Xiang Yun and the stars of Kelvin Tong’s It’s A Great Great World remember the good old days at Great World Amusement Park
By Genevie Loh
TODAY, 26 January 2011
Memories are groovy. Anyone who says otherwise probably just can’t remember. Not only do they light the corners of your mind, misty watercolour memories are best way to remind us of the way we were. (Thanks, Babs).
And with MediaCorp Raintree Picture’ Its’ A Great Great World opening on 27 January 2011. this always sentimental journey was more than ready to plunge into a golden sea of nostalgia and reminiscence about the legendary Great World Amusement Park and all its colourful attractions that director Kelvin Tong had to recreate.
Except for one little glitch: This 1979 baby was born a whole year after Tua Seh Kai (as it was affectionately known in Hokkien) permanently shut its doors in 1979. Darn it.
The only Great World I know of is the shopping mall that replaced it on Kim Seng Road, and I don’t think those exotic themed restrooms they have within count as “attractions”. I so needed help.
Xiang Yun was sitting in the photo studio being worked on by no less than four individuals at once. There’s the make-up artist, the hairstylist, the art director/stylist and me. The veteran actress plays an aging but still glamourous songstresses who headlines at the infamous Flamingo Nite-Club in the moview, so she must know a thing or two. You know, method acting and all.
MediaCorp TV Channel 8’s resident thesp, who will be turning 50 this year, is beyong resplendent in a figure-flattering, siren-red cheongsam by local designer Lai Chan, looking like a glamour puss from another, more glorious era.
“Being dressed up these outfits, and posing for these pictures makes me want to do even more ‘retro movies!” she giggled in Mandarin.
The mother-of-two agreed it was a “more romantic and sentimental era”, which is why her story in the film – that of a washed up diva who pines for an old lover while the club owner hides his own feeling for her – was especially memorable. “I’ve always wanted to play a stage performer who sings and dances. It’s been one of my biggest dreams.
Could it be that it was all so simple then?
The actress shared that she was even more intrigued with Great World Amusement Park after shooting her part, and went around asking “uncles” whether they’d been to the Flamingo Nite-Club. “Everyone had differing stories! Were the ‘Taxi-Girls’ all Cantonese? Did they sing Chinese songs or English songs in the club?” she said, laughing. “I’m guessing Great World had gone through so many different eras and each era bring about different memories for different people.”
She remembers stepping onto the movie set for the first time, saying how Tong’s detailed food stalls and flashing neon lights instantly brought her back to the era – and the delight of her childhood days. “It was a wonderful rush of happiness.”
Chew Chor Meng understands Xiang Yun’s joy. The 42-year-old actor – plays the reminiscing link in the movie’s sprawling, star-studded cast – remembers going to Great World Amusement Park with is relatives.
“I was just about 10 years old when it closed down, so I guess I was lucky enough to have been there about four or five times in total,” he said, recalling that it was only during special occasions like Chinese New Year or birthdays that he got to visit the park. “Because that’s when you have the money to spend on food and games!” the affable actor laughed.
He patiently recounted to me all his fond memories of watching Bruce Lee movies at Sky Cinema and the many “tikam tikam” stalls. His favourite attraction at Great World? The Ghost Train ride.
“I cannot remember if it was 30 or 50 cents. But I do remember going on the ride and screaming really loudly. Just for fun because, actually, the ‘ghosts’ in there aren’t scary at all!” he said, laughing heartily.
“Those were good times,” sighed the Star Search-winning father-of-two and self-professed nostalgic. “Good times”.
If we had the chance to do it all again …
For stalwart Channel 8 actor Chen Shu Cheng, those “good times” refer to his carefree days as a Primary 6 student when he and his friends used to “pontang” school to hang out at Great World all afternoon long.
“The park would be empty in the days, so it was really fun to go and sit on the tea cup ride and chit chat with my friends about anything and everything,” the 61-year-old shared in Mandarin.
The actor, who plays a father paying for his daughter’s wedding banquet at the famed Wing Chun Yuen restaurant, remembers it all. Well, almost.
“I loved watching cowboy movies in English – those were my favourites! I remember watching them in the Globe Cinema, which had air-con! Or was it fan? Oops, now I cannot remember … All I know is that it was nice and cool inside,” he recounted, laughing.
Chen will forever link Great World to his father, seeing how his days of truancy came to an abrupt ended after his teacher sent a letter to his parents asking why he was “sick” for so many days.
“My father took me out of the house because he knew my mother would cane me, and asked me very gently to explain why I skipped school. He also reminded me of how much he had to struggle to come to Singapore from China to start a life here. After that, I felt very guilty and never skipped school to go to Great World again!”
Actress Yvonne Lim might not have the same intricate memories of Great World. In fact, seeing as she was only a toddler during the last days of Great World, she has no direct memories at all. But that’s not to say her story is any less touching.
It was through her preparation for this move that the 34-year-old, who plays a sassy photographer in the film, discovered that it was where her parents met and courted.
“I had to speak Hokkien naturally and, as you know, our generation doesn’t speak dialect very well,” she shared, laughing. “So I ended up asking my father to help me with some words. And that was when he suddenly revealed that my mum used to work at Great World selling clothers!”
The 2007 Star Awards Best Actress choked up recounting her father’s story of how he’d wait for her mother to finish work at Great World every night to send her home, explaining how it meant a lot as her mum passed away when she was very young.
“We never really talk to our parents about how they met. And because of this movie, I now know. And because of this story, I feel even more attached to the movie.”
Lim shared how she loves the fashion of the era, from vintage clothes to bags and shoes. “Maybe I should have been born in that era,” she laughed.
After hearing all these stories, I wish I had been, too. You know, scattered pictures of the smile we left behind. Smiles we gave to one another … for the way we were.
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Archived photos of former Great World Amusement Park shared on this blog with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.