Directing His Career

With his first win at the 2018 Sapporo International Film Festival, Jun Chong (CS’16) is a rising narrative film-maker in the local scene.

-A A +A

Once a child actor at Mediacorp and a theatre studies and drama student, Jun Chong (CS’16) always thought he was going to be an actor. But an epiphany in junior college inspired him to change course.

“I was acting for our theatre studies class when my teacher started to direct us. He instructed me to do this and that,” Chong recalled. “It was at that moment when I felt that as an actor, you are bound by the script and the directions from the director.”

“I believe a film can tell us a lot about the filmmaker. When I watch a film, I try to see it from the filmmaker’s point of view and understand why he made certain decisions.”

JUN CHONG (CS’16), LINE PRODUCER AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR AT CHUAN PICTURES

“I realised I can use directing to say what I wanted to say and that was when I made the shift,” added the 28-year-old line producer and assistant director.

His passion for the film industry was further underscored by a fruitful professional internship as an WKWSCI undergraduate, when he managed to nab a stint at Chuan Pictures in 2014, a production company owned by acclaimed local film-maker Royston Tan, known for his films “15: The Movie” and “12 Lotus”.

Eventually, the eight-month internship led him to his first job upon graduation in 2016, when he joined Chuan Pictures as a line producer and assistant director. Today, Chong counts himself fortunate to work alongside Tan, someone who is like a mentor and a friend.

“He has taught me a lot on how to navigate the local movie scene and how to make my films better,” Chong said.

Over the years, he has even found time on top of his work to make short films.

Chong has directed three film productions so far, one under Chuan Pictures in 2017, one with an art studio in Japan in 2018, and one independent film in 2019. These were accomplished on top of his other duties at Chuan Pictures, which includes co-directing local dialect drama “Eat Already 2” in 2017 and a segment of Mediacorp’s Star Search this year.

 

His First Win

Chong’s film career took off when his debut production, “Ke”, was crowned the Best Asian Short in the 2018 Sapporo International Short Film Festival. The Hakka short is part of a dialect omnibus, titled 667, produced by Royston Tan.

Commissioned by Singapore Chinese Culture Centre (SCCC), Ke tells a story of an elderly Taiwanese woman who came to Singapore to find her late grandfather’s gravestone in Singapore’s last Hakka cemetery.

The film took a total of four months to produce and starred Taiwanese actress Xie Xiao Ling and local veteran actor Liang Tian. Xie also won the Best Actress award for her role in “Ke” at the festival.

“Ke” was first screened at the SCCC in 2017, along with the four other films in the anthology. In 2018, SCCC screened 667 again to celebrate Chong’s win.

Calling the award “a huge encouragement and a stepping stone” in his career, the opportunity to make another film also came alongside the honour.

When Chong was at the festival, the organiser offered him a residency opening at the Sapporo Tenjinyama Art Studio. Provided with a fund and a local artist coordinator, who helped Chong find the actor and locations he needed, Chong completed his second film, “Autumn”, during that period.

The film was first screened at the art studio in 2018, and at the Vienna Independent Film Festival this year.

However, as someone new to the film-making industry, the opportunity to participate in the high-profile dialect film anthology came with high pressure, Chong revealed.

“Royston keeps telling me that I have big shoes to fill because there are so many other people he could have asked (to shoot the Hakka short),” said Chong.

Jun Chong's Director Reel from Jun Chong on Vimeo.

Proving His Own Capabilities

Hence, Chong hopes that his latest film, “New Resident”, can be a testament to his film-making abilities.

Directed, written, and co-produced by Chong, his third film tells a story of a woman who keeps chickens inside her flat at Sin Ming Avenue. Wild chickens are a common sight around the Housing and Development Board flats in Sin Ming, said Chong, who has been living there for almost his whole life.

In 2017, after receiving complaints from residents, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore culled 24 chickens. Some residents, including Chong, were not happy about it as they saw these birds as part of the landscape.

“I started thinking about why humans and animals cannot co-exist. What if someone, like an auntie, starts to catch chickens and puts them inside her house? That’s how the whole idea came about,” the film-maker shared.

To film the scene, Chong had to mock up a flat within a HDB block that went through en bloc. “No one is going to let you put chickens in their house,” he said.

As his first independent passion project, the entire production was funded purely using his own money.

“It’s something I always wanted to do but I had no money then. So I saved up for this, and I had to beg everybody, from crews, to the actress, and the post-production house.”

“Most of them who helped me did it out of friendship,” Chong added.

At times like this, Chong is grateful for the connections forged during his time at WKWSCI.

He recalled an instance where he needed a newscaster’s voice for “New Resident.” “I reached out to a friend who went into journalism. Although it wasn’t his profession per se, he had that training so I asked him to dub for my film and he readily agreed.”

Beyond his schoolmates, Chong also stayed in contact with staff from the school’s Technology & Facilities department: Joseph Yee and Tan Boon Huat. He would still turn to them for help, in the same manner as he would when he was an undergraduate.

 

Autonomy as a Film-Maker

The entire film-making process for “New Resident" took more than two years. The filming only took three days while the rest of the time was spent on scripting and researching. Although such independent ventures are taxing, especially with his full-time job, the accompanying freedom in creative direction is worth it to Chong.

“I didn’t want any investments because I want no strings attached,” he said. “This is the first time I felt that I could do anything I want.”

“You cannot wait for people to give you the opportunity, you have to find ways to make it.”

JUN CHONG (CS’16), LINE PRODUCER AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR AT CHUAN PICTURES

The autonomy is important to Chong as he uses films to tell the stories close to his heart.

“A lot of my ideas came from what I experienced,” he said. “I believe a film can tell us a lot about the filmmaker. When I watch a film, I try to see it from the filmmaker’s point of view and understand why he made certain decisions.”

Currently, Chong is looking for a suitable film festival for the premiere of “New Resident”.

“You cannot wait for people to give you the opportunity, you have to find ways to make it,” Chong said.

Semester: