After tickling Singaporeans’ funny bones for the longest time, comedian Hossan Leong is seeking to reinvent himself with his first action role in HBO Asia’s new period drama series Grisse.
Grisse, which premiered on 4 November, is about the people of a garrison town in colonial Indonesia in the mid 1800s who manage to overthrow their cruel Dutch rulers, and must then deal with internal politics while Dutch soldiers attempt to recapture the town.
The show has an international cast comprising actors from Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and the Netherlands. Leong is the only Singaporean in the cast.
The 49-year-old plays Zengwei, right-hand man to the leader of the Chinese gang within the town of Grisse, Madam Chi (Joanne Kam), who also happens to be a brothel owner.
Speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Leong said, “I haven’t done something so physical before. Comedy was always my main thing. I’ve done some Channel 8 stuff, but always in either a dramatic or comedy role. This is the first action-packed role that I’ve undertaken.”
When asked how he came to take on his first action role, Leong said, “I always want to break out of the pigeonhole that people sometimes put me in. I thought to myself, hey, this is a chance I get to work overseas with an international cast, doing something completely out of my comfort zone. Why not? I want to challenge myself and reinvent myself as an actor and an artist, to see what else I can do.”
Asked whether there is any comedic element to his role in Grisse, Leong said, “I wouldn’t say comedy as in ha-ha comedy, but my lines are quite sarcastic.”
“It’s a really fun character to play,” he adds. “I get to sneak around and do all these sneaky things for my boss. I get to do major gunfights and kung fu fighting scenes. I really like the character.”
Leong says Grisse will feature major gang clashes involving guns, knives and hand-to-hand combat. “It feels like a Western, but a Western with Asian weapons,” he quips.
The cast and crew spent two-and-a-half months filming Grisse in Batam. Leong, who has worn many hats in his career as an actor, stand-up comedian, director, and host for both television and radio, says the cast had training in stunts and using guns in preparing for the tough fight scenes.
There are various factions seeking to gain control of Grisse, including the rebels, the Dutch, the Chinese, the mixed bloods (Eurasians), and a Sultan and his court. Leong says the story is about how these disparate groups band together under a female leader, Kalia, against their oppressors, the Dutch colonisers.
“At the heart of it all, it’s about the journey of one woman, Kalia, and how she goes from being a village girl to become the heroine of the entire series,” Leong says.
“Having a woman as a protagonist gives the series a lot more substance. Why can’t a woman be the hero of the show? I think it’s very relevant to today as we see women fighting for equal pay, equal rights, saying ‘no’ in the whole #MeToo movement.”
Grisse began airing on HBO Asia (StarHub TV Ch 601) on 4 November. New episodes will debut every Sunday at 9pm. The series is also streamed on HBO Go and will be available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Ch 602).
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