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Singapore has made its first monster movie: Circle Line.
Director JD Chua boldly tells The Hollywood Reporter that his work aims to be a cross between Train to Busan and The Host—the latter by Bong Joon-ho, the man behind Oscars-winning Parasite.
Big ambitions for a debut feature.
Realistically speaking, however, JD had to work within a S$3 million budget, whereas Parasite had a much more generous sum of about S$18 million to work with.
Lead actress Jesseca Liu believes that the film would have turned out vastly different if they had more funding, although we didn’t get to hear from JD, who was apparently not taking interviews.
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Jesseca, 43, was speaking to us via Google Meet, her location obscured by an outer space-themed background.
A lot of the budget went to the film’s CGI and green screen effects, she reveals, which meant that a lot of the plot and backstories could only be a “touch-and-go” thing.
Otherwise, a much fuller story could have been achieved, Liu believes.
We then talk about Jack Neo’s yearly offerings to local cinemas, which, well, has mass appeal, at least.
Bearing well-known Singaporean tropes and easily digestible jokes, Neo’s humour is distinct and thus, memorable.
So can something like Circle Line wriggle its way into the local market?
When asked how the film might attract audiences, Jesseca immediately points out how it has brought CGI technology in the local scene to new heights.
“Before this, I wouldn’t have believed that a Singaporean movie could have done it, to make CGI so well done,” the actress thinks out loud.
But Jesseca also lets on that the the various body parts of the monster were digitally created in other countries, like India, Pakistan, and Malaysia.
“But I feel that the effort, courage and funding put into it really shows their sincerity, like it doesn’t matter whether this movie makes money or not, they just wanted to prove that Singapore can transcend its own limits too. Just on this point alone, the movie is worth showing support for.”
You can get a feel of the effects with the trailer:
A spokesperson for Taipan Films, which co-produced the movie, has since explained that the pre-production, designs and visualisation was done by Omens Studios in Singapore.
While the original creature was designed by Victor Marin from Spain, it was revised for production by Omens Studios, who also did the pre-shoot and onset CG (computer graphics) supervision.
Taipan also listed the ways in which other countries were involved:
“The VFX work was undertaken by Omens Studios in Singapore and Malaysia, with support from Thailand for some shots, and majority of rotoscoping and matchmove out of India. Video and audio post was done at Kantana Studio in Thailand.”
“VFX (visual effects) takes a village, and Singapore headed the VFX production for this project, working within a limited budget,” the spokesperson added.
No audition needed
Coming from the lead actress, it’s possible that she’s just a little biased, but there seems to be an affinity between Liu and the project.
The team had approached Jesseca through a mutual contact and invited her to work with them, and the actress agreed to work with them only after looking at the script.
Besides being similar in age to her character Yi Ling, both of them are victims of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from a car accident.
Jesseca appears to speak with ease about the incident, but the memory of it still lingers on and manifests in her daily life.
PTSD occurs when one has been through a traumatic event, such as “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence,” according to National University Hospital (NUH).
Sources online are split about whether PTSD can be cured; Jesseca herself says that she’s yet to overcome it.
Even now, 25 years later, the actress continues to experience sweaty palms and an accelerated heartbeat in fast vehicles.
“It’s less severe now, but it still persists,” she tells us.
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“I used to be so tense that I would be unable to sleep the moment I got in the car, and I would keep close tabs on the driver, scared that they would fall asleep, and try to engage them.”
These days, it has become habit for Jesseca to remain alert while riding in a stranger’s car—a cab, for instance.
“I’ll still look at the driver’s eyes through the rearview mirror,” she laughs. “If I feel like they’re just the slightest bit sleepy, I’ll immediately find a topic and start a conversation.”
The accident happened when she was 18, travelling on the roads with friends in Malaysia.
It was a short one-hour odd trip, but her friend who was driving had fallen asleep, as had everyone else in the vehicle.
“As I was drifting in and out of sleep, I saw the car veering towards the side of the highway, and just as it was about to go down, my friend turned the wheel really hard, so much so that the car flipped,” Jesseca recalls.
The group was rescued by strangers, who had to break the car’s windows to retrieve the passengers.
“It was very bad lah,” she says as an understatement.
Miraculously, none of them sustained serious injuries like broken bones, getting out of it with only scrapes and abrasions.
Jesseca believes it was because they were in a sturdy four-wheel drive at the time, which remained structurally sound even though it had flipped.
But back to the present—if you were wondering why it’s called Circle Line, and not the newer Downtown Line or Thomson-East Coast Line, it’s possibly because production had been severely delayed by the pandemic.
The movie also stars Andie Chen, Peter Yu, and Patrick Lee.
Circle Line is now showing in cinemas.
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