By Shawne Wang
It’s been 31 years since the term ‘xinyao’ was first coined and affixed to the particular brand of local folk music that ruled the airwaves in the 1980s and early 1990s. The songs have now passed into our cultural history. Some of them are so popular and evergreen – and have travelled so far beyond Singapore’s shores – that you’d be forgiven if you thought they were written by Taiwanese singers.
Beautiful music aside, there’s a great deal of nostalgia and story-telling potential to be mined from the ‘xinyao’ movement – which is precisely what everyone involved in the production of That Girl In Pinafore (我的朋友我的同學我愛過的一切) is hoping to achieve. Set in 1993, the film revolves around the efforts of a group of friends to save a local music café from going out of business. Along the way, they fall in love with one another and sing – a lot.
At the first-look press conference organised at the Shuffle Bar in Clarke Quay on Monday afternoon, director Chai Yee-Wei told the press that he’s wanted to make this film for a very long time – ever since he wrapped his debut film Blood Ties in 2009, in fact. “But a lot of people I spoke to were skeptical about the prospects of success – they didn’t think ‘xinyao’ would sell and wasn’t particularly hip. So it took a few years to put everything together.”
Fortunately for Chai, he won the support of mm2 Entertainment, whose Managing Director Ng Say Yong was on hand to explain why he believed in making a local film outside the standard genres of family comedy and horror. “Making movies in Singapore is a very challenging business. The easy way out is to make movies with a fixed formula and the same genres – [but we believe that] a good movie is also part of our cultural heritage, a repository of our cultural DNA… ‘Xinyao’ is a shining example of Singapore’s contribution to the music scene, not just in Singapore, but beyond.”
Chai had been working on the film for a number of years – he sat down with a group of writers to bash out a script in 2011, and went on the hunt for his cast, holding auditions and even talent-spotting Kelvin Mun in the King Albert’s Park branch of McDonald’s.
The young cast, including Project Superstar 2 winner Daren Tan, Mediacorp actress Julie Tan and popular identical-twin bloggers Jayley and Hayley Woo, were thrown together for the first time in an acting/singing boot-camp to get themselves ready to sing for the camera. The training came in handy, because all of them sing in the film, no dubbing required, and also developed a chemistry and camaraderie with one another that was evident during the press conference.
It’s perhaps worth noting that most of the very young cast members of this film aren’t old enough for ‘xinyao’ to have played a significant part in their school years. When asked if they had to do any homework for the movie, Julie Tan recalls hearing these ‘xinyao’ songs when she was much younger, but lamented that she couldn’t find many of them online when she tried to hunt them down for research purposes.
As for the songs contained within the film, Chai assured everyone that the most popular ones were included – such as key ‘xinyao’ composer Liang Wenfu’s beautiful, lilting ‘The Narrow Stream Flows For A Long Time’ (細水長流). But he’s also picked some of the less well-known, more off-beat gems to round out the soundtrack, which is due to be released in June.
“I really have to thank Ocean Butterflies. I wanted them to treat these songs not as old songs, but as new ones, and they really breathed new life into them… After the songs were re-arranged, some people didn’t even realise that the songs have been around for over twenty years!”
In these polemic-filled times, it was refreshing to see Chai proudly proclaim his film as “not just a movie about love, but also one about love of country”. It’s about what counts as home and where one’s fondest memories are made. “Everyone’s fondest memories are of the time they were studying in school, and for me, those memories were soundtracked by ‘xinyao’. The film is not strictly autobiographical, but every role in it contains the stories of me and my friends – something I think a lot of people of my generation would identify with.”
Stay tuned for our exclusive interview with Chai…
That Girl In Pinafore opens in August 2013. The film’s official trailer and soundtrack will be released in June.
(Photo courtesy of mm2 entertainment)