Low Ngai Yuen admitted that she is a mean director. She cited an example where during a shoot for Trio and a Bed, she “chewed an actor to bits” when he couldn’t understand her instructions after it was repeated several times.
“Everyone on set became so scared of me. Later, I asked someone to call him and tell him I was sorry. Before I had children, I was mean, evil and a screamer. Now, I have toned down to being mean and sarcastic,” the mother-of-three noted, laughingly.
As unnerving as that sounds, Low is actually one of the most fun and definitely interesting personalities I have interviewed in a while. She is witty and disarmingly frank. She is also a veritable superwoman.
Quite possibly the Jill-of-all-trades, this former radio DJ juggles a career as a columnist, host, emcee, actress, writer and director. Not to mention, mother and wife. And to look as good as she does, one would have to be a superwoman. It is a full life that many women would envy.
“More like no life,” quipped Low.
“There are different stages in life. At one stage, all you want is to go clubbing. Now, I’m at the stage of work and kids.”
She credited her successful juggling abilities to her understanding husband, Wayne Wong.
“Initially, when I had just one child, I could focus but now with three children (Zi-Enn, two, Zi-Weng, one and Zi-Eu, three months), I need support,” she said.
With Low, there was never a question of cutting down on her workload.
But Low has shown that when you set your mind to do something, there is really nothing you can’t do. She confessed to being her own worst critic.
“I give myself a hard time to the point of being embarrassed of my work. I do try my best but if it’s bad, it’s my fault.”
This time, her perfectionism has paid off in a big way. Trio and a Bed has been nominated for Best Comedy Series at the Asian Television Awards (ATA) 2006.
This is not Low’s first ATA nomination or her only international recognition. In 2002, 3R was nominated and won best infotainment programme at the ATA. Her directorial debut, Your World, My World (2003), which she wrote and directed, also won the Best Short Film Award and The People’s Choice Award at the Starlight Cinema Short Film Festival 2003 in Singapore.
Low felt it is her latest nomination that carries much importance and significance.
“I have never been given so much freedom to do what I wanted. I didn’t have people telling me I couldn’t do this or I had to do it that way. They (Double Vision) trusted me and I felt appreciated, especially considering it is a new area of TV that they were trying.”
It was also a new domain for Low whose TV directing credits include 3R and Gol & Gincu.
“Interactive TV is a big thing these days. For me, there are three parts to it. There is the filming process, what eventually gets aired and what the audience chooses. When Trio and a Bed, which required viewers to determine the outcome of a certain episode, went on air, I was glued to the TV every day to see the choices viewers made.”
And more often than not their choices were different from what she had expected.
She related an example of an episode where viewers were asked if they wanted Amber Chia’s character that was cash-strapped to strip to earn some money.
“I assumed that they would want to see her strip but it turned out they didn’t. I was happy because it shows that they are a thinking audience and they are not there for the shock value.”
Low added that the show, despite its novel concept, garnered encouraging response from the Chinese community. “In the past, viewers used to be just served the entertainment. Now they can take part and feel connected to what they are watching. They can decide how the story progresses.
“And in spite of what some people may think, interactive TV is not a scam to get SMS-es in.”
Buoyed by Trio and a Bed’s success, Low has been entrusted by Double Vision to direct Trio Indonesia.
Trio Indonesia, the first interactive TV series in the republic, will largely follow the format of Trio and a Bed although there will be some changes to fit in with local sensitivities.
“The format for Trio (the Malay version and first interactive TV series drama) came from Spain. Double Vision adapted it to the Malaysian market. Now they have bought the copyright to the format and want to expand it by introducing interactive TV to Indonesia.
“The format works but I feel we may have to make it slightly longer than seven minutes.”
It will be Low’s first directing project outside Malaysia. Bringing with her a couple of Malaysian cast and crew, she sees it as part of a regional exchange programme.
Also lined up in her schedule are a couple of TV serials for Double Vision, one of which is a reality TV-inspired Chinese idol drama along the lines of Realiti, currently aired over 8TV.
“There is a lack of local Chinese shows. The problem is we don’t have sufficient local Chinese productions to sustain the momentum. That is why we have to continuously push for new productions. If we don’t, there will never be any development in the local Chinese entertainment industry.”
She added that she also wants to develop new talents and will be using more fresh faces in her serials, supported by experienced actors.
It is no coincidence that Low is focusing more of her energy these days on TV projects. Her last feature film was 1413, which was part of the Visits: Hungry Ghost Anthology (2004).
“Two years ago, I wanted a future in film but now I’m not so hung up about it. My objective is to touch people and TV can also do that. It’s just a different media. Moreover, majority of the public watches TV. In Hollywood, we find a lot of directors moving into TV, so why not give it a chance?”
It seemed destined that this biology and chemistry major would carve a career in the entertainment industry, especially when her name Ngai Yuen means arts in Chinese.
“I’m not the sort of person who maps out my life although I do know what I want. I feel that if I plan everything, I wouldn’t see a lot of things. I just basically head in the direction that I want and see where the road leads me.”
She is hoping that the road will eventually lead her to fulfilling one of her life’s greatest wish: winning an Oscar. And mind you, she is serious. “When I was growing up, I used to think you had to live in Hollywood to win an Oscar. But you don’t. At the end of the day, it is excellence that counts.”