Interview with TWISTED director Chai Yee Wei
Your sophomore feature after "Blood Ties" is once again in the horror genre. What is it about the horror genre that fascinates you?
A: I love science fiction and adventure. I grew up watching things like the Twilight zone, the outer limits, amazing stories and B-grade horror movies. Many of these early sci-fi and B-movies were made on extremely low budgets. The energy of these films inspires me! Many bigtime directors like Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and James Cameron started out making horror films. They made me feel it is possible to be a filmmaker regardless of how limited your resources are.
Unlike "Blood Ties" however, you’ve said that this isn’t as much a horror thriller as it is a horror comedy. Do you think horror and comedy go well together, especially since one makes people laugh and the other makes people scared? And where do you find the balance between one and the other?
A: I think it is in human nature that we like to laugh at other people’s tragedies. And I guess when you place characters you can relate to in a supernatural situation that also happens to be a personal tragedy, it can be pretty scary and funny at the same time.
Horror comedies are enjoying a newfound appeal thanks to Jack Neo’s ‘hor-medies’. Have you seen "Where Got Ghost?" or "The Ghosts Must Be Crazy"? And how does the style of this movie differ from those?
A: Yes I have. I have watched almost all of Jack’s movies because I am a fan! Twisted will be different from Jack’s 'hormedies' simply because I do not employ the same style of humor. Twisted’s humor is darker and I am more focused on making sure the humor is accessible on a more universal level. I want to make sure someone from US would enjoy it as much as someone from Ang Mo Kio.
Mark Lee starred in both of the above ‘hor-medies’ and he’s once again appearing in your horror comedy. Were you worried that audiences will tire of seeing him in a similar genre film so quickly? Did he have such a worry too?
A: He never mentioned about such worries after reading the script so, I assume he was not concerned. Once we’ve done the imaging for Mark however, everyone’s concerns were quashed. Because from the look that we’ve created for Mark, people are able to sense that it is very different from what he has done before.
You’ve once again managed to recruit a regional cast of veterans for your movie. Was it a deliberate decision that you would get a regional cast, as opposed to a cast of locals, for your movies? If so, why?
A:Although I do not deliberately seek out regional veteran actors, I am just grateful that situations allow them to cross paths with me. I think luck has a lot to play with how things turn out.To be able to recruit regional cast of veterans is a big boon to my project as I know how much they add value to the film with their experience. I believe the Singaporean and Malaysian actors in the film would also agree how much they had learnt from these veterans. I still consider myself very green and so being able to work with people like Cheng Peipei, Kenneth Tsang and this time Zhu Mimi, is a great way for me to learn how professionals from different region work. I have always aspire to make films that can travel as far as it possible can, and having the opportunity to learn from people best in their own fields always excites me.
Can you also tell us how you managed to convince Zhu Mimi and Linda Liao to star in "Twisted"? Are there any particular challenges in working with such regional veterans- Mimi and Linda this time round, and Cheng Pei Pei and Kenneth Tsang in "Blood Ties"?
A: For Mimi-jie, we sent her an early draft of the script and she thought the character was fun so she agreed. Of course this is after we managed to work out a time that is able to accommodate her as her schedule is crazy packed!! As for Linda, it was through her manager whom I met in Malaysia. I spoke to him about potentially engaging other Malaysian Singers, but somehow things just landed on Linda’s lap and she took an interest.
Working with highly experienced veterans require you to know what you want, while at the same time be humble to accept other people’s ideas. In the beginning there is always the fear that you will get bullied because you are green. But I have since gotten over that by telling myself that there will always be people more experienced than I am and there is no running away from that. Once you are humble and open, others will do the same to you.
"Blood Ties" got an M18 rating and that probably meant it lost some younger audiences. Are you aiming for a wider audience this time round with "Twisted"?
A: Yes, it was a pity then. But for Twisted, I believe ratings would be much lower as it is not as violent and gory. And of course I trust 'Twisted humor' can make the scares easier to swallow for the censors. That said, I am still keeping my fingers crossed as you will never know what to expect from the censors.
What was the budget for "Twisted"? And was it difficult finding the money to make this movie?
A: I am not too sure of the actual amount but the production budget is in the ballpark of 800-900K I believe. Funding for this film was done mainly by mm2, the producer of the film, so I didn’t really do any funding myself. Good thing is I have the chance to focus more on the story this time. But no matter what, finding money for any movie made by a Singaporean director is definitely not an easy job.
Given the size of the Singapore market, do you think such Singapore-Malaysia collaborations like ‘Twisted’ will be the way to go in future? How do you think such collaborations benefit the local film industry?
A: If we are able to make films that can reach the audience in both markets, it can definitely increase the chance of survival for filmmakers here. But also I believe that making a story that is true to itself is still key in the art of filmmaking. I guess the hard part is how do you make a film that can appeal to people from 2 different countries while still remaining true to yourself. Collaborations so far has been to help different producers reduce their risks in their investment and it is always been about the money. No matter what kind of collaborations, I wish it will remain content focus. The best way to reduce risk in my opinion, is to make a film that is unique and sincere, while having the sensibilities to have people all over the world relate to it. Then the market would naturally open up, not just limited to certain countries.
What other genres do you hope to explore in your career going forward?
A: This is a question that is so hard to answer as I love movies from all genres! I personally wish that one day I could do some crazy sci fi adventure story. But no matter which genre, it is the characters, their relationships with one another and their conflicts that is still the most important.
TWISTED opens in cinemas 28 Jul.