Yeo’s movie star turn

Malaysian ac­tress yeo yann yann talks about her award-win­ning part in IloIlo.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By SETO KIT YAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­

YEO Yann Yann keeps look­ing more and more ra­di­ant as she con­tin­ues her awards sweep for the movie Ilo Ilo, in which she plays a preg­nant mother deal­ing with fam­ily prob­lems dur­ing a re­ces­sion.

She was voted Best Ac­tress at the 11th Pa­cific Merid­ian Film Fes­ti­val in Vladi­vos­tok in Septem­ber and the 15th Mum­bai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber. She then won Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress at the 50th Golden Horse Awards in Taipei in Novem­ber and the 56th Asia-Pa­cific Film Fes­ti­val in Ma­cau this month.

Dur­ing her press round in Kuala Lumpur, the pe­tite 36year-old Malaysian ac­tress looked fresh in her saf­fron yel­low dress and youth­ful pixie cut. Her suc­cess se­cret? She doesn’t ac­cept over­lap­ping movies, and she al­ways takes a break be­tween jobs.

“I never work on more than one project at a time be­cause I im­merse my­self in each role. I need time to re­cover and com­pose my­self, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. That means I make less than oth­ers, but my health is more pre­cious,” said Yeo.

Ilo Ilo was writ­ten, di­rected and pro­duced by 29-year-old An­thony Chen. In his fea­ture film de­but, he spins a tale about a boy’s bond with his fam­ily’s new maid, in­spired by a do­mes­tic helper from Chen’s own childhood, Teresa Sa­ju­nia. Now 55, she has since re­turned to the Philip­pines and lives in San Miguel, Ilo Ilo.

The movie be­gan its win­ning streak by be­com­ing Sin­ga­pore’s first film to win the Cam­era d’Or at the 66th Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in May. Ilo Ilo is also Sin­ga­pore’s of­fi­cial sub­mis­sion to the 2014 Os­cars for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film. The over­whelm­ing re­cep­tion for the movie has re­sulted in an ex­tended run fol­low­ing its rere­lease in Sin­ga­pore.

Yeo re­veals she was im­pressed with Chen af­ter work­ing on his short film Ah Ma in 2007. But she had to wait for his next movie as he com­pleted Sin­ga­pore’s Na­tional Ser­vice first be­fore grad­u­at­ing from the Na­tional Film And Tele­vi­sion School in Bri­tain in 2010.

“I wanted to work with An­thony again and make a movie. But he wanted to fur­ther his stud­ies first. I don’t think he re­alised how ex­cited I was to see him again for another project to­gether,” she said.

Though she’s been win­ning over fes­ti­val ju­ries with her por­trayal of a mum who hates her son’s re­la­tion­ship with their new Filip­ina maid, Yeo ad­mits it wasn’t easy get­ting into her char­ac­ter’s psy­che.

Yeo was sin­gle when cast for the part, but then met Hong Kong ac­tion chore­og­ra­pher Ma Yuk-Sing, 53, while shoot­ing the mar­tial arts ac­tion com­edy Pe­tal­ing Street War­riors in 2011. They mar­ried af­ter a whirl­wind ro­mance and she was preg­nant in real life while film­ing Ilo Ilo.

In fact, she al­most lost the part when she told Chen about her preg­nancy. He was con­cerned she wouldn’t stand up to some in­tense scenes. But in the end, he rewrote the screen­play to in­clude her preg­nancy into the plot.

“When I read the script, I couldn’t un­der­stand what An­thony meant (about how the mother feels threat­ened by her son’s re­la­tion­ship with the maid) – un­til I gave birth to my daugh­ter. Then I re­alised how dev­as­tat­ing it could feel when your child gets closer to oth­ers,” said Yeo.

Film­ing was rel­a­tively smooth, she adds, ex­cept for when her un­born child was af­fected by an emo­tional se­quence in which she scolds and canes her on-screen child, played by Koh Jia Ler.

“My daugh­ter Vera had been quiet all the time we were film­ing. I felt relieved that she some­how un­der­stood my work; that was en­cour­ag­ing. So I was sur­prised by her re­ac­tion when we filmed that scene where my char­ac­ter gets an­gry with her son.

“She seemed ter­ri­fied. She was trem­bling in my stom­ach as we played it out. We had to stop and calm her down. I had to gen­tly re­as­sure her that it was all just act­ing, and that I was not re­ally an­gry with the boy.”

The movie also in­cludes real footage of Vera’s birth.

“I was not too keen when An­thony first asked me. I said I would ask my hus­band,” said Yeo, who didn’t ex­pect him to say yes.

“When it was time (to give birth), I called An­thony and we all rushed to the hos­pi­tal. How­ever, only the di­rec­tor and cin­e­matog­ra­pher were al­lowed into the de­liv­ery room. Even my hus­band had to wait out­side.”

Be­ing away from her 16-month-old daugh­ter for work hasn’t been easy for Yeo: “I missed her first words ( gou gou, which is Man­darin for dog) and her first steps.”

With her hus­band in Hong Kong and daugh­ter in Jo­hor, Yeo is cur­rently in jet-set­ter mode. But as she con­tin­ues to pro­mote Ilo Ilo with Chen around the world, she says she’s not ac­cept­ing any­thing else and is only look­ing for­ward to a well-de­served va­ca­tion with her fam­ily.

“I hope to take a nice hol­i­day and spend time with my daugh­ter and hus­band. Christ­mas is the ideal time for a get-to­gether with my fam­ily.”

Ilo Ilo opens in Malaysia on Jan 2, 2014.

He’s my son!: yeo found it hard to get into char­ac­ter on IloIlo un­til she had her own child.

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