Interview: Margaret Chan, Actor and Writer of ‘Medium Rare’4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
“Tony Yeow was inspired to make a film about the Adrian Lim murders and he convinced Errol Pang to fund it. Errol owns the Miss Universe Franchise and he bought the idea. They wanted to make a film that would have international appeal so an international cast and crew was chosen.“When I came on board, the crew and actors were already selected. I didn’t have a say in who was chosen. The lead actor playing the role of the medium was Dore Kraus, an Australian actor chosen for his swashbuckling pan-Asian look. His acting credits included playing Ultraman in the mini-series. The lead actress, playing the photojournalist who falls for him, was Jaime Marshall, a Caucasian model who was in Singapore at that time. Much of the film is experienced through her eyes when she uncovers the secrets behind this medium.
“When I was offered the role as the longsuffering wife of the medium, I jumped at the chance. How often in Singapore in 1992 did one get a role to act for the big screen? This was a pioneering Singapore film and everyone went about it with a pioneering spirit, making things up as we went along.
“By the time I did Forever Fever in 1998, things were a lot more professional. In 1992, we did the best as we knew how, grabbing at whatever resources we had. Even my mother-in-law was roped in to be an extra, my daughter played the role of my character’s sister and my neighbour’s daughter, together with my son, played the children who were going to be sacrificed. I was paid a humble amount for my work but that was not the point.
“When the director and crew arrived in Singapore, they needed a shooting script because all they had was a treatment. I volunteered to write it as I was familiar with the cultural milieu of Asian temple mediums. I wrote it in two weeks with Rani Moorthy, camped in at the Pan Pacific Hotel with the rest of the crew. And I had to write with the actors in mind, since they already had been cast.
“I did not see the Dore lead as a medium (tangki) as we know them to be in Singapore. I saw him as a madman who used a mishmash of various practices, including Taoist, Hindu and Malay animistic practices, to justify what he was doing. So for me, there was no contradiction that unlike most tangkis, he was Caucasian (not Chinese), lived in a colonial bungalow (not an HDB flat), or that I, his wife, alternated between wearing florid saris and Nonya samfoos.
“In retrospect, I wish I could have written a more nuanced portrait of this madman and the characters around him. Medium Rare turned out to be more B-grade than I wanted because their characters were not developed. I would have preferred that the film be about his descent into madness. I would also have wanted it to be more gritty, local, and claustrophobic, a little like Perth (2005).
“Medium Rare had a very short rune in Singapore and it was panned by the critics. Sometimes, I get asked if I am ashamed for the work I have done for it, and I have to remind myself not to be defensive. What is there to be ashamed of? They were expecting high production values, but they forget that this was our first film and Singapore’s first film in a long time. We were flying by the seat of our pants!”
Today, Chan is Practice Assistant Professor of Theatre/Performance Studies at the Singapore Management University. She has also written Ritual is Theatre, Theatre is Ritual: Tang-ki Chinese Spirit Medium Worship (2006).