KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 14 — For the leading ladies of upcoming Chinese New Year film Think Big Big, it was a case of art imitating life when they signed up to play the part of a plus-size girl who transforms into a thin social media influencer.
Ola Bola and The Journey director Chiu Keng Guan’s latest flick centres around Moon, a clumsy full-figured mascot performer who is forced to take part in a slimming competition following a work accident but loses more than her weight along the way.
To convey the three stages of the character’s transformation and the challenges that come with it, Chiu cast a trio of newcomers, makeup artist Moon Yoong, kindergarten teacher Joanne Lau and Miss Astro Chinese International Pageant 2016 winner Serene Lim.
“The character of Moon is very similar to me — that’s the first thing that struck me when I read the script,” said Lau.
“We both don’t care about what people say when it comes to our weight. We just be ourselves.”
Yoong, who had always dreamt of acting, was often told by relatives and friends she would not be successful because of her appearance.
Naturally, when her mother told her about the open casting call, self-doubt kicked in.
“I wasn’t interested knowing only pretty girls will get cast but she insisted I attend — much to my surprise, I got the role,” she said.
Yoong is delighted to prove naysayers wrong.
“I think audiences want to watch realistic characters.
“There’s more conversation about plus-size women and more film roles are also opening up for big-sized girls,” said Yoong who plans to continue acting.
Former beauty queen Lim, who plays the slender version of Moon when she earns the title of “Nation Goddess”, the similarities were so uncanny she only needed to turn the lens inwards to prepare for the role.
“After winning the pageant, I suddenly had all this attention from the public and it became really uncomfortable when everything I did became a talking point for social media users.
“I started caring about the number of likes and I let bad comments get to me,” she revealed.
She also said there was an expectation to be perfect as a public figure and it overwhelmed her.
In the age of the curated persona, it is easy to see why Chiu was intrigued by the issue.
He employed a light-hearted approach in dealing with a heavy subject matter.
“I wanted to do a story on embracing who you are because I feel there are a lot of people who try to please others and be what others what them to be.
“That’s tiring, isn’t it?” said the Johorean film-maker.
After three months of searching for the right actresses to play Moon, filming took place in Seremban, Bukit Pelanduk and Kuala Lumpur for 33 days.
He said the hardest scene to shoot was when Yoong and Lim had to be hoisted in the air as it required the use of green screen and CGI.
Almost immediately, Lim and Yoong broke into laughter.
“It took three people to lift Serene but I needed six people to help me — I felt so bad,” said Yoong.
Throughout the film, Chiu takes audiences on a roller coaster of emotions, and fans who love his ability to capture uniquely Malaysian situations will find no shortage of it in his latest film.
Known for casting fresh talent, the 46-year-old director could not have been a better mentor to guide his group of new actors.
Newcomer Fabian Loo, who plays Moon’s housemate, summed up the entire cast’s experience when he said: “Chiu is one of the most talked-about Malaysian directors but he is so humble and always tells us to greet everyone regardless of rank while promoting the movie.
“He really believes in genuine human interaction on screen and off.”
* Think Big Big opens in cinemas nationwide today.