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New S'pore Film: Got Virus, Got Zombie, And Farnee!

Paranoia is characterised by suspiciousness, being extremely fearful and/or losing touch with reality.

Kee chiu if you've experienced all the above at some point during this COVID-19 pandemic. And kee chiu again if you were even more paranoid when Singapore started reopening. If you kee chiu both times, you'll probably identify with this new short film (entitled "Paranoia", duh) by YouTuber Jonathan Cheok - better known as cheokboardstudios on YouTube and Instagram.

The film is about a woman doing everything she can to protect her son. It's a thriller, a drama, and a horror movie all at once, but hor, what's a Jonathan Cheok production without some of his signature sense of humour? So it's also a comedy! In this genre-defying film, it's quite obvious lah, you can see the Funny Guy flexing his filmmaking muscles and trying to move away from his ha-ha persona on YouTube.

The script, acting, directing all sibei tok kong. Watch it here: 

We spoke to Jonathan about the obstacles he faced making this film during the pandemic, and what he himself is most paranoid about.

What prompted you to make this film?

I was invited by local producer Daniel Yun from Blue3Asia to pitch for a ground up initiative by IMDA to create content to speak to our fellow Singaporeans about staying positive, resilient and united. So I thought, what better way to show positivity by showing the absolute negativity through the main character, Mary.

I feel a lot of Singaporeans can relate to the panic buying, extreme concern and even paranoia during the COVID-19 outbreak and Circuit Breaker Period. I wanted to create a short film that would entertain the audience and lift their spirits during this time too.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced making this during this pandemic?

The biggest challenge was crafting the story so that it would be relatable. Because it is almost post-apocalyptic, I needed to put in elements that the local audience could understand.

Another challenge was the “non-filming” period during the CB, so I took a lot of time crafting the story, and working with my art director and his team to make the location, sets and props interesting yet believable - like that crazy woman’s doomsday trolley, the police van and Mary’s home.

This film is hard to categorise: it's comedy/thriller/drama/horror all rolled into one. How would you categorise it?

I would say it’s a Thrillamady! Thriller, drama and comedy all rolled into a 21-minute long film. When I was writing this script, I made it a point to encompass a few genres because I wanted to create something out of the norm. For example, a man stuck alone at home, your typical love story or the common frontline worker-type scenario.

Creating something that crosses boundaries in genres was exciting and, at the same time, challenging for my team and me, but at the end of the day, we accomplished it and we felt good about it. Releasing this film was a four-month long battle from March to July!

Singaporean humour is so unique. Would you say that only Singaporeans will "get" this film?

I would think most Singaporeans would definitely relate to the content in terms of the dialogue and motivations. Although, it is a film that can cross borders. In fact, every person in every country in the world that is facing COVID-19 would be able to feel what the characters are going through.

Protecting their children, staying off the streets and being homebound, feeling the uncertainty and paranoia: these are feelings that aren’t dictated by race, language or religion, but by the pure fact that we are all human. 

What are you most paranoid about? Not having money, health, or happiness?

Actually, I’m most paranoid about not finding a girlfriend, so my Mum says. I’m 35 and my parents hope that I can settle down soon but my focus is on making my first feature film in the next few years. Hopefully, with the IMDA recognising my efforts in this film, I can realise that dream in the coming future.

On a serious note, being unable to get work in this economy hit by COVID-19 makes me as paranoid as Mary. Freelancers in the film industry are hit bad, as other industries are too, and I’m hoping to gain traction and getting my name out there as a film director, rather than Jonathan Cheok, the funny YouTuber guy.

Any message of encouragement for fellow Singaporeans during this pandemic?

I pray for this pandemic to end. Hoping a vaccine will be found really soon and life can return to our "old normal" instead of this "new normal". I can’t breathe properly when I’m out in a mask. It bothers me.

Through films like mine, and many others that are being released through the Project V initiative, I hope we stay united as a country, as a people, as one human race and beat this virus! Also, good health to all my fellow Singaporeans. I hope you enjoy my film and share it with your loved ones and friends!

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