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An 18-minute short film, Behind The Man, has been put up on YouTube on Aug. 31, 2015, on the eve of General Election 2015 Nomination Day.
Shot by filmmaker Tay Bee Pin, it shows what life is like for opposition politician Chee Soon Juan and his family in their three-room flat in Toa Payoh.
Captured on film -- possibly for the first time in such an intimate way -- are interviews with the Chee family: The wife, who explained how their courtship process went in their younger days (Chee was a Bruce Lee fan and rode a motorcycle), and the three eloquent children who complete each other's sentences.
In one memorable scene, Chee's precocious youngest son cuts in on his mother's interview mid-sentence to explain on her behalf how the family's slightly beat up car door sounds like when closed.
The children also describe their unique relationship with their parents, the close-knit family they are and what they experienced when they saw their dad as a public figure go to prison, while the parents talked about principled upbringing and what respect entails.
All in all, Chee Soon Juan the father is not something the public is familiar with, as Chee the politician who is larger-than-life has been etched into people's minds.
And that appears to be the motivation of the filmmaker who shot the Chee family over a period of three days.
Via Martyn See, a fellow filmmaker, who shared the video on his Facebook page with an accompanying note:
A short film on the life of an opposition politician and his family in a 3-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh.
Behind The Man
By Tay Bee Pin
"When I first approached Dr Chee Soon Juan, expressing my wish to film his family, he had his reservation and wasn't sure if this was something his wife, Dr Huang Chihmei and his 3 children were comfortable and would agree to. Chee describes his house as a ‘sanctuary’ and I was surprised that except for his mother or the very few close relatives, only a handful had stepped in there for the last 20 years or so.
What followed then were a few email exchanges and a meeting with Chihmei and eventually, they gave their consent.
On my first visit to meet their children, Chihmei apologised profusely for their small apartment, and that my cameraman Ching Leong and I had to sit on kiddish plastic chairs from Ikea. Though having read about them in a Yahoo article (https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/peek-life-chee-soon-juan-050517946.html) and an idea what to expect, my attention was still being drawn to the huge collection of books that occupied the living room. There are many photos around the house, and 3 designated study areas in the living room and 2 bedrooms. At her study table, An Lyn the eldest child and probably due to the lack of space, has to keep her personal items on the table and on the book shelves too. During our conversations, Chihmei kept wondering if we would like moving our filming outdoor.
Anyway, it’s just the cameraman and myself, and everything was kept minimal. The filming took 3 days and we spent most of our time in the ‘sanctuary’. At the end of the shoot, Chihmei said the family had never felt so important in their lives before. Shaw Hur, the youngest kid told me the exact hours we had spent filming them. He actually kept count! This boy is endearing and during our shoot, we even assigned him simple tasks to assist us. Ching Leong was so impressed that he told me not once that he was better than some junior crew or interns he encountered.
This video would hopefully offer a rare glimpse of the family of Chee Soon Juan. In all honesty, I merely had this simple notion of covering the family without exactly knowing what direction I am going to take. I am happy that they had allowed me to do my work without any interference. I didn't even reveal my interview questions until the camera started rolling.
In the end, what struck me most was how the family managed to stay so strong as a whole despite the crises they weathered. It’s so close-knit, and in one of the solo interviews, Shaw Hur cried when he spoke about having missed her sister when she was out for school camp. We had to stop filming and resumed an hour later. Anyway, this scene didn't end up in the final cut.
Our heartfelt thanks to the Chee family for allowing 2 strangers into your ‘sanctuary’ and also provided us the precious family pictures and footage. We learnt something from the time we had spent with you all. We hope Singaporeans will care to watch the video and make up their own opinions too.