There is a buzz in the air where the media have gathered in a room at the Mediacorp campus for the press con of upcoming Ch 8 drama Say Cheese. Hong Huifang, we hear, will only be entertaining questions about the drama and nothing else.

The caveat, of course, is issued in light of the 58-year-old veteran actress’ very public, very sensational falling out with former pal of two decades, Pan Lingling. This is Huifang’s first time meeting the press since the whole brouhaha took local showbiz by storm. When the drama’s cast finally strolls into the room, the spotlight is neither on its young leads Joanne Peh and Romeo Tan, nor eye candies Zong Zijie and Kimberly Chia. Let’s be honest: At most Ch 8 press cons, veteran artistes usually get relegated to playing second fiddle to their younger, hotter co-stars. Not today, though. Today, everyone wants a piece of Hong Huifang. 

But Huifang’s co-stars are also not spared from being put through the wringer, as nosey reporters go about grilling them on their take on the HFF vs. PLL saga. Did Huifang bring up the topic to them? Were they one of the 50 who received the Whatsapp message? Some see it coming, like a certain Romeo Tan who approaches us gingerly and immediately says, “Don’t ask sensitive questions ah, I tell you.” While some are quick to draw the line diplomatically, like Joanna Peh (“That’s none of my business”) and Kimberly Chia (“It’s their personal issue so I don’t think I’ll comment on it”), others are more forthcoming, like Cynthia Koh (“Honestly, if I were in her position, I’d have handled the situation very differently ’cos I’m a very private person"). 

Then there’s Chen Liping, who smirks when we grill her about the scandal. “[Not] another one,” laments her manager, with a resigned chuckle. The actress doesn’t beat about the bush and tells us point-blank that she’s not keen to talk about the subject. Instead, she points to Huifang who’s doing a video interview just behind her and tells us, “She’s here. So it’s best to ask her directly, right?” 

When it's finally our turn to interview Huifang, she's unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the scandal. And she makes it clear to us that she doesn’t want to address the drama outside of her Ch 8 drama. “Today, I’m only talking about watermelons. Not talking about any fruits other than watermelons,” she says, alluding to the drama’s Chinese title, Xi Gua Tian Bu Tian, loosely translated as ‘Is The Watermelon Sweet’. She lets out a hearty laugh, before reiterating in a gentle, almost-pleading tone, “Okay lah, we talk about watermelon can already. Don’t talk about any other fruits.” 

Not that that’s going to stop us from trying. We ask Huifang how she’s feeling now, and she replies calmly, “I’m feeling okay. I’ve been feeling okay all along.” What about her hubby, Zheng Geping, who has remained tight-lipped since the scandal broke? “He doesn’t want to talk about it. He simply said, ‘Whatever that has happened, just let it go.’ That’s it,” she says. [Side note: Ironically or not, in the drama, Huifang plays the role of peacemaker who goes around trying to solve the problems between her family and friends.]

We decide to probe further: So if she were to bump into Lingling now, would it be awkward between them? “I’ll face everything with a normal mindset. Let’s not discuss this matter. Completely not talk about this matter,” she says before her manager reminds us to focus on the drama instead. Huifang immediately jumps in: “This drama contains a lot of meaningful messages, with regards to the relationships between children and parents, as well as friends. It conveys a lot of positive messages. So if we were to discuss this drama, we can promote and spread positivity, instead of continuing to let the negativity bug us,” she says. “Always move forward and spread the positive energy. What’s the point of carrying negative energy with you? Be positive. This drama is a very good example of a positive form of education. The message of the drama is to appreciate the people around you, especially family, so that you don’t have any regrets.”

PHOTOS: CHEE YAN/CH 8

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