Jack Neo insists on faeces and armpit hair for new movie
Director Jack Neo insists on shot of faeces for authenticity in Long Long Time Ago sequel
Don't be surprised if you feel a little nauseated midway through new movie Long Long Time Ago 2, directed by Jack Neo.
The sequel to the nostalgic and heartfelt Long Long Time Ago, which opened here last month, is set in a Singapore kampung in the late 1960s and features a gag-worthy close-up shot of a huge pile of human faeces.
In the two-second scene, the youngest son of Aileen Tan's character finds himself stuck in the village's filthy wooden toilet.
Frightened, the eight-year-old boy cries for help. His teen sister Ah Ting, played by rookie actress Cynthia Kuang, dashes out of the house, steps on all the poop and manages to extricate him.
Neo told The New Paper yesterday at the new movie's press conference that his art direction team had initial reservations about including the close-up shot.
They had suggested he take it out "as it was very gross".
"I declined very firmly," said the 56-year-old veteran film-maker in Mandarin.
"I was adamant about showing the audience what our kampung toilets were truly like in the 1960s.
"The conditions back then were really as bad as what was portrayed in the movie - just a hole in the ground that leads to a mountain of stale faeces which nobody clears, or worse."
Neo, who grew up in a kampung, said: "It's very hard for the youngsters of today to imagine how dilapidated and dirty our kampung toilets were. They have to see it for themselves."
He said he was aware what he is showing on the big screen "is not beautiful".
"Of course it's not pretty, but it's part of Singapore's history," he explained.
"It forms a chunk of my childhood memories. Why should I hide it?
"When we do scenes like that, it's not to crack silly jokes, or to purposely ignite controversy and grab attention. We just want to be as realistic as possible."
The crude conditions of the toilet also helped to emphasise the "selflessness of older siblings", said Neo.
"Cynthia Kuang's character couldn't care less about her feet being dirty - she just wanted to quickly save her brother.
"I wanted to highlight how simple, yet touching, the love between siblings could be," he said.
Long Long Time Ago 2, which is rated PG13 and opens here next Thursday, continues the story of Long Long Time Ago.
Zhao Di (Tan), a widow, has to manage her father's farm while dealing with her bad-tempered younger brother (Mark Lee), all amid the government's plans to acquire their kampung land for urban development.
When TNP described Neo's depiction of the kampung toilet in the movie to local retiree Madam Tan Toh, 71, who spent her younger years living in a kampung in Lorong Ah Soo, she said it "resembled exactly" the one she remembers.
"The toilet we used was made out of pieces of wood... It's dirty and there will be lots of worms crawling around the faeces," she recalled.
"Nobody clears the faeces, it'd be 're-used' to grow vegetables."
Another seemingly unnecessary but equally eye-popping scene in Long Long Time Ago 2 is a brief shot of Tan's armpit hair when her character, wearing a sleeveless blouse, raises her arms to tie her hair while working at a coal mine.
Neo said: "It's definitely unsightly in today's context, but not in the 1960s.
"When I was studying, I remember vividly that none of my female teachers shaved their armpits and all of us students just felt that it was the norm.
"So for this movie, I wanted to show that it was very natural for women in that era to have unshaven armpits.
"Similar to the toilet scene, it's something young Singaporeans of today might find hard to imagine, but it was real."
Faeces fake but filming was realistic
CO-STARS: (Above) Cynthia Kuang plays Ah Ting in Long Long Time Ago 2. (Below) Aileen Tan plays her mother. PHOTOS: LIANHE WANBAO
It is only her first movie and she has to act with "faeces" - lots of it.
Thankfully, for freelance rookie actress Cynthia Kuang, 21, the human faeces she had to step on for Long Long Time Ago 2 was fake.
According to director Jack Neo, it was created using "artificial materials" and is "completely odourless".
Kuang told The New Paper that even though she "could not smell a thing" during filming, it was easy to get into her character as "the poop looked really real".
"When I was reading the script, I was already looking forward to doing that scene," she said with a smile.
"On our filming day, it rained, which just made the whole scenario even more realistic. I could feel sticky textures beneath my feet," she said.
Veteran TV actress Aileen Tan, 49, also had no issues briefly flashing her armpit hair on the big screen.
"The minute we started filming our kampung scenes in Ipoh, (Neo) told me not to shave my armpits," she said.
"I had no problems with that, I believe in method acting.
"In fact, throughout our two months in Ipoh, I was in character even when the cameras stopped rolling. I became quieter and wasn't as bubbly as before.
"Plus, that scene wasn't gross or anything. It was just a reflection of the particular era we were depicting. It kind of reminded me of Tang Wei in Lust, Caution."
In acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee's 2007 erotic thriller set in late-1930s Shanghai, Chinese actress Tang showed off her unshaven armpits during a sizzling sex scene with Hong Kong co-star Tony Leung.
WHAT FILM CRITICS ARE SAYING
Reviewers give their take on seeing human faeces and armpit hair in Long Long Time Ago 2.
"If this were a film with a modern setting, close-ups of faeces would be out. But because of this movie's (setting), I think it's all right and understandable.
"As for Aileen Tan showing her armpit hair, personally, I think that was optional.
Tan's image of a long-suffering, frumpy woman already stands out strongly, especially with her chipped tooth. We don't need to see her armpit hair to know that she is living a very tough life."
- Chan Yunn Horng, Associate Editor, Shin Min Daily and Lianhe Wanbao
"I don't think we should kick up a big fuss about Aileen showing her armpit hair. In today's age where we are often stressing about gender equality, there's no need to feel offended by the sight of that.
"Her scene is a good representation of the poor financial situation of her character. She has to work so hard for her family, why would she have money to purchase shavers?
"As for the close-up of the faeces, I'm not sure what Neo was trying to show, because the scene was actually more about the little boy's sister saving him from the toilet. He could have used a mid shot or wide shot instead."
- Tina Tan, Entertainment Editor, U-Weekly
"Aileen's character having armpit hair is an extremely accurate depiction of the late 1960s.
"I was a kid growing up in those times and I remember my mum, my neighbours and my aunties - all of them didn't shave! It wasn't till much later, maybe in the early 80s, that women started to care more about such things.
"Similarly, the toilets in 1960s kampungs were really unhygienic. There was no flushing mechanism and workers will only clear the poop manually after an entire day. That scene of human faeces is actually very real."
- Eista Lee, film reviewer, Lianhe Zaobao