When we entered the venue where the press conference for Mind’s Eye was being held, we wondered if we had accidentally stumbled upon an abandoned Halloween attraction. Severed fake limbs were scattered across the floor, and there were drinks resembling blood packs on the snack table.
As it turns out, this eerie sight was completely in line with the surprisingly gruesome Toggle Originals series, which has a serial killer (played by Frederick Lee) who gets a kick out of cutting up his victims. Yep.
Even the cast members themselves were taken aback by how dark the final product turned out to be after they saw the five-minute preview. “There was always a very happy atmosphere on set, so when we saw the trailer, we were shocked!” exclaimed Jesseca Liu, who stars as a private investigator who can see the future through her sense of smell.
Michelle Chia, who plays Frederick’s “psychotic” onscreen twin sister, concurred, recalling how they would often be “joking around just seconds before” the cameras started rolling. “When you’re filming the show, you don’t see or feel how scary it is, but it looks rather scary!” she said.
Also starring in Mind’s Eye as a headstrong detective is Tay Ping Hui in what is his first local production since joining China-based entertainment company Perfect World Pictures last year. While he has been spending more time in China as he develops his career there, he stayed in Singapore throughout the duration of filming, and will remain here until February as he is set to direct an episode for Fresh Takes.
That’s certainly good news for the 49-year-old actor, who recently lamented about missing three years of Christmas at home. “It was quite depressing because they don’t celebrate Christmas there, while it’s a pretty big thing for me,” he told us.
That said, there are no big celebratory plans in the pipeline as Ping Hui said that as he gets older, the more he longs for simplicity. “It’s no longer about big parties and lots of alcohol - just a simple dinner or gathering with family and friends is enough to make me very, very happy,” he smiled.
After Fresh Takes, Ping Hui will work on the China version of the beloved 80s local classic Samsui Women from late February or early March till the third quarter of 2020, go on a month-long break (he hopes), and then begin shooting another Mainland remake of another 80s local classic, The Awakening, until at least mid-2021.
Whew! That’s one full plate, but if there’s one thing Ping Hui has learned from being exposed to “the big bad ocean” that is the Chinese showbiz industry, it’s that one should never rest on their laurels.
“Over there, you’re only as good as your last production, and if you f*** it up, you’re gone, so you can’t really take anything for granted,” he shared. “Here, you can get too comfortable because Singapore is very protected and insulated, while in China, there are a lot of creatures that are trying to eat you up.”
“So I’m a little more pressured and a little bit harder on myself when I’m up there; I can only demand the best from myself,” Ping Hui continued. “I can relax a little when I’m home but I still brought back that attitude that every day… well, I’m not young. So I took every day of filming like it was my last, and gave it my 110 per cent. Of course, along the way there are little pockets of fun and joy, but when it comes to work, I’m all serious.”
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Jesseca Liu recalls her toughest day on set
As a huge fan of detective stories (her favourite show of that genre is Sherlock, the one with Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role), Jesseca relished getting to become one in Mind’s Eye.
What didn’t sound so fun was having to film a scene where her character is captured and placed on an operating table, her arms and legs restrained with plastic wrap. What’s more, that shoot went on for a total of about five to six hours - don’t worry, toilet and meal breaks were allowed - but the 40-year-old actress assured us that the crew was able to find a way to keep her as comfortable as possible.
Despite having participated in a grisly production where the bad guy literally hacks off body parts because he enjoys it, Jesseca stressed that she is absolutely not a fan of gory movies.
“The last one I watched was Saw,” she chuckled, referring to the skin-crawling 2004 horror flick. “I was curious because everyone told me it was good, so I checked it out, immediately deleted it, and erased the plot from my memory. I never watched another gory movie after that.”
And not even her husband, actor Jeremy Chan, can change her mind. “He loves gory movies and has been trying to convince me to watch them for years, but he has not succeeded!” she laughed.
Which horror flick left Michelle Chia traumatised for two months?
Don’t be fooled by Michelle’s character’s seemingly sunny, sweet and sensitive disposition in the show - she is actually, as the 44-year-old actress put it herself, a psychopath.
Granted, she doesn’t actually do any of the killing, but she does casually hang out with her equally psychotic brother in “the butchering room”, smiling and chatting with him like it’s no big deal. “She’s a bit strange lah, and I think that’s what makes her scarier,” said Michelle.
The real Michelle, however, will “literally turn green and start vomiting” at the sight of an open wound and absolutely cannot stand horror movies. The last one she tried watching was the original Japanese classic Ring, and boy, did she come to regret it.
“For the longest time, I couldn’t look at corners or at the TV without it being switched on. I also couldn’t shower properly, and whenever I washed my face, my back would have to be against the wall,” she recalled, adding, “I even had to share a room with my mother for two months because I could not sleep alone! It was torture. I never liked horror films but that was the turning point for me, and I never watched another one ever again.”
Mind’s Eye premieres on Toggle on January 3, 2020.