A budding movie star dares to dream big


Always on the lookout for opportunities, Kuching-born actor says life is too short to sit back and wait for things to happen

Kheng with Rhys Meyers, who played James Brooke in ‘Edge of the World’.

Kheng Chon Tan, born in KUCHING, represents a segment of society that, if unsuccessful, would congratulate themselves for trying things out.

The 46-year-old realizes that no one wins all the time.

He sees himself as an ordinary person, living an ordinary life and doing ordinary work.

One thing about him, however, is that he’s a “big dreamer,” and he thinks he’s not the only one.

“For me, life is way too short to just sit around and wait for something to happen.

“That’s why I have this idea of ​​always trying to make things happen and in this regard I am specifically referring to my dream of being in the world of cinema,” he said. Sunday post.

It is this position that keeps Kheng alert and always looking for any opportunity for him to enter the film industry, regardless of the size of the role.

“Well, some of the biggest names in the movie business today started out taking on small roles. A lot of people have no idea what these famous movie stars had to go through before they got their big chance.

“It’s hard to imagine them as struggling actors – ever.”

Kheng is getting ready for a scene in “Edge of the World”.

For Kheng, he “conditioned his mind to think and dream big, as if he was already a great player”, but at the same time, he also remembers to always be humble and to be ready to start small.

“There is a saying that goes, ‘Aim for the moon. Even if you missed it, you would land among the stars, ”he says.

“No time wasted”

Kheng had played small roles in several films and appeared on numerous shows while in Singapore, where he worked as an air conditioning technician. He was there from 1994 to 2004, before returning to Kuching for good to be closer to his aging parents.

Kheng all prepared for a scene in a drama in Chinese costumes.

Nevertheless, he never wasted any of his free time throughout his 10 years in the republic.

Kheng has played many non-speaking roles, including a police officer, throughout his years in the on-screen entertainment industry in Singapore.

On his days off or on public holidays, he looked for any part-time work and that included doing castings, auditions or test calls.

Kheng on hold, as crew members prepare to set up a scene from a war movie.

He had made non-speaking appearances in numerous Singapore movies and shows between 1997 and 2004, taking on various roles such as a policeman, security guard, doctor, Japanese soldier, extra in a drama in Chinese costumes and a host of other filler pieces or as substitutes for the actors.

Most of the time, his name was never part of the end credits.

Kheng says he never wasted any free time throughout his 10 years in Singapore, always looking for casting calls on his days off or on public holidays.

Nevertheless, Kheng had met and rubbed shoulders with many Asian celebrities like Choo Hou Ren, Tong Bing Yu, Li Nanxing, Henry Thia, Shaun Chen Hong Yu, Mark Lee and Christopher Lee.

Kheng with Singaporean actor, host and comedian Mark Lee.

“Being among these movie stars already made me feel like a star; made me feel that I was getting closer and closer to my dream, ”he said.

Kheng with Singaporean cinema legend Henry Thia.

“It was a very exciting time – a time of adventure for me who was, at the time, a young aspiring youngster filled with zeal.

Kheng during a photo call with veteran Singapore actor Zhu Houren.

“There are just too many good memories and it’s impossible to pick one in particular to share, but what I treasure most is making a lot of friends – those who have endorsed minor roles like me, as well as the crew behind the scenes.

Kheng with actor born in Negeri Sembilan, Shaun Chen, who achieved great success in Singapore.

“Of course, I cherish all the photos taken of me with the actors and actresses when I was working with them. They were fun and friendly people to mingle with.

Revolutionary casting

The dream of hitting that big break still lived in Kheng’s mind, even after returning definitively to his hometown.

This seemed to come true in mid-2019, when he heard about an audition to select extras for a film about the first “White Rajah of Sarawak”, James Brooke.

Kheng taking a selfie during a break. The background of the photo shows Kampung Siniawan, a village in the Bau district, near Kuching.

He felt strongly that it would be a grave sin if he simply let such an opportunity pass by.

Until today, he still remembers the time and place of his hearing, at 2 p.m. on August 10, 2019, at the Borneo 744 Complex in Kuching.

“After the hearing I came home feeling ‘sunny’ – even the birds seemed to chirp happily around my house, as if congratulating me on a job well done and asking me to be ready for a good one. news.

Indeed, Kheng received a callback a few weeks later, confirming that he had secured a small role without dialogue in ‘Edge of the World’ – an ambitious international project supported by the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB), with Signature and Samuel. Goldwyn Films on board to release the landmark biopic in the UK and US, respectively, in June 2021.

At the time, Kheng saw this as a significant breakthrough, given that the feature film was a Hollywood production.

After all, it had been years since he had been involved in the world of cinema before he left Singapore.
Kheng underwent seven days of filming for the scenes that had his character.

“I am extremely proud of this mission, because I felt like I was in an episode in the history of Sarawak.

Kheng with Hong Kong actress Josie Ho.

“I’m so proud to have met big stars like Jonathan Rhys Meyers who played the lead role (James Brooke), Hong Kong actress Josie Ho, and also Dominic Monaghan who is already famous for his portrayal of the hobbit ‘ Merry ‘in the’ The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

“I think few people have ever had the chance to be on a big movie set and around such big celebrities, and even take selfies with them.”

Kheng said the gratitude he felt for the chance to be in this film and also for the state government which fully supported this project was “overwhelming.”

“Some people may see it as just a movie, but it’s actually a window that showcases the beauty of Sarawak, as well as its local talents, to the world.”

In addition to the STB, ‘Edge of the World’ was also supported by the Film in Malaysia Incentive award on eligible Malaysian production expenses, with the Brooke Heritage Trust acting as technical advisor for the film.

The director was Michael Haussman, an award-winning music director who is known for his work with Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez.

James Brooke remains a historical icon in Sarawak, and his legacy is kept alive by his descendants through the establishment of the Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita in Kuching.

Brooke’s adventures had all the right ingredients for a legendary storytelling – it began with his departure from his home country of England, then arriving in exotic Borneo where he then fought pirates, winning favor. of the Sultan of Brunei before becoming the first ‘White Rajah of Sarawak’.

Brooke is said to be the real-life role model for Rudyard Kipling’s short stories “A Man Who Would Be King” and “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad.

There had been previous attempts to make a White Rajah movie, including one by Golden Era Hollywood actor Errol Flynn in 1936.

Always looking for opportunities

Since returning to Kuching, Kheng has been self-employed and earns a decent and stable income.

Nonetheless, he is still a “big dreamer” and will never give up his aspiration to become big in the film industry.

The ever-energetic man believes that this “hornbill country” is home to many beautiful and exotic places that would look great as a backdrop in any movie.

He believes that more efforts should be made to attract more film production companies and bring them to Sarawak, where they can discover and capitalize on these “gems” for their projects.

“And if they did come, this dreamer – it’s me – would surely try out an acting role; you would definitely see me in the queue outside the hearing room, ”Kheng said with a laugh.


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