From ‘Lim Kay Tong to portray Lee Kuan Yew in SG50 film’, 8 Oct 2014, article by Genevieve Sarah Loh, Today
After an extensive two-year search for the right actor to play the nation’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the upcoming SG50 film, 1965, producers of the movie have picked veteran local thespian Lim Kay Tong to fill the role.
The film has been five years in the making, starting off as a biopic about Mr Lee, but evolving into a story about the time the nation experienced racial riots. As the film’s executive producer Daniel Yun told TODAY last month, it was about “how fragile racial harmony can be and how we can take it for granted”.
In their search for a leading actor, the producers spoke to almost 20 people, including local actor-turned-Hollywood mainstay Chin Han.
Interestingly, Lim Kay Tong was cast in the lead role of the 2004 local film Perth as a taxi driver prophetically named HARRY LEE. Though LKT seems to be a shoo-in for the role despite the lack of physical resemblance (LKY is taller, for example), I would be more interested to see who the other candidates were besides Chin Han. I’d expect the criteria to be English-speaking, Singaporean with some Hollywood experience preferred, and I can’t even count the number of other local actors who could meet the minimum standard with one hand. In terms of Hollywood blockbusters, Chin Han in fact beats Kay Tong hands down if you go by number of appearances in movies, though his roles were largely restricted to bit parts, with the exception of the Dark Knight where he played a typical Asian scumbag (which LKY is so obviously not). Chin Han’s age of a youthful 44 also matches that of LKY in 1965 (42). Maybe having ‘Masters Of the Sea’ as part of his filmography was the deal-breaker.
I can only think of a total of 3 other actors who could fit the bill. Edmund Chen, for example, is effectively bilingual, though Hollywood may only remember him for his role in Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li, where he gets a few kicks in with the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s Balrog. I’ve a feeling he may be too good-looking for the role too. Adrian Pang, a solid dramatic actor and recognised thespian himself, worked alongside Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game. The last one is the just married Ivan Heng, who was in Luc Beeson’s Fifth Element. So who were the other 15, I wonder. Could Mediacorp staples Pierre Png or Tay Ping Hui possibly have cast their lot in the mix? If Huang Wenyong were still alive, could he have been considered for the role despite the language handicap?
Before LKT, there were rumours that HK acting god Tony Leung would be chosen for the role. LKY was also depicted by Chinese actor Zhang Guang Bei in a Deng Xiaoping drama series. LKT’s heavyweight role may very well overshadow all the other aspects of the 1965 movie, the fact that Joanne Peh and hubby are in it but not playing lovers, that there’s a Singapore Idol in it (the last one, perhaps), and 2 of the main cast are not even Singaporeans (Qi YiWu and Deanna Yusof). But most telling of all is that 1965 is bankrolled by none other than the MDA and MCCY, and PAP bigwigs like the PM himself and Yaacob Ibrahim will be invited to the movie premiere and, regardless of how bad the movie actually turns out to be, praise the film not just for LKT’s powerhouse performance but that it is an ‘objective portrayal’ of events, not in the least ‘self-serving’, ‘one-sided’, nor does it contain a single ‘distortion’ or ‘untruth’. Not like some other film about other people fighting for independence. 1965 is a film immune to criticism or censorship, and I sympathise with the reviewer assigned to rate it once it’s out.
I’m just surprised that the responsibility of directing didn’t go to Jack Neo. Maybe he’d have come up with a more interesting title than the boring ‘1965’. Like ‘Lao Lee’, ‘Ah Lee to PM’ or ‘Where Got Riots?’. If the PAP decided to make a movie about the ‘watershed’ 2011 GE, I have my own selection of actors to play the ministers/MPs.
And of course Baey Yam Keng. As himself.