18th March 2017 / Insiders Share / by Chia Sihan

Michelle Rocks The Canada International Film Festival 2017

Congratulations Michelle Chong aka Lulu! It’s been sweet victory for the multi-hyphenate screen talent, and Huat Films since the release of Lulu The Movie. It is the director’s third movie which she wrote, directed and produced, and achieved box office success of $2.1 million. It has also garnered Michelle the Best Director award at the Canada International Film Festival 2017, which celebrates the best of cinematic works from more than 90 countries.

Below is an interview with the award-winning director in November 2016, prior to the film release:

What happens when life doesn’t quite turn out the way you thought it would be, only way better eventually? A month to the premiere of her 3rd film Lulu The Movie (opens 24 Nov at cinemas islandwide), we learn from multi-hyphenate film talent Michelle Chong about the trials and tribulations she’s encountered along the way and what’s different about the titular character she’s made famous. 

In her movie, Lulu leaves home in China to pursue the (online) love of her life in Singapore, only to be disappointed by reality. Driven by the will to succeed against the odds, she decides to overcome her emotions to achieve success on her own terms.

In a similar fashion, Michelle has gone against public expectations time and again to do what she had to do – make movies. When you’ve reached the height of a very public showbiz career, it may be confounding to most to risk everything you’ve achieved for something that may not quite pay off. For Michelle, the answer was clear. With her two previous directorial efforts, Already Famous and 3 Peas in a Pod, receiving heartening results in Singapore and internationally, the film director then invested a six-figure sum in her 3rd film, Lulu The Movie, reportedly half the film’s production budget.

Telling stories is something that she has always wanted to do, since placing finalist at the Fame Awards in 1998 after champion Pierre Png. That, and dabbling her fingers into diverse business from artiste management (Left Profile), F&B (co-owning American street food restaurant Mischief with fellow artiste Cynthia Koh and former deejay Daniel Ong, who also owns 12 Cupcakes and Rookery) and her own film and TV production company, Huat Films.

Charting her rise as arguably one of Singapore’s most recognisable celebrity faces, she was also recently chosen as the 1st international celebrity guest reporter on NHK World TV Travel series Tokyo Eye 2020. The travel infotainment programme by Japan’s largest broadcaster showcases Tokyo’s best spots for food, art and architecture. Michelle’s episodes Aged Foods: A New Tokyo Trend and Must-see Tokyo Museums aired Oct 12 and 19 on NHK World TV.

What’s even more remarkable is that amidst her personal struggles (in an earlier interview, Michelle revealed she has been grappling with depression since she was 17, as well as grieving the loss of a dear friend Pauline in 2014), she has managed to introduce new dimension into Lulu’s larger-than-life character, bringing her popularity to unprecedented heights.

On filming Tokyo Eye 2020, Michelle previously said that if Lulu visited Japan, she would fit right in in Harajuku and Shinjuku, home to Japan’s eclectic street fashion scene. “In fact, she would probably try to host her own fashion TV show, like (NHK World TV series) Tokyo Fashion Express,” she muses.

Michelle shares with us Lulu’s inside story, the character she’s brought way beyond the wildly popular parody TV news series, The Noose.

After more than 2 years since the announcement in Apr 2014, Lulu the Movie is finally here. How would you describe the entire creative process in a sentence? 

It’s been arduous, sometimes lonely but mostly satisfying.

From the way Lulu talk, dresses, and carries herself, would you consider Lulu a modern feminist? How has her personality evolved since audiences first met her in The Noose? 

She is absolutely a modern feminist, just one who works in a KTV! She lives on her own terms and refuses to compromise or conform to traditional notions of what a good girl is supposed to look or sound like.

Her personality or character has not changed at all since The Noose. She is still the cheerful, effervescent, money-loving but kind-hearted sweet soul we know. The only difference is that she can afford to buy leopard print fur coats now.

Let’s talk about Lulu’s style evolution in the movie, from her original larger-than-life getups (and her hair!), to the sleek girl boss outfits that she began embracing as the movie progressed. What message would you like to send out, with Lulu’s transformation? 

Haha.. please watch the movie to find out.

It’s a huge leap for Lulu from being a popular TV character to hitting the big screen. What research was done to flesh out the nuances of Lulu’s character? 

My mom sometimes tells me stories about her PRC classmates in her childcare diploma course, but really, everyone everywhere is the same. We all want love, food, money and leopard print fur coats!

Do you know of anyone in real life who dresses like Lulu? Who are Lulu’s style heroes?

Of course! It’s really not what you wear but how you wear it. I’ve seen trendy millennials along the streets of Tokyo wearing very similar stuff! You’d be surprised to know I bought several of Lulu’s wardrobe from places like Topshop. Lulu’s style hero is herself, because she truly thinks she is a fashionista. That’s the kind of confidence many of us can do with more of.

What inspired you to take Lulu’s character to the big screen? Were there any specific examples or incidents you came across in real life, that motivated you to take that leap and delve deeper into developing Lulu? How did you prep yourself mentally? 

Well, the PRC is very much talked about internationally and always in the limelight, so I thought this character is especially relevant in today’s times. I prepped myself mentally by teling myself wearing the wig and suffering headaches is a small price to pay for bringing joy and laughter to people’s lives.

You mentioned you were juggling several projects along with the movie. Recently, you also traveled to Japan for a show on NHK. We know that frequent travelling can take a toll not just on our health, but on our skin as well – yet, you’re still looking so radiant! Could you share your top three beauty tips amidst your jet-setting and hectic lifestyle? 

1 – Gulp water whenever you can.

2 – Put on a face mask whenever you can.

3 – Be positive whenever you can.

The Fashion Collective Singapore (TFCS) embraces the spirit of collaboration amongst creative freelancers in our community. As a successful self-starter, please share with our readers three tips on identifying opportunities for growth and collaboration! 

1 – Be very good at what you do.

2 – Be very confident that you are good at what you do.

3 – Know how to profile yourself.

Do you feel Lulu’s situation and how she handles the road to success is an accurate reflection of reality? Delving a little deeper and comparing Lulu’s journey to your own… as an actress who has successfully carved out your niche as a director, do you see any similarities between both your journeys to success?

There are plenty of similarities between our journeys. We both have our fair share of mockery, jeering and persecution, but we never give up or give in.

Mentors often play a key role in helping us to grow, whether in career or at different stages in our lives. Did you have a mentor who guided you on your journey? Please tell us more about how your mentor helped you, and the most lesson you’ve picked up from him/her. 

I didn’t have a real mentor because nobody knew I wanted to be in production. And I didn’t either. But I watch and observe a lot of what goes on around me when I’m hosting or acting, so that’s how I learn how a show or drama is put together.

If you really want to succeed in your industry, I would tell you to just watch and learn. You don’t need to have a mentor but you need to have practical experience. So when it comes to acting, just be involved in a lot of productions and pick things up along the way.

This is the 3rd movie Huat Films has produced. You’ve also invested a significant sum in Lulu’s copyright. What other plans do you have in the pipeline for 2017 and beyond? 

We are planning a Left Profile musical! And a YouTube channel! Maybe a 4th movie?


Images: Huat Films / Left Profile

About the Writer

Chia Sihan

A story junkie by nature, this TFCS scribe thrives on uncovering the backstories of her interview subjects, whether they are heads of corporations or a working Mum caring for a child with a developmental disorder. She finds it a privilege to be privy to these personal experiences. Some of the publications she has written for include the Singapore Women’s Weekly, L’Officiel Singapore, and Harper’s Bazaar Junior. It is this genuine love for storytelling and collaboration that led her to kickstart her journey as a co-founder of The Fashion Collective Singapore. Now the chief storyteller at TFCS, she is particularly inspired by the personal journeys of TFCS Mentors, not to mention their dedication towards the refinement of their craft.

Head over to The Editor’s Journal to read articles contributed by Sihan.

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