Spirit Compendium Q&A
One of the first indies to open this patriotic season, The Spirit Compendium has been the darling of the Chinese press, and Sinema.SG is next in line to bring you more of the film from the cast and crew’s own words.
Benny Foo Fung Koon Ã¢â‚¬” Director
Caleb Tan (CT): Tell us about The Spirit Compendium in your own words.
Benny Foo (BF): With the release of many recent horror movies and thrillers, it has become more challenging to have a breakthrough. “The Spirit Compendium” is not based entirely on a ghost story. And in fact, The Spirit Compendium may not belong to any specific category, as it is a fusion of different emotional expressions and spiritual characters, such as love, friendship and a touch of homosexuality, deities and spirits.
CT: This is your first feature Ã¢â‚¬” but you’ve had a long history in filmmaking. When did you start?
BF: I was already actively involved in drama and play during my school time and subsequently pass an audition to enter the First Producers Training Course (Drama) and the Fourth Professional Scriptwriting Course organized by SBC. There I underwent serious training and received guidance from professionals. Along the way, I joined the Acting course from Southern Arts Drama Group to learn and understand the art of acting, speech, performing and body movements and gestures. The Spirit Compendium is my first feature film, and it took about one and a half months to shoot and three months of editing to complete it.
CT: Many films that focus on the other side often have ‘encounters’ – did you experience any during the filming of The Spirit Compendium?
BF: Well, it so happens that we starting filming The Spirit Compendium during the Lunar Seventh Month. To ensure that our production ran smoothly, we carried out incense offering ceremonies and prayers to pay our respects to the “other side”. There was one incident, during our daytime outdoor scene, where the sky turned overcast. Desperate to stick to our planned schedule, we actually resort to the burning of joss papers for the spirits, hoping for a miracle. Surprisingly, it worked! The sky cleared up in no time and we were back to our shooting again. And amazingly, right after our shooting, a heavy downpour followed.
CT: So after this film do you have any more planned for the future?
BF: I have already starting working on my next movie, Seven.
CT: What’s your favourite Singaporean film, and director?
BF: My favourite local film is Homerun, by Jack Neo. My favourite local director is none other than Kelvin Tong.
Benjamin Ng Ã¢â‚¬” Actor
CT: How did you get your start in acting?Ã¢â‚¬¨
Benjamin Ng (BN): I took part in a talent-search competition called “The Next Big Thing” on Channel U back in 2004, the rest was history after that.
CT: Spirit Compendium was your first feature film, and half the time you were half-naked in front of the camera Ã¢â‚¬” how was the experience for you as an actor?
BN: It was pretty awkward for me, especially since my body wasn’t exactly in its best condition!
CT: And how was it like working closely with the other actors and actresses?
BN: Pretty easy Ã¢â‚¬” we clicked the first time we met. The best part is that we’re all newcomers [to the industry], so there were nice feelings because we felt like best friends after the show.
CT: What do you personally think of the film?
BN: I feel that Benny took a unique direction. As it was meant to be more artistic with a few mainstream elements, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you plan to watch The Spirit Compendium and expect a typical horror film, do watch it with an open mind!
Foyce Le XuanÃ‚ – Actress
CT: This is the second horror movie you’ve acted in Ã¢â‚¬” are you drawn to the supernatural roles, or are there other genres that you’d really like to explore?
Foyce Le (FL): I have always been interested in dramatic roles, roles which require a lot of emotion and sadness. I also have a martial arts background which I would like to use in any future projects.
CT: What do you think about the movie, and about your role?
FL: The movie has a unique approach to the subject matter of spirits. My role is a girl with a weak character who can see spirits and struggles with emotional breakdowns along the way. When it comes to love, she has to hold back her feelings due to her insecurities. She feels helpless in her position, seeing the guy that she loves and cares for is in the state of grief because of another girl.
Ã¢â‚¬¨CT: In this film, your character can see spirits, have you had any encounters personally?
FL: Yes, when I was younger I recall seeing a ghost sitting at the side of my sister’s bed. It was pretty scary.
Michael KwahÃ‚ Ã¢â‚¬” Actor
CT: You come from an English-speaking background, what was it like for you starring in a Mandarin film?
Michael Kwah (MK): When Director Benny approached me with this role, I was pretty excited & nervous at the same time! Coming from an English-speaking background it was tough having to switch to speaking fluent Mandarin, memorising and pronouncing a whole bunch of profound Mandarin scripts fluently throughout the whole movie, is a total nightmare & tedious process for me! Every night, I had to bring my script with me to sleep, just dreaming and memorising my lines, and even my fellow actors’ lines too, in order to relate and flow in with their scenes. Facing the pressure of my fluent Mandarin speaking co-actors & production’s tight filming schedule, I had to keep up to speed real fast!
CT: So besides brushing up on your mandarin, how else did you prepare for the role in this film? Ã‚
MK: I believe it is that determination of not giving up and going all the way to pursue my dream in acting that kept me going in preparing for this challenging role in this film. In this movie, there are a couples of challenges that I’ve faced, and it is not just the language barrier but also my role as Ben’s male “lover”Ã¢â‚¬¦ha! We had quite a couple of intimate scenes, which we had to express emotions and feelings that are more than your average male bonding relationships, for instance Ã¢â‚¬” the hot massage scene and the bed scene with him etc… And these are some of the scenes we found tough to relate with.
It was psychologically difficult at first in that guy-guy lovemaking scene, but everything turned out to be fine Ã¢â‚¬” after we had overcame our inner “demons”. Furthermore we did lot of homework like watching tons of male and male bonding Hongkong films together to study their characters/emotions/behaviors, and practicing the “moves” in bed together as we cannot afford to be shy or NG too many times. It was darn embarrassing and hilarious at times as Ben and I are such good buddies Ã¢â‚¬” we had never been so close to each other and touching each other all over before.
CT: You’re also set to appear in Royston Tan’s upcoming film 12 Lotus, what can we expect from your role there?
MK: In 12 Lotus, I’m acting as an unscrupulous gangster and it is a huge contrast and challenge to switch from a studious shy ‘good-boy type’ university student role, which was my role in The Spirit Compendium, to a bad boy type gangster with the local mediacorp artiste, brother Qi Yi Wu etc.
CT: What do you think about the local film industry?
MK: I believe through the years, Singapore films have achieved some popularity among the local people but the industry still faces tough obstacles that make it difficult to catch up with fast-improving producers like Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea & China. My opinion is that our local films still had to a long way to go to attract the global audience as most of them are generallyÃ‚ revolved around local themes, but our SG film industry progress is encouraging, moving in its own pace.
I’m really proud of all these local filmmakers/ directors who are willing to take risks and go all the way to achieve their dreams. I believe the success of our film industry will lie in these devoted people and more talented filmmakers in bringing more great ideas and creativity in making greater film & I believe Singapore could become a regional film centre one day.