In his new movie, local star Mark Lee may appear momentarily unrecognisable to his fans.
Playing an unscrupulous slimming centre owner in Being Human, in cinemas 4 March, the 41-year-old comedian known for his ah beng roles appeared in business garb and had his hair slicked back a la Michael Douglas in Wall Street.
“I used so much gel that if a fly few in, it would not be able to get out!” he joked.
It was more than a cosmetic change for Lee on this film, his 11th with writer-director Jack Neo, as he stepped out of his comfort zone at Neo’s behest and abandoned his usual brand of physical comedy.
It was departure for both Neo and Lee, who had won legions of fans with slapstick- and slang-infused comedy together ever since their first collaboration on the popular 1990s variety show, Comedy Night.
“An ah beng or sissy character, I can play very well – it’s like I don’t have to (put in much effort),” he told inSing.com at a media junket on 2 March.
“This time, I felt a lot of pressure. Jack gave me a lot of directions—try it this way, try it that way—during filming; he called them simple instructions, but they were hard for me!”
Neo added that after nearly two decades working together, it was time to attempt something different with Mark, whose performance as a profit-at-all-costs businessman, who grapples with his conscience, may be more subtle than fans expect.
“We didn’t want to do ‘ah beng drama’ anymore,” said Neo.
This film, which co-stars Yeo Yann Yann as Lee’s wife, was also partly inspired by the actor’s personal life. The film’s title is a homophone for ‘making babies’, and the onscreen couple’s struggle to conceive mirrored the Lee’s long-running situation at home.
He had been married for eight years with his wife Catherine, trying in vain to have a baby through myriad methods, before she gave birth to their first child Calista in July 2008.
Being Human, produced by Neo’s J Team Productions, Scorpio East Pictures and Mei Ah Entertainment, and distributed by Golden Village, is in essence a Chinese-language comedy, with English and dialect dialogue, about karma and the moral choices people make in life.
The cast also includes local television host Jeremy Chan, Taiwanese TV host NoNo, Tay Ying Ying, Ng Hui and features an appearance by up-and-coming artiste Mei Xin.
Asked if he wanted to make a ‘message’ movie, having made films in that past that contained anti-gambling and anti-loan sharking messages, Neo said he had no intention of ‘preaching’ to the audience.
“I am not God,” he said. “If you can derive a (positive) message out of my movie, that’s good. But if you can’t, then it’s okay, too, so long as you are entertained.”
“The most important thing is if my movies are entertaining.”