Khoo Teck Puat was ‘very pissed’ when son Eric Khoo decided to pursue filmmaking
Yes, the Singaporean director is the son of Khoo Teck Puat.
Eric Khoo is known for being the local filmmaker involved in several award-winning projects, including “Mee Pok Man” and “Ramen Teh”.
But what many people wouldn’t know is that his career started with a pair of Barbie doll and GI Joe figurine which he used to film his first short film, aptly called “Barbie Digs Joe”.
This short film — which he told me that he started working on when he was just an NSmen — ended up being nominated for several film festivals abroad including the Hawaii International Film Festival.
While sitting at a cafe near Capitol Theatre (which he often visits as a child), he shared with us how he started getting into filmmaking and his latest work, “The Brown Dog”.
If you know and admire Khoo as a filmmaker, you have his mother to thank for that.
His love for all things film started with his mother, who he said loves watching movies almost as much as he does.
Pointing to the Capitol Theatre which was just a few steps away, he said, “She used to bring me to the Capitol Theatre. We saw The Terminator which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger right here.”
At a young age, Khoo and his sister would often accompany their mother to watch a movie at that very theatre.
Her genre of choice? Horror.
“I remember when I was about seven years old, she brought me here to watch “It’s Alive” and it freaked me out. It was damn scary but my main love to this day is still horror.”
But apart from his love for films, he feels that his mother has been responsible for letting his creativity grow.
He said: “My mum used to buy for me drawing paper, marker pens and I would draw comics. She was really there for my creative growth.”
Son of Khoo Teck Puat
But here’s a lesser-known fact: Khoo is also the son of the late Khoo Teck Puat, a prominent businessman and hotelier in Singapore.
And yes, a hospital in Yishun was also named after his father.
Coming from an Asian household, I could only imagine his father having reservations on his son venturing into what many would consider an unconventional industry back then.
But my thoughts proved to be an understatement: “Oh, he was very pissed off with me for doing this. He would say, ‘Can you stop reading the cinema page of The Straits Times and read Time magazine?'”
Fortunately for Khoo, it wasn’t difficult to show his father that he was determined to follow through with his career.
After he started travelling for film festivals, the elder Khoo seemed to be “pretty cool” with whatever the younger Khoo was doing.
From cinema to film festivals
Speaking of film festivals, Khoo has been invited to a variety of film festivals around the world after working on more than 30 short and feature films.
These festivals include:
- Pia Film Festival
- Berlin International Film Festival
- Moscow Film Festival
But the Cannes Film Festival remains to be one of the most memorable film festivals he has ever attended, for several reasons.
The first time he was invited to the film festival was in 1997 for the film “12 Storeys”.
This wasn’t just a first for him, though.
The film is also the first Singapore film to be shown at the international film festival.
Recounting his very first trip to the French resort town, he said:
“My heart dropped, I couldn’t believe it. I got to hang out with the people who helped to make the film and we had some beers. When you get to Cannes, the feeling… It’s really incredible.”
Funnily enough, he was partially motivated to return again to fulfil one of his four sons’ interesting request: A hotdog-filled baguette by the beach.
“There was this hotdog stand where they served hotdog in a baguette. One of my younger bots randomly said: ‘I miss the hotdog in Cannes. Can you make another film?’ That’s when I made “Tatsumi”.”
Hair standing moment
His proudest moment in Cannes, however, had to be the time his film “My Magic” was nominated for the Palme d’Or for the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.
But it wasn’t the nomination that made him beam from ear to ear.
Rather, it was the fact that his son, Christopher, was involved in the film as well.
“My son composed the score to the film. Just imagine when I got onto the red carpet in Cannes and my son’s score was playing, my hair was just standing.”
The Brown Dog
And while we’re still on the topic of getting to know Khoo, it’s worth knowing that the filmmaker is a big dog lover.
His phone’s lock screen even boasts a photo of Woofie, his beloved Pomeranian.
So it wouldn’t come as a surprise that one of Khoo’s latest projects includes co-directing a short film called “The Brown Dog” with two young animators Andre Quek and Jerrold Chong.
“The Brown Dog” was created as part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Blue 3 Asia’s 15 Shorts film anthology.
The tearjerking animated film is based on a true story and is inspired by the co-founder of no-kill animal shelter Animal Lovers League (ALL), Cathy Strong, who rescued and healed a three-legged puppy named Captain Hook.
You can watch it here:
Six months for 10-minute film
Quek told us that it took them a full six months to sketch and animate the 10-minute film.
And it goes without saying that animating animals, especially a three-legged dog, presents its own set of challenges.
“Drawing a four-legged animal is already a challenge in itself. But a three-legged (animal)? That required a little bit of adjustment especially for the way they move and the acting.”
But what really kept the animators going was seeing the people from ALL doing everything they can to make life better for the 500 animals that they have rescued.
Rock and roll
And it seems Khoo had a great time working with the young animators as well and thinks the future film landscape in Singapore will only get better.
“It’s amazing. We have people like Kirsten Tan, Jerrold (Chong), Andre (Quek) and Mark Wee. I seriously feel we can rock and roll and there will be more in the future.”
But he also has a piece of advice for the younger generation who may be thinking of pursuing a career in filmmaking: Stay grounded.
“Be prepared to know that it’s not going to be a bed of roses. It’s a career that requires a lot of hard work. The problem in this line of career is there is a lot of vanity and if someone is not sincere and wants to do it solely for the vanity, you cannot succeed.”
Top image by Valerie Ng and from Finding Pictures’ Facebook page