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'Red' packs a strong punch


This all-youth team is burning their way to the National Youth Film Awards with their short film about gang members.

It literally cost them blood, sweat, and tears to complete the most challenging film they have shot.

Drawn by the allure of action and brotherhood in Hong Kong's triad films, a team of mass communication undergraduates from Curtin University produced Red, a short film about two gang members who found themselves trapped under the rule of a ruthless leader.

The team of seven headed to Geylang and Chinatown several times to research on gang-related activities, while scouting for possible shoot locations for their 15-minute short film.

Red was created for created for the National Youth Film Awards this year.

"During our recce trips, we encountered some illegal gambling dens [in Geylang]. We tried to look-see inside to check out what it is like. There were stares and looks, and eventually someone came to ask us what were we there for," said Liaw Yong Hong, 24, who directed Red.

Yong Hong added: "We discovered that there were lookouts stationed outside these areas. This was reflected in our film." 

Director Liaw Yong Hong (left) and Director of Photography Eric Zhang (right) at a shopfront featured in their film.

The team also spoke to older Singaporeans to learn what gangs were like in the past.

"Gangs are not so rampant in Singapore anymore, so we asked our parents what gangs were like in the past, so we could give a more accurate depiction in our film," added Yong Hong, who is a freelancer in the film industry.

Red is nominated for four awards in this year's National Youth Film Awards, organised by *SCAPE and co-presented by DBS and the National Youth Council. It is in the running for Best Camera Work, Best Colour Grading, Best Lighting and Best Picture.

With a budget of $9,000, partly supported by Curtin University, the team took six weeks to complete filming and editing Red.

The team behind Red (left to right): Liaw Yong Hong, Zach RS Ho, Charlene Chua, Zhang Yi, Eric Zhang, Shaun Foo, Sng Ye Min and Ang Wei Ming.

Filming an action-packed film left the team with a couple of scratches. After a slight mishap with a particularly difficult drone shot, Eric ended up in the hospital.

Eric, 27, recalled jokingly: "The moment the drone took off, I saw it heading towards a wall and I knew it was going to crash soon. My first instinct was that the drone was over a thousand dollars and I must save it. Right after I grabbed it, I saw blood dripping down onto the floor.

"I managed to save my drone, but my finger was sliced open in the process. There was blood everywhere. Eventually, I bled so much that my face turned pale and the crew decided I had to go to the hospital to get it checked," added Eric, who developed an interest in photography when he started playing with his father's DSLR during his polytechnic days.

"He came back, grabbed a 100PLUS, and we wrapped the shoot at 3am that day," said Yong Hong, who developed an interest in filmmaking when he was doing his polytechnic internship in Mediacorp.

It is not unusual for the crew to shoot till the early hours of the morning.

Despite working with a small budget and a tight timeline, Eric and Yong Hong received plenty of help.

Yong Hong, who interned as a student producer in Mediacorp in 2012, said: "I was very fortunate to have good mentors during my time there. School teaches us hard skills, like how to operate the camera and such, but it does not teach us soft skills like how to schedule and plan for a shoot."

His past working experience helped him to rope in a star-studded cast, such as local actor Andrew Seow (Channel 5's Growing Up) and Charlie Goh (Jack Neo's Ah Boys to Men) for this film. 

A crew member adjusting Andrew Seow's microphone carefully.

"I contacted Andrew Seow through Facebook and shared some of our previous works with him. When I asked if he wanted to be part of Red, he agreed without hesitation.

"For Charlie Goh, I sent him an email asking if he wanted to join the project. When he heard we were a student team trying to produce films, he agreed readily too," shared Yong Hong.

What's next for the team?

"I have plans to obtain an office space and have the same filming crew under one company," shared Yong Hong.

The aspiring filmmaker also plans to produce films that the entire team is passionate about.

Yong Hong added confidently: "Over the past two years, we have been focused [filming for] on competitions and that has heavily influenced most of our films. Now, I want to produce something that inspires and interests the whole team."

The National Youth Film Awards  ceremony will be held on Jul 22, 2017.