Lulu is a star. A self-professed fashionista, she makes heads turn wherever she goes, and with her carefree curls, leopard print garb and profusion of bling-bling, she stands out like no other. In fact, Lulu is so cool that she even has her own movie, simply titled Lulu The Movie.
Singaporean TV audiences know Lulu as the colourful alter ego of actress Michelle Chong, which she created eight years ago, along with a bunch of other characters, for Mediacorp’s Channel 5 news parody show The Noose.
Lulu, a KTV hostess from China, was one of Chong’s most memorable caricatures in the show, which also included a Filipino domestic helper named Leticia Bongnino, and a sexy “sarong party girl” named Barbarella. Those caricatures were such a hit with Singaporean viewers that Chong was named best comedy actress at the 2012 Asian Television Awards.
After making two movies – Already Famous (2011) and 3 Peas In A Pod (2013) – Chong wanted a comedy for her third project, and decided to pick one of the characters she had been playing for the past few years.
In a phone interview from Singapore last week, Chong explained that Lulu The Movie was inspired by the influx of Chinese travellers into Singapore, as well as the increase in news reports about them. “Nowadays, we often read about the mainland Chinese in the news. I imagined that they could be a misunderstood lot. So, I decided to tell the story from their point of view,” said Chong, 39, who also wrote, directed and produced Lulu The Movie.
In the film, Lulu is a bubbly woman from China who goes to Singapore to meet the man who has been romancing her online.
Playing Lulu’s leading man is Leon Jay Williams, 40, Chong’s good friend of 20 years. The handsome Singapore-born Eurasian singer/actor has starred in a total of 15 movies and 11 dramas in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Reminiscing about how they both started out as models before Williams ventured overseas to develop his acting career in China and Taiwan, Chong said they reconnected a few years back when he returned to Singapore.
“I was surprised that his Chinese had not improved much, despite spending so many years abroad in a variety of Mandarin-speaking projects,” Chong says of the handsome model-turned-actor, who plays the twin brother of 53-year-old Singaporean actor Chen Tianwen’s character, who is also one of Lulu’s love interests in the movie.
“Lulu’s English is not good while Leon’s Mandarin is not good. In the movie, Lulu pronounces Leon’s name as Liang, so I call them ‘ban jing ba liang’ (the Chinese equivalent of Tweedledum and Tweedledee).”
Besides the main role, Chong also plays another character in the movie, that of the insufferable Sonia, the uptight host of a Singaporean TV fashion show, who is as different from Lulu as night is from day.
“Leon is a rich banker and a handsome gentleman. One would say Leon may look more natural with a successful supermodel like Sonia. But putting him with Lulu doesn’t really look too awkward either. Sonia may look modern and pretty but Lulu is gregarious and friendly. You can see the difference in the KTV lounge, where Sonia pulls a long face, yet Lulu is all smiles, because she’s a people person. She just wants everybody to be happy.”
Chong says that if people can get past Lulu’s physical traits, then they will find that “she is very fun”.
“She is very endearing in the sense that she has a heart of gold. Also, she is very witty, and she has these street smarts that people find quite cute. The way that she fends for herself are just her survival instincts. She is the underdog after all, so I think people still want to see her come right in the end.”
The filmmaker is confident that people will grow to like Lulu because she is a nice person. “It’s just that her English is not that good, and another thing is the way she insists on looking. She sticks to having her own fashion sense, even though everybody may be telling her it’s embarrassing. But she doesn’t care, because this is her.”
In this rags-to-riches rom-com, where Lulu goes from a down-on-her-luck KTV hostess to international fashion icon without ever losing herself in the process, one message is clear, which Chong merrily quips in her much-loved alter ego’s voice: “Be yourself. You must stay true to yourself. That is most important.”