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[InC-terview] Kelvin Sng - A “Never Give Up” Attitude

By Flora  /  02 Jan 2019 (Wednesday)

From a very young age, we’ve been instilled this mantra “Never give up”. We were told that as long as we continue to strive, a string of rewards - big and small- will somehow come our way. Of course, this does not come without hard work and perseverance. Many, on the way, drop out of this rat race to find an easier path, and for some, this means to give up on their dreams and passion that they once thought they’ll achieve. 

I met up with Singaporean filmmaker Kelvin Sng at his office in Sin Ming Lane. The 44-year-old director/educator was busy firming up the details of his upcoming movie, "The Winning One <大胃王>". The company has just celebrated its 10th anniversary that weekend with a bash where celebrities and partners alike were invited to the closed-door party. 

During my hour-long interview with Sng where he candidly shared with me about the ups and downs of his 10-year journey, there was a sense of a spark that burns passionately with this down-to-earth filmmaker. But the biggest takeaway from that interview - by some means managed to linger in my mind for the week - was his never-say-die attitude. 

Photo Credit: Kelvin Sng Productions Facebook

But let’s save that for later. 

In the coming weeks, Sng and his team will be busy preparing with his upcoming feature film, starting with an open casting call. “We are casting a lot of actors including artistes from Mediacorp and other management companies. Then we are also having an open audition for the rest of Singapore. We are targeting to shoot around June next year. We are still developing this project, the script is still being edited.”

Titled "The Winning One", the film focuses on friendship, first love and a message on anti-bullying. “It’s an idol drama cum comedy where a guy is forced to take part in an eating competition with his bully,” Sng shared. In it, the movie will also feature over 40 local delicacies that include Singapore’s famous chicken rice, laksa, satay, Peranakanakan kuehs, etc. 

He added: “Why is it called “Da Wei Wang” because in the movie the food featured are metaphors for our human hunger. We are all hungry for something - for love, for acceptance, for fame. Some of us are hungry to fulfil our dreams! I also want to show that the bully himself also has a hunger for acceptance. A lot of people will identify with the bullied, but my movie will be a bit different where I want the audience to identify with the person who is the big bully… there is something deeper about the big bully.”

Photo Credit: mm2 Entertainment

As a Chinese-language teacher for 5 years prior to his filmmaking career, Sng nevertheless has an eagerness to nurture and support the younger generation even after making his mid-career switch. With his company, Sng has continued to spread his love for filmmaking by teaching media-related courses to schools and corporations. It was also one of his inspirations for the movie. 

He said: “I think the inspiration came from the students we had worked with. We realised it became a trend in school where people bully and were bullied. Not just face-to-face, but online as well. When I want to do a movie, I don’t want to just scratch the surface. I want to go deeper into the issue and because we are on the ground, we know what is going on.”

“I also want to feature that teachers are now targets of bullying. 20 years ago, as students, we really respect our teachers, but these days, teachers are out in the open. (The moment) you do something wrong, the kids will just video you and put you to shame online, and for some strange reasons, the teachers may even be suspended from their job.”

In addition to 'The Winning One', Sng has various projects in the pipeline - a musical movie; directing a Chinese drama television series for the first time; as well as penning lyrics to original numbers and movie and television theme songs. 

Yes, Sng is not only writing and direct his movies, but he is also a lyricist to some of your favourite drama theme songs. 

“This is another dream of mine. When I filmed my first movie, Taxi Taxi, the producers were finding someone to write the lyrics of the themesong, I told them to save the budget and I’ll do it. Not many people know that. I also wrote the lyrics for The Fortune Handbook’s themesong, sung by Mark Lee, Christopher Lee and Li Nan Xing,” he explained. 

Any filmmaker will tell you that it’s essential for one to have a passion in order to survive, let alone succeed in this industry. For Sng, he stands by 3 values in order to get through the hard times: humility, discipline and communication. “Humility is the most important factor, especially if you want to be a director. A lot of people have the wrong impression that as a director, you can shout and order people around. But it’s not true. As a director, you have to be humble because you are using everybody’s hands and feet to fulfil your vision. You also have to have good communication skills to deliver the right message to everyone.

And without discipline, no matter how passionate you are, there are days where you just feel like giving up and not have the will to carry on. Because passion, frankly speaking, is overrated. Passion after numerous setbacks, you tend to ask ‘what am I doing here’, but it is discipline, having the focus that allows you to climb back up... and Learn from your mistakes, of course.”

Sng not only talks the talk, he definitely walks the walk. During one of this darkest period where he was met with financial setbacks, he never thought to raise the white flag and quit. “At that time, I needed to feed the family, and I couldn’t find investors to fund my movie. At the same time, I was involved in some dispute with some investors where I had to pay up a huge sum of money. Fortunately, that court case closed amicably.” 

He added: “It was a very stressful period but I never thought of giving up. I did think back and ask why has it come to this stage and was definitely a very low point in my life, but never once did it cross my mind to give up this route. I just kept thinking what methods or ways to overcome it. Perhaps it’s because the burning passion was still there. I just started on my filmmaking journey, and I wouldn’t allow a simple setback to stop me from achieving it.”

“At the end of the day, if you really like something and if you are truly passionate, I don’t think you will let some people affect you. If you are easily swayed by people’s comments and give up, then you are not that passionate after all.” 
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