singapore citizen has just been rejected, and Purple, a study-mama from China, who is hiding a secret from her 12 year-old son.
LABOUR DAY is a quirky and quiet observation of how one goes to great lengths to pursue a better life in a city obsessed with progress and change.


*****



What inspired you to create this film?

It was initially an idea of making a Singaporean film with non-Singaporean characters. Most of the time when I try to write something, I turn to my mother who's always provided me with much inspirations unknowingly. This is very much a story about women who are mothers, daughters, sisters and wannabe actresses.


How did you go about casting?

We sent out casting calls online, scour through drama groups, etc. Jasmine Koh (Zoe) is a theatre actress from Young & W!ld. Xiang Ling auditioned for Traces (another graduating short film) and we invited her to audition for the role of Purple. Zaliha (Cik) is a veteran TV actress known for her roles in Malay dramas, she was the Chinese opera singing macik in Chicken Rice War. I found the little boy from my alma mater, Maris Stella High School - there are plenty of Mainland Chinese students in the school's table tennis team.




Any interesting anecdotes to share about the production?

One of the other characters of the film was the spaces these characters occupied. The film was mainly set in Hougang New Town, where I grew up. The rainbow flat's been there for ages and in fact, the neighbourhood hasn't changed much. Well, it is an opposition ward but I think that's the nice thing about a neighbourhood that doesn't get upgraded much. There's something tranquil about it and you get a mix of foreign workers from Malaysia and China, new immigrants from India as well as your usual Singaporeans. There is something less 'plastic' about this suburbs than most HDB neighbourhoods.

When we were shooting at People's Park, we had to devise a plan to make sure people aren't going to stare into the cameras. The scene was when Purple solicited at People's Park, known to be a popular area where old retirees and women from Mainland China, well, hang out and be friends. It was a small crew that day - just me, my DP, his CA, and the AD with the actress Xiang Ling (who was dressed quite provocatively). The camera would be placed far away from Xiang Ling while she's instructed by the AD (who's on the phone with me) as she walked around, watched hawkers selling their wares, etc. She was approached by a few men, some whom were pimps, asking her if she had an 'agent' and how much her rates were. Xiang Ling was such a trooper, playing along and being in character.


What were your biggest challenges in making this film?

Hmmm, to bring out the realism out of the actors and make these characters believable. The very fact that these characters who are very real people, and portrayed by professional actors was a challenge.

For Jasmine especially, it was hard for her because she doesn't speak Malay and had to learn her line phonetically before progressing further in rehearsals. That was initially a problem for me, to have a Singaporean Chinese actress portray a Malaysian Chinese. But I realized it could be interesting to see if those differences between a Singaporean and a Malaysian. I guess in a way, not everyone were convinced. Well, the audience can decide for themselves I guess.


Any future plans after graduating from The Puttam School of Film, LASALLE?

I'm currently working on my reel for TVCs, looking at other types of collaborations and writing my next short film.

I need to get out of Singapore for awhile, I think. There are plenty of stories to be told here but sometimes we need to look at it from the outside. But realistically I will need to work for awhile first. We will see. :)

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