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Daring, bold, innovative. A few words to describe filmmaker, Kelvin Tong who entered The Oriental Hotel, being the only person who knows exactly what is going on with Men in White. It was only ten minutes prior to the press conference did he inform his cast of their respective roles in the film and only provided them with a brief description of each. As such, Shaun Chen, Ling Lee, Xavier Teo and the Men in White talent search contest winner, David Aw, were just as curious as the members of the press attending the conference.

So, while everyone knew that Men in White will be about five dead men who go about trying to scare Singaporeans silly, everyone wanted to know who played what. Shaun Chen, the most recognizable face of the lot, explained that his character had a shy personality and what piqued everyone’s interest was that the character would be a magician. However, when asked to elaborate, he stopped short saying that he believes in Kelvin Tong’s work and will do as he is told.

Starring opposite Shaun is Miss Singapore Universe 2005 runner-up, Ling Lee, who is fast becoming a rising star on our television screens. While she is the token love interest, she also explains that Shaun’s character only gets to see her back most of the time. Vague? Precisely. At press time, how the characters learn to fall for each other is pretty suspect. Xavier Teo rounds off the cast as a hip-hopper and David Aw as a young director who also happens to be the only man alive in the film.

Pressed for more, Kelvin Tong explained his casting choice as a move that would appeal to a younger audience. Having chosen a cast that is younger and more relevant, he hopes to cater to a wider audience of local film-lovers. Kelvin also mentioned that with a lack of support for the arts in general in Singapore as compared to business or money, there is a disregard for people who believe in their own craft. Defensive? Not quite. The filmmaker believes in making his own brand of films, his own stories to tell, no matter how silly they may seem. A characteristic a filmmaker in Singapore should possess with the influx of local films being produced.

When movieXclusive.com quizzed the team about the expectations, Xavier Teo cited that despite this being the first time most of them were appearing on the silver screen, he saw it more of a privilege in getting a chance to work with Kelvin and on a movie too. Kelvin applauded him and added that it is good to be young, alive and working with such good company and that pressure was the last thing on his mind.

When asked if Mike Leigh (who wrote and directed Vera Drake without informing the cast about what the film was actually about until the end) served as an inspiration to Kelvin’s choice of filmmaking style on Men in White, Kelvin explained that it was not the first time he is adopting the method of “culturing” actors. Previously, on Eating Air, he had worked with non-actors and he knew that giving them a complete script would result in a lot of memorizing and staring at lines instead of really getting under the skin of the characters. He also stated matter-of-factly that the end product should not be exactly as he had dreamt it up. It should be the product of the actors’ contribution and development.

Being one who would be scared to be stuck in a room with any screaming Al Pacino characters, Kelvin Tong is an intelligent conversationalist, a passionate artist and most importantly, a believer of his product. Heading into the New Year, Kelvin should be the designated torch bearer for local films as the industry matures. Men in White is scheduled to start filming in January and slated for a June 2007 release.

Reported,Translated & Photo by Richard Lim Jr | Interview & Written by Mohamad Shaifulbahri
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