Already Famous: Film Review

Shallow but jaunty showbiz satire, Singapore-style.

Michelle Chong directs and stars in this lighthearted look at the TV business.

One of the oddities among this year’s list of foreign film contenders is the entry from Singapore, Already Famous, a dizzy Asian variation on A Star Is Born.  This film has no chance in the Oscar derby, and it’s too crude to be considered a really good movie, but it’s a funny glimpse into the pitfalls of show business around the world. The picture is something of a vanity production for Michelle Chong, who wrote, directed, and produced in addition to playing the lead. But she never quite wears out her welcome.

Chong, who is a well known TV personality in Singapore, plays Zann, a young woman from a village in Malaysia who dreams of hitting the big time. Her elderly grandmother (Lok Meng Chue) is the only family member who encourages her, so Zann makes the journey to cosmopolitan Singapore. She takes a job as a salesgirl while making the rounds to audition for modeling and acting jobs.  Along the way she finds comfort with a handsome coffee shop worker (played by another popular TV actor, Alien Huang), but she refuses to allow anyone to distract her from her primary goal.

The comic touches in the film veer from clever to cringe-inducing. Two gay co-workers are such flaming stereotypes that the film curdles whenever they are on screen. But the inside-showbiz touches are often engagingly loopy. The humiliating cattle call auditions are well caught. Zann finally gets a part as an extra on a medical soap opera, and the director is impressed when she cries convincingly during a hospital scene. But when Zann goes home to watch the episode with her family, her closeup has been cut to just a shot of her arm reaching toward the hospital bed. The final sequence, Singapore’s variation on an American Idol-style contest, is also wickedly funny.

The actors help to enliven the uneven material. Chong herself makes an attractive, put-upon heroine, and Huang is a winning love interest. Many well known TV personalities play themselves and add to the film’s savvy texture. Visually the film is hardly extraordinary, but the contrast between the rural landscapes and the sleek urban locations is effective.  Chong could have used a more rigorous editor. This lightweight film drags on for two hours, when 90 minutes would have been just about right. Still, the likable cast and knowing touches keep us watching right up until the end credits, which feature the same kind of outrageous out-takes that end many American comedies.

Cast: Michelle Chong, Alien Huang, Lok Meng Chue, Jalyn Han, James Lim, Tan Jun Sheng

Director-screenwriter: Michelle Chong

Producers: Michelle Chong, Pauline Yu

Executive producer: Anita Hatta

Director of photography: Meng Fye Wong

Production designers: Boon Keng Lim, Wong Chun Lim

Music: Joshua Chia

Costume designer: Youg Siew Lin

Editor: Jin Yan

No rating, 120 minutes.