It was an extended time at the Singapore Media Festival this year for me. Normally, the Singapore International Film Festival runs concurrently with the Asia TV Forum & Market and ScreenSingapore, but this year, it was decided to run the events consecutively, resulting in a prolonged visit to the island city/state. I arrived in time to catch the film festival’s Silver Screen Awards, where Deepak Rauniyar’s Nepalese film, White Sun, won the best Asian film award, and Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s Bangladeshi film, Live From Dhaka, won best director and best performance for Tanvir Ahmed Chowdhury.
Burning up the stage was veteran Hong Kong actor Simon Yam, resplendent in a white suit, causing more than one male on-stage presenter to remark that if they bent the other way they wouldn’t mind a piece of him. Yam was also in prime form at an In Conversation event at the flower-shaped ArtScience Museum. He revealed that he was noticed back in the 1970s when he did a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial. Thereafter, he had a long career in television before joining the world of cinema. I first noticed Yam as a hitman in Vietnam in John Woo’s visceral Bullet in the Head (1990). He also stood out in Johnnie To’s The Mission (1999).
But the film where I got the full blast of Yam’s star power was in another film by To, PTU (2003). Set over one night in Hong Kong, the story is ostensibly about different sets of cops searching for a missing gun, but in reality is a warts-and-all look at the underbelly of the city. Yam steals every frame he is in as a dour police sergeant. The West woke up to Yam’s talent the same year, when they saw him in a pivotal role in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
The film that catapulted Yam into the international limelight was yet another To film, Election (2005). It was an official selection at Cannes, and Yam won rave notices for his turn as a calm, calculating gang leader, who is manipulating his way towards becoming the new boss of the Hong Kong triad. There are countless other brilliant Yam performances, including in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man (2008), Ann Hui’s Night and Fog (2009) and Teddy Chan’s Bodyguards and Assassins (2009), but the performance that the actor rates as his personal best to date is Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow (2010). Yam’s portrayal of the patriarch of a Hong Kong family in the 1960s won him best actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Over at ScreenSingapore, veteran sales agent and producer Kathy Morgan delivered the closing keynote. She revealed the 16-year journey it took to bring The Danish Girl (2015), on which she is an executive producer, to life. The cast ran the gamut from Nicole Kidman to Charlize Theron to Gwyneth Paltrow before settling on Alicia Vikander and the project also went through its fair share of directors, including Tomas Alfredson and Lasse Hallstrom, before Tom Hooper finally directed Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning performance. Just goes to show that no matter how big the names involved, the film business is a tough one, anywhere in the world.