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Director Jack Neo’s latest Chinese New Year blockbuster Ah Long Pte Ltd may be up against CJ7 and Kung Fu Dunk (starring Stephen Chow and Jay Chou respectively), but local actor-comedian-host Mark Lee is not in the least bit worried about the competition.

“The two Chou’s cannot beat one Lee,” he proclaims proudly in Mandarin during an interview at AMK Hub recently. The 39-year-old funnyman plays an effeminate dance instructor and image stylist in Neo’s latest work.

Clad in a bright pink T-shirt, Lee tells us why Singaporeans will flock to cinemas to watch this movie: “Stephen Chow’s movie is often out of this world, and Jay Chou’s movie is meant for the younger audience. On the other hand, Jack Neo’s movies are for everyone from 8 to 65.”

The greatest takeaway of Neo’s last hit Just Follow Law has to be its Best Actor nomination at the prestigious Golden Horse Awards. This brought another local funnyman Gurmit Singh into Taiwan’s media limelight. Does Lee hope to strike gold with his starring role in his latest big screen outing?

“Frankly, I think it’s quite difficult because both our characters are men being ladylike, so the judges may not think it’s anything new.’

“But if they decide to nominate me, then I can say that they are being very fair and square,” Lee jokingly says.

His co-star in the movie is none other than the luminous Fann Wong, who also starred in Neo’s last movie. She is also the “wife” belonging to Lee at last year’s Star Awards organized by Mediacorp TV. When Wong enters the interview room, Lee cheekily teases us: “See, once the star comes in, you all don’t want to interview me anymore!”

We apologize for the slight distraction because it is difficult not to take notice of the 37-year-old actress, who is dressed in a stunning red dress for the interview. She shoots a feigned angry look at her on-screen husband before taking her seat.

When asked whether she’d be playing husband and wife with the other Mr. Lee (Christopher, her boyfriend in real life), Wong assures us that it won’t be happening anytime soon.

“It’s kind of difficult because we know each other too well,” she says coyly in Mandarin.

“And it’s very hard to find time too,” she laughs in zest.

After playing a man trapped in a woman’s body in her last movie, Wong plays a girl who tries to restructure her loan shark triad to one that does not resort to violence. She does not feel that these are similar roles.

“I’m a female through and through in this movie. Other than the action sequences which I need to fight, I still get to be feminine when it comes to the lovey dovey scenes.”

To the experienced actress, acting in a movie is also not a similar experience as compared to acting in a TV drama, because there is a need to flesh out a movie character in two hours as compared to a TV drama’s 30 episodes.

“It’s a different kind of satisfaction and a different kind of difficulty,” adds the pretty actress.

Fellow cast member Richard Low agrees on this, and feels that although there are tiring and hectic schedules to be followed when shooting a movie, there are its perks too. In this case, Low had his ultimate wish come true – to have Wong swallow his spit.

“I know there are other actors out there who are wishing that Fann will swallow their spits, but you heard it here first – I had this privilege in this movie,” chuckles the well-mannered veteran actor wittily in Mandarin. Coincidentally, he is also dressed in an auspicious red shirt for this interview.

The 55-year-old is no stranger to Neo’s movie. You may remember him as the loud father in I Not Stupid (2002) and the indecisive husband in The Best Bet (2004). In his latest collaboration with Neo, Low plays a retiring triad leader, and it has definitely not been an easy filming this movie.

He recalls the scene where his character is tortured: “You have to see it to believe it – This is be the most difficult scene for me in this movie.

“And when you are working with Jack, don’t you let him find out you are only giving him 99 per cent. He will ask you for that extra one per cent.”

Director Neo strongly believes this philosophy of getting the best out of his cast. In fluent Mandarin, the 47-year-old filmmaker tells us: “In this way, I can be sure that audiences get the best movie I can make.”

After tackling social issues like education and family, Neo takes on the controversial subject matter of loan sharks in Singapore. He feels that most people have the perception that loan sharks are “heartless and evil”, but after doing research in this field, he has found out that there are “kind and caring” loan sharks as well.

After half a year of scriptwriting, 35 days of shoots and a few tweaks to the original plot during post production, the movie is ready to take on the Chinese New Year blockbuster season. He is confident that Singaporeans will be entertained by his latest movie.

“I can guarantee that you’d get your money’s worth after walking out of the cinema.”

Ah Long Pte Ltd opens 7 February 2008

Review & Trailer of Ah Long Pte Ltd can be found here

Interview: John Li | Photos: Lokman BS
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