Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Michelle Chong is, arguably, Singapore’s funniest, smartest and most versatile comedienne.
In her impersonations of various stereotypes from a China KTV lounge hostess to a Filipino maid to a ditzy SPG in her fake news TV series, “The Noose”, she totally kills with her spot-on spoofing of cultural behaviour and mannerisms.
So, you just wish that in her debut feature film, “Already Famous” – a from-zero-to-slightly-above-zero underdog tale in which she pao ka liao (“Do everything” in Hokkien) as director-star-writer-possibly kopi lady – she could have become even more infamously comical.
Instead, she tones down her inner naughty imitator for a milder, home-grown persona straight out of kampong country.
As Ah Kiao, a starry-eyed gal selling TV sets in small-town Malaysia, she breathes lives and dreams Channel 8 drama serials beamed from the magical wonderland of big-city Singapore.
Oh, you know her kind of backwoods village across the Causeway.
Her brother sells pirated DVDs, her mom gathers all the neighbours to watch TV together, and she tells the little fat boy hanging around in her shop that celeb hairstylist David Gan is a famous sissy – her word, not ours – whom nobodies like them should aspire to be.
And since Gan from Segamat and Channel 8 super-hunk Christopher Lee from Malacca are fellow Malaysians who have hit the big time, well, she, Ah Kiao from Yong Peng, Johor, is destined to be really famous too.
Joining the names of her idols Zoe Tay and Fann Wong together, the self-renamed ‘Zann’ heads off to our Suntec City here where the Starz Search auditions are being held.
A dig at Star Search? Isn’t it a bit, er, outdated when a stab at rising cab fares is so much hipper?
But alas, she arrives at a wrong time just when the competition is deemed “For Singaporeans only” due to prevailing anti-foreigner sentiment.
You know Chong reportedly wrote this script nine years ago. She must’ve updated it very recently.
Nevertheless, Ah Kiao, as stubborn as the Energiser bunny and as eternally hopeful as Forrest Gump, perseveres.
She works as a salesgirl selling face cream, part-times as a ‘calefare’ (an extra in TV shows) in MediaCorp productions, and gets her publicity photos done by Patricia Mok who claims she’s actually someone prettier than Patricia Mok.
The road to fame is all-arduous and half-humorous where Ah Kiao even ventures into a crowded Potong Pasir flat to sign up with a fly-by-night artiste management company run by a person who looks exactly like FLY Entertainment’s Irene Ang.
Inside jokes dominate this comedy, filled with local guest stars who cameo as caricatures of themselves.
Including David “Sissy” Gan, whom you think might be the one most likely to sue if “Already Famous” had gone more mean, less green.
The guests are all Michelle’s friends who would, of course, be the ones expected to derive the biggest laughs out of this private parody.
We outsiders, on the other hand, not privy to Channel 8’s catty internal workings – a lot of the spoofs are so insider-based only the make-up people and security guards would get it – would imagine that since the whole thing looks endearingly light and harmless, we should at least smile once in a while.
The greenhorn herself, though, can’t let go when she should have.
Chong’s flick, high on the aw-shucks factor, feels stretched on the aiyah-so-long factor too.
A whole chunk, especially her innocent days of yearn in her sleepy Malaysian town and her moments of tentative romance with a coffee-shop guy (played by Taiwanese singer-host Alien Huang), could have been NG-ed (“No good” in Channel 8 lingo) and trimmed for a shorter, tighter, better story.
Man, whenever the dude from Taiwan appears with his cringingly sunny disposition, the proceedings look like a sappy Taiwanese drama, circa, well, like about every sappy Taiwanese drama now.
But the talented Ms Chong is the main thing here. She apparently took sabbatical leave from MediaCorp to fulfil this cinematic dream – her very own film in her very own way.
There is a sweetness in such an honest effort. When she turns less new, less earnest and less personal in this business, watch out for her next movie.
We think it’s going to be good.