Reunion's Shawn Thia On Christopher Lee As A Role Model: "He Ages Like Fine Wine"
Shawn Thia had to read the script three to four times before he could wrap his head around the mystery drama, now streaming on meWATCH. (Warning: Spoilers ahead! Do not read this if you have seen episode 8.)
Confession: When I first heard of Reunion, I thought it was a drama about a get-together during Chinese New Year. Seriously. But if you look past the nondescript moniker, Reunion — now streaming on meWATCH — is an intriguing, twisty, binge-worthy mystery.
On Reunion — created by Code of Law’s Lee Thean-Jeen — childhood chums Jasmine (Cheryl Chou), Riza (Jamil Schulze), Leonard (Joshua Lim) and Sami (Ching Shu Yi) find their lives upended when their pal Chris (Shawn Thia) turns up after missing for 15 years after an excursion of Pulau Ubin.
Sit tight: Shawn with his 'Reunion' cast-mates (from left, Cheryl Chou, Jamil Schulze, Ching Shu Yi and Joshua Lim. Fun fact: Besides reading for Chris, Shawn also auditioned for the part of Leonard which eventually went to Joshua.
So, welcome home? Not so fast. Where has Chris been all this time? Is this Chris the same Chris who went MIA? And that’s about as much plot as any reviewer can prudently reveal. Okay, maybe one more reveal — SPOILER COMING UP! — Chris is not Chris, but an impostor named Jon…Wait, but why did he do it? That's the more pressing question.
The old gang have no lost love for Chris and his return only dredges up bad memories. Elsewhere, Chris’ ruthless property mogul father (Lim Kay Tong) and his second-in-command (Peter Yu) appear to know more but they let on about Chris’ disappearance.
Clearly, honesty is in short supply in a drama that deals with stolen identities, corporate skullduggery and murder. Making things complicated are the flashbacks and flash-forwards, which makes it hard to keep up sometimes not just for the audience but the actors as well.
“I have to read the script at least three to four times to fully understand everything,” says Shawn Thia who plays the show’s person of interest Chris. “One second is in the present day…bam! You are 10 years ago…bam! Then three months before the disappearance.”
Here, Shawn — last seen in Titoudao: Inspired by the True Story of a Wayang Star and has also appeared in Royston Tan’s interactive anti-drug short film, High and hawker centre drama 128 Circle — shares with 8days.sg a few things he experienced while making Reunion. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)
1/ He’s playing not one but two characters.
Not only was Shawn playing Chris but also the person pretending to be Chris. “In every scene I’m in, I have to think from Chris’ perspective as well as Jon’s,” says Shawn. The dual roles were a tad more challenging than what he was used to on Titoudao, where he played a member of a Hokkien opera troupe. “[That story] was more straightforward and had fewer twists and turns,” he adds. To keep up with Chris/Jon’s snaky arcs, Shawn kept two journals, one each for his alter-egos. “The amount of backstory for Reunion is heavy and intense.”
2/ Building chemistry on Reunion was tough.
Reunion was filmed shortly after the circuit breaker was lifted but production under COVID-19-safety protocols made it difficult for Shawn to build rapport with his cast-mates. “On Titoudao, we were all stuck in Ipoh for three months — we eat together, we play together, we work together,” says Shawn. “For Reunion, we had to put in extra effort to work on the relationship. It was a good thing we were all on the same page. We could actually joke around each other. The Reunion set was actually more light-hearted than Titoudao; Titoudao was quite intense.”
3/ Working with veterans Lim Kay Tong and Peter Yu was a dream come to.
“We’ve watched them on TV since we were young,” says Shawn, who was a projector coordinator in the maritime sector for two years before going into full-time acting in 2019. “To be able to share a scene with them, to a budding actor, is very rewarding.” So no pressure when sparring with them? “They are super-professionals and they have this ability to make everything not tense — they made everything easy.” He continues, “There is no airs about them. They would run lines with us, which made it easier for the younger actors to get into character.”
Wait and see: Asked what he thought of the young actors, Lim Kay Tong (seen here with Peter Yu) tells 8days, “I am impressed by their professionalism. They are in control of their lines and have a very clear idea of who their characters are…they are always very well-prepared, which is very heartening.”
4/ Peter Yu is his Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Shawn and Peter worked together before, sort of — Shawn played the younger version of Peter’s character on the Mediacorp adaptation of Dick Lee’s Fried Rice Paradise. Though the two never met on set, they managed to catch up at the wrap party. “I once asked Peter how he stays grounded and he’s a spiritual person to be around,” says Shawn, a Christian. “There were times when he would drop seemingly random nuggets of wisdom, but they actually just came at the right time. Sometimes it’s like a casual remake but those words go a long way.”
5/ Can someone give Christopher Lee a call?
Now that he’d worked with Lim Kay Tong and Peter Yu, who else is Shawn’s actor wish list? “Christopher Lee, for sure,” he says without hesitation. “He’s probably the guy every young actor tries to study and learn. Look at his career and have you seen his latest photos? He just looked like….he ages like fine wine.” Shawn is most impressed with Christopher’s performance on HBO’s Taiwanese drama Workers where he had to speak in taiyu (Taiwanese Hokkien). “As a budding actor, I look up to him and respect him — he's a role model.”
Getting high: Shawn with Naomi Yeo in Royston Tan’s anti-drug short film ‘High’. Working with the ‘881’ director was an amazing experience, says Shawn. “He not only set the mood for a particular scene but he also made sure that he is there with you in that scene."
Reunion is now streaming on meWATCH.