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Director Jacen Tan wants you to imagine a Singapore overrun by zombies. Specifically, a zombie apocalypse will be unleashed in a local army camp, which is the setting for Tan’s horror-comedy film Zombiepura.
In what is billed as the first local feature-length film in the zombie genre, the living dead have taken over an isolated military camp, and a lazy chao keng (Hokkien for skiving) reservist soldier Tan Kayu (Alaric) and his tough commander Lee Siao On (Benjamin Heng) have to fight together to survive, and learn what it means to be real soldiers.
Speaking to Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore ahead of the film’s release here on 25 October, 35-year-old Tan promised a local spin on the genre, saying that zombies are a metaphor for the fears and problems that Singaporeans face, such as overpopulation and the monotony of work.
Tan says the story revolves around two diametrically opposed main characters. “They hate each other at the start. Siao On, the sergeant, hates the lazy soldier Kayu and thinks he can’t fight in a war if it really happened. Kayu thinks this sergeant is too by-the-books and can’t really survive in the real world. I thought it’d be fun to see these two characters fight it out in a zombie apocalypse.”
Alaric, who was acting in a horror film for the first time, says the filmmakers wanted to make Zombiepura truly Singaporean, “If we speak English, it’s Singaporean English, and if we speak Mandarin, it’s Singaporean Mandarin. In that sense, the flavour of the film is authentic.”
Tan says Zombiepura is in the same vein as Hollywood horror-comedies such as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. The zombie film genre has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, especially with the huge popularity of The Walking Dead. The ninth season of the American drama will premiere this month on 7 October.
Asian filmmakers have also jumped on the zombie bandwagon, with Japan’s I Am A Hero (2015) and South Korea’s Train To Busan (2016) proving popular with audiences in the region.
Besides Zombiepura, another Singapore-made comedy film featuring zombies will be released next year: When Ghost Meets Zombie, starring singer-actor Nathan Hartono.
Tan roped in Alaric, 39, and Heng, 42, to star in the film after writing the script with the two actors in mind (Alaric recently dropped his surname Tay from his stage name). Alaric and Heng are also executive producers of the film. Alaric is best known for his various spoof characters in the local comedy show The Noose, while Heng has starred in films including Kelvin Tong’s Eating Air and Men In White.
Produced at a cost of $900,000, Zombiepura is the first feature-length film by Tan, who is well known for his short films such as Tak Giu (Kick Ball) and Zo Peng (Go Army). He conceptualised the film seven years ago, and together with Alaric and Heng went through a long process of pitching the idea to investors, before mm2 Entertainment and Clover Films came on board to back them financially.
The film was entirely shot in Singapore at various locations, including an old power station and warehouses dressed up to look like an army camp, and an abandoned military Standard Obstacle Course.
Heng said he unknowingly had some spooky encounters while on location shooting the film. “Alaric and I had to cycle on set to go to the lavatory. There were a few times where we wandered off to places we shouldn’t have gone to.” The two were later told that they should avoid rooms where bagua mirrors – meant to ward off evil spirits – were hung on the door.
“When we heard what these things (bagua) really were, our hairs stood on end,” said Alaric.
Zombiepura also stars Chen Xiuhuan and Richard Low (or Liu Qianyi), who are well known to long-time Mandarin TV viewers in Singapore, as well as comedian Haresh Tilani and acting newcomer Joeypink Lai.
The film will be released in Singapore on 25 October. It will premiere as the opening film of the new horror festival Scream Asia, which is happening in Singapore from 19 October to 28 October. Scream Asia’s co-curator Eric Khoo, who is himself interested in the zombie genre, heard about Zombiepura and decided to make it the festival’s opening film.
The movie will also be released in South Korea as well as several Southeast Asian markets including Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
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