Ji Fan – A Uniquely Singaporean Short Film


Last weekend, a short film “Ji Fan” was launched at the Hyatt hotel in Singapore. Set in Singapore, the film is mainly in English with some Mandarin Chinese (there are subtitles). We catch up with the director, Lee, to dig up the background to this very interesting film.

AMB: So Ji Fan literally means “chicken rice” in Mandarin. Why this title? And what prompted you to make a film about chicken rice?

Lee: In the first place, this is actually not the first Singapore film featuring chicken rice; to my recollection, there were 2 others before this— Chicken Rice Wars, and Hainan Ji Fan. However, of course my film is very different from these other chicken rice films.

You see, we Singaporeans are obsessed with food and of course chicken rice being our national dish (not to mention my favourite Singapore food)… I felt it fitting to pay homage to it! There is something about chicken rice that is so understated and multi-faceted at the same time. In Singapore I dare say it’s the ‘glue’ that binds us all together— Singaporeans of all 4 ethnicities eat and love chicken rice; it’s part of our identity. And this reflects one of the main themes of our film.

Also, to foreigners, our chicken rice appears to be a very simple and nondescript dish. They don’t see what’s the big fuss about it (and maybe even Singaporeans also take it for granted because we have so much of it in our daily lives). So to foreigners, it’s (what my Canadian friend once described as) ‘some slices of chicken on rice’ but those of us who grew up with and appreciate chicken rice… We know that there is a traditional art to roasting the chicken, making the chilli dip, cooking the rice with the broth and pandan leaves, keeping the bones for the next batch etc. If you ever tried to make chicken rice the way our older hawkers make it… no way you could.

I lived in North America for a few years. So you can imagine I’m very liberal by education. However, I’m proud of my Asian identity and wanted to make a film that people can relate to— through Asian narratives and symbols. At the end of the day I’m aiming to bring out the fact that we can be both exquisite and Asian at the same time. If I’m charged with being overly snooty and patriotic about chicken rice, then so be it.

AMB: Is it really based on a true story?

Lee: I’ve found that much of art imitates life rather than the other way round, actually. So… Ji Fan was conceived from a real-life catalyst. Well, perhaps some artistic liberties were taken, but I guess the film pretty much remained faithful to the actual themes. I’m that kind of director. I’m not at all good at making stories up— I am only good at conveying stories, life experiences. Of which I have a lot!

AMB: What were the challenges in making Ji Fan?

Lee: Budget, definitely. And the lack of serious/skilled people to help me out at the really low budget I was running on. I have my DPs to really thank, for helping me out from start to finish despite this. It just shows a genuine passion that’s hard to find here in Singapore.

AMB: Who inspires you, filmmaking-wise?

Lee: At this point of infancy in my film career, as a film lover for over 25 years, I have an inclination towards certain kinds of films by certain directors. In my depository of DVDs, you’ll find black and white films from the 30s to the 50s, Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai, Capra films. I’m not that old actually, but as a kid, left to my own devices, I used to watch TCM (Turner Classic Movies). I think my earliest memories film-wise were films like Gone With the Wind, It Happened One Night, Kurosawa films definitely, Cathay Keris, Shaw Brothers films. And when I was slightly older, like in grade school, I watched a lot of Hong Kong films (albeit dubbed in Mandarin) so I really admire Wong Kar Wai. One day, hopefully I will have enough budget to produce films of their standard. My new short film is coming out around Christmas 2015 so I hope that will be different from Ji Fan.
If you love exotic Asian independent films, this one is worth every dime. Check out to get a copy!

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