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Malaysian director Jess Teong follows up with the sequel to the highly successful The Kid from the Big Apple!

By Say Peng  /  15 Nov 2017 (Wednesday)

In 2016, The Kid from the Big Apple, written and directed by then first-time director Jess Teong released to wide commercial success. It soared to become one of Malaysia's top grossing movies. The film was also a critical darling, winning four awards for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Newcomer at the 7th Macau ­International Movie Festival.

The film originated from Teong's anger at the widespread smartphone culture not just in Malaysia but in Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong, where Teong had worked. She had observed that everyone was engrossed in their own devices and not paying attention and communicating with the people around them. She sought to situate the breakdown of communication caused by technology within the larger social context of intergenerational communication gap.

With the sequel, Before We Forget, Teong wanted to ensure that it is not merely a rehash of the first film. She said that for a sequel to work, three factors must change: location, character, and the film's central theme and problem. 

So the second film explores dementia, an increasingly prevalent condition faced by ageing societies around the world, including Singapore and Japan. Indeed, as Teong was writing the script, her own father started to show symptoms of the condition, proving that she had her finger on the right subject matter, although she had superstitiously felt that her writing about dementia had caused her father to come down with it.  

When the legendary Hong Kong actor Tommy Tam, or Ti Lung as he is better known, who is famously picky with his roles, received the script for the first film, Teong said that he took a month to reply and accept the offer. When he heard that Teong was making a sequel, he advised her not to, as the first film was so successful that a second one was bound never to be able to live up to it. But when Ti Lung received the script for Before We Forget, Teong said he accepted the role in 24 hours. 

From playing a suave, upright, and occassionally comic grandpa in the first film, Before We Forget sees Tam reveal his more vulnerable side. His character Master Lin begins to suffer the onset of dementia and there are scenes as in when he refuses to acknowledge his impending condition and when he griefs for his late wife, in which Tam demonstrates the large reserves that he has as an actor. 

Characters are not the only ones undergoing change. Actress Debbie Goh, who plays Sophia, the mother, felt that the role was an opportunnity for her to go deep into her character. While she has never been typecasted and has had the chance to play a range of roles, Goh said that audiences would always comment not on her performances but on how pretty she looked. With the role of Sophia, Goh wanted herself to be unrecognisable and to become the character.

Being part of Before We Forget, which also explores familial forgiveness and reconciliation, has also prompted Goh to try to reconnect with her distant father. Preferring to keep private family matters separate from her work, all Goh could say was that after the film was completed, she sent a simple text message to her father, asking how he was.  

Not only the adults, but even the child actors in the film are concerned about how they have changed. Before the shoot for the sequel, 15-year-old Jason Tan, who plays the bubbly and efferverscent Jia Bao, was concerned that he was no longer as adorable as he was in the first film. Reassuring him, Teong said that she did not expect Tan to play Jia Bao in the same way as he did for the first film and that like Tan, Jia Bao would also have grown up and matured. 

One of the main reasons she wanted to make the sequel, confessed Teong, was that she had fallen in love with the characters. Teong said that even before she received the funding to make the first film, she had already written the sequel. Will there be a third film? Teong confesses that it is in the works, but that there is no rush. Taking a Richard Linklater-like approach, Teong has decided that a third film is only worth making after the characters have entered a new phase of film. Perhaps in five years, she said, will she make a third The Kid from the Big Apple.  

Distributed by the Singapore Film Society, The Kid from the Big Apple 2: Before We Forget will be released in Golden Village cinemas on 17 Nov. 
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