"Zodiac: The Race Begins" Press Conference, 24 January 2006

By simple virtue of “Zodiac” being the first ever full-length 3-D animation feature produced locally, the coming release of the movie must be stirring up a whirlpool of emotions among its production crew – and decidedly so.

But there’s more. This year also marks the first time since 1999 that two local movies are being screened during the festive Lunar New Year season. Aside from competing with Jack Neo’s “I Not Stupid Too”, “Zodiac” must also go head to head with Jet Li’s swansong in kungfu flicks, “Fearless”. Talk about tough competition.

Regardless, the production crew was visibly positive about their new movie during the press conference recently held at Shaw House. In explaining their intentions for making the movie, executive producer Benjamin Toh highlighted the importance of the Zodiac in Chinese tradition. He stated that it was this cultural significance that led to the production of “Zodiac”, a light-hearted movie that seeks to explain the murky origins of the legendary race between twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

On hand to demystify the legend was Chen Zhao Jing, the writer responsible for the movie’s original story. While he stated that his primary focus was to capture the essence of the Zodiac story, Chen commented that it was also important to insert human elements into the animal characters in order for the movie to translate well, especially to younger audiences.

As the spotlight turned to popular deejay Dennis Chew, another important aspect of the movie was touched on – the voice dubbers. The talented and animated deejay is responsible for a total of three characters in “Zodiac” and in singling out the rooster as his most challenging role, emphasized that no digital re-mastering were employed during recording; everyone had only their imaginations and voices to depend on. Dennis admits that it was an arduous process but one made easy by the patience and even temper of the director, Edward Foo.

Dennis was all praises for not just his director but also his co-star, Fann Wong, who provides voices for the characters of the cat and the snake. He attested to Fann’s work ethic and commended her fine performance as the cat, which leads us to the question on everyone’s mind: where’s Fann? Our helpful emcee, deejay Liyi, informs us that Fann has been held up by work and will only arrive in time for the gala reception.

Yet, the show, as we know, must go on, and the floor is thrown open for questions. When prompted, Clarence Edwin, the music director, reveals that his creative inspiration came from a mix of eastern instruments and western orchestration styles. Similarly, animation director Jay Hong had to draw from a variety of inspirations, be it from documentaries or real-life interactions, while creating the animation for the animals.

As admitted by the director and producers, the obvious reason for choosing Fann and Dennis to voice the title characters would be their experience and popularity. It was likewise clear that Dennis, in the absence of Fann, was the center of attention, as most questions were directed towards him. His enthusiasm was infectious as he confessed a preference for the mouse, his favourite character among the ones he voiced. All in all he was immensely satisfied to be part of the production team, which was, as he remarked ever so jovially, a close-knit bunch.

When asked about expectations for the movie, members of the crew were in unison as they voiced hopes of a prolonged release. They were upbeat though realistic about how the movie would fare and implored the public for patience and support; after all this is Singapore’s first shot at 3-D animation.

“Please don’t compare us with overseas animation, we’re merely working towards laying the foundations for the local animation industry! We hope you will enjoy “Zodiac”, which is essentially a tribute to the miracle of how a tiny mouse won the race to be the king of the Chinese Zodiac,” and on that note, director Foo ended the press conference.

After the press conference, movieXclusive.com were lucky enough to be invited to the press reception, which was later attended by Fann Wong. Although Fann’s luminous presence was slightly affected by a recent bout of cold, the alabaster star was professional as ever as she fielded our questions. During our short interview, Fann revealed that it had always been a wish of hers to take part in an animated production, as that would require her to explore different creative realms.

She explained, “It was evident that the snake was a very Fann Wong character, very demure and feminine, but I wanted to do something challenging. I wanted to voice something that will surprise audiences.” The challenge she gave herself, which involved screeching at the top of her voice for hours, came at the cost of a lost voice but the PR-savvy Fann insists that it is a small price to pay. Our time was soon up and as we were driven out of the room, Fann answers our last question with a perfect smile, saying that she hopes to have more opportunities to be involved in animation in the future.

Yet, what holds for the animation industry in Singapore? Will it flourish or flounder and more importantly, how good of a start is “Zodiac”? Do the industry a favour by watching the movie, and judge for yourselves! “Zodiac” is currently playing island-wide.

Report: Angeline Chui | Photos: Angeline Chui + Courtesy from Shaw
| Layout: Linus Tee

"Zodiac: The Race Begins" opens on 26 January and is reviewed here

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