Origin of TV drama 'Empat Sekawan'

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Origin of TV drama 'Empat Sekawan'

Post by xng » Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:40 am

http://ecentral.my/news/story.asp?file= ... c=tvnradio

As she is feted for her stellar work, the veteran actress recalls her past and talks about her career longevity.

IN the pre-Merdeka days, long before there was a Menara Dayabumi or Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, and certainly way before there was an LRT station along the banks of the Klang River, there stood a house in that area, a house from which radio programmes were broadcast to a nation nearing independence.

Rewind to almost 60 years ago, and four friends were recording and broadcasting their popular weekly radio show – a multi-dialect gig – in that house, in a studio that was soundproofed, sealed from outside interference, but also hot and stuffy because there was no air-conditioning. The four would do their thing while wiping the sweat off their faces, and run out for fresh air once work was done.

These four, once a getai (street concert) troupe, would then go on to briefly become movie stars, and then reach the pinnacle of their careers as TV personalities. Empat Sekawan (Four Friends) would forever become a household name.

An emotional Lai Meng surrounded by friends including fellow old-timer Cheng Kam Cheong (in green shirt) at the celebration of her CHT Lifetime Achievement Award in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 5.
Two of them, Hoi Yong and Wong Hor, have since passed on (in the 1970s and seven years apart), to be replaced in the show by others. Of the two surviving members of the original Empat Sekawan, Lai Meng and Hon Ying, the former has gone on to achieve even greater heights in her decades-long acting career that is still thriving today.

Which brings us to where I am, two Sundays ago, with the woman who is a veritable national treasure, and her fellow actress Pearlly Chua. We are seated in Purple Cane at Shaw Parade, KL, after a lively event at the mall’s foyer celebrating the veteran actress’ receiving the CHT Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to her at a gala dinner in Kuala Lumpur in July. The CHT Network Achievement Awards are given out annually to individuals and organisations who have made significant contributions to society.

(CHT Network is a Penang-based company formed to create a dynamic platform for businesses to grow, ideas to be generated and people in the know to be connected.)

Earlier, friends, family, fans and fellow artistes in the entertainment industry have shown their appreciation of Lai Meng and her work with personal anecdotes and hearty congratulations. Her family had put together a music video featuring family photos, while singer Yudi got her up on stage to sing a song together. Familiar faces such as Cheng Kam Cheong and Aunty Kai Mah were among the invited guests, as well as Patrick Teoh and Karyawan president Datuk Freddie Fernandez.

Brand ambassador Lai Meng celebrating her 83rd birthday with her children and grandchildren after the launch of the new Cafe 99 Ipoh White Coffee in Puchong, Selangor, early this month.
Despite all that excitement and activity before we sit down for a chat, Lai Meng, also affectionately known as Meng Yee (Aunty Meng), is none the worse for wear. Stunning, healthwise, for an 83-year-old. She answers questions in Cantonese, with a smattering of Hokkien, mostly initiated by me, peppered with some English words (earlier on stage, she joked that “My English very broken!”).

Her disarming humility belies all that she represents. Chua calls her a “living national treasure,” while Ch’ng Huck Theng, founder and managing director of CHT Network, thinks she is so much a role model and an icon that it is high time she was awarded a Datukship.

“She was a 1Malaysia icon even back in the days,” Fernandez told me earlier. Lai Meng is one of 30 artistes given a pension by Persatuan Karyawan Malaysia, the association representing local performing artistes. “That’s what we need more of, for all races to be brought together by icons like her. She is a living legend.”

In 2008, at 81, she was nominated for best supporting actress at the 45th Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan’s prestigious annual presentation, for her role in the Jack Neo drama comedy Money No Enough 2. Although she did not win, the octogenarian was, however, given the Certificate Of Honour by the mayor of Taichung, a city in west-central Taiwan, for her work as a neglected, Alzheimer’s-stricken mother in that film.

Her unassuming persona and humility probably comes from the fact that she is a product of her time. Back when she was growing up in Benut, Johor, life was simpler. Her village had no clinic or hospital, no cinema; just a primary school. There was hardly any entertainment, only getai and other live performances at night.

“I had no ambition of becoming an actress,” she relates. “It all happened naturally.”

Start with a song

Of Lai Meng’s six siblings, one of her elder brothers was a cinema operator during the Japanese Occupation and used to bring home films. When she was 14, she saw the 1942 movie, Leaving A Good Name For Posterity, in which actress Shirley Yamaguchi, aka Li Xiang Lan, performed the song Mai Tang Ge (Candy Peddling Song). Her brother was also an amateur musician and singer.

“My brother loved to sing that song,” recalls Lai Meng. “When I heard him sing, I also began to learn the song from him.”

Later, during a getai performance, she was asked to go on stage and sing that song. She refused but after much cajoling by everyone around her she finally relented. And that was when she found that performing was something she liked.

Lai Meng has often credited Hoi Yong for bringing her into the entertainment industry. The two had met in 1950, when she was living in Malacca and feeling bored. She was then hired by Hoi Yong’s singing troupe for RM120 a month. They performed in KL, Batu Pahat (Johor), Malacca and Singapore, and it was a time of fun and adventure for her.

By 1952, things were beginning to change as singing troupes started to lose their popularity, all this against the backdrop of the Emergency and communist threat. But it turned out to be a blessing for Lai Meng, Hon Ying, Wong Hor and Hoi Yong.

Lai Meng in her 20s. She was inspired to perform after an impromptu stage rendition of a famous Chinese classic when she was in her teens.
The government of the time wanted to broadcast radio programmes to the New Villages – settlements set up by the British administration to contain the largely Chinese communist insurgency – to inculcate patriotism. They needed talent who could speak the various Chinese dialects. (Incidentally, Lai Meng, who is Cantonese, learnt all the different dialects because her neighbours spoke Teochew and Hokkien, and her husband was Hakka.)

“The head of the broadcasting station approached us, so we joined the programme, which was at first aired fortnightly, and later became a weekly show,” says Lai Meng. “People knew our voices, but they didn’t have faces to go with those voices.”

Pearlly Chua remembers those days well. She used to tune in to them on the radio when she was eight. “I could recognise her voice on the radio,” says Chua. “She was very motherly-sounding and her laughter was infectious.”

“A businessman who brought foreign movies to Kuala Lumpur then asked us to act in a movie,” Lai Meng continues. “He said he would fund the movie. We agreed and never asked him for anything in return. But he paid us RM1,000 each. After we finished shooting, it was 1964. RTM was just starting and we were asked to join the station. But the businessman asked for us to spend a year promoting the film first. RTM agreed.”

This “businessman,” as it turns out, was none other than the famous Ho Ah Loke, who, together with Loke Wan Tho, had formed Cathay-Keris.

“There were four screenings a day, and we had to be at every screening,” remembers Lai Meng. “You know how much we were paid? RM30 a day! Still, we were very happy.”

So happy was she with the movie venture that she continued to work even when she was seven months pregnant. The movie, Yau Kow Pik Ying (All Wishes Granted), was a runaway success. When she returned from delivering the baby, trouble started brewing. One of the four had become dissatisfied with the money they were getting. They were then on the brink of going their separate ways, but Lai Meng refused to go on without any of the others.

In the end they quit the roadshow for the movie and joined RTM. Empat Sekawan the TV series was born, and it ran for more than two decades, from 1966 to 1988. A widely followed programme during those black-and-white TV days, the show kept a nation entertained with its quintessentially Malaysian drama and humour, acted through a diversity of dialects and languages among the protagonists and guests.

Positive thinking

Driven purely by her passion for, and dedication to, acting, Lai Meng is adept at portraying just any roles, be it a kindly mother or a nasty mother-in-law. The fine actress with the unmistakable perm and plump frame has continued to work tirelessly in the industry till today. After leaving RTM, both she and Hon Ying joined the now-defunct HVD. Lai Meng became a freelance artiste in 1998, and has since appeared in various movies, TV dramas and commercials, including a few Jack Neo hit movies.

“Maybe it’s because of my optimism,” she says of her joie de vivre and ardour for her work. “I try to always think positive, and I don’t let small matters bother me too much. And I love to laugh!”

Now living in KL, the mother of three – her eldest son is 51, second son 46 and daughter 43 – says she doesn’t need any family member to accompany her to work.

“It’s okay because everyone on set is very helpful and kind, and they take good care of me,” says Lai Meng, who has four grandchildren. “The production company would send a van to pick me up to work and send me home.”

She attributes her success partly to a caring and understanding family, especially her late husband, Yap Seong Poi, who passed away three years ago.

Empat Sekawan was a very popular TV series that ran for more than two decades on RTM.
They met during her tenure with a getai troupe. The story was that he was an accountant and fluent in English, so she sought his help in writing her address on an envelope to send money back to her family in Johor. They married in 1954, and she has said in another interview that in their 52 years together, they never once had a fight. She was at his bedside when he died from illness.

“My husband was very understanding and supportive,” says Lai Meng. “He understood completely the nature of my work. He never interfered. He thought that so long as I was working and enjoyed what I did, I should just go on.”

Says Chua: “Meng Yee is what we would call a modern multi-tasking woman. She was already doing that in the 1950s and 60s. So in many ways, she is one of my role models.”

Owing to her popularity and enduring appeal, Lai Meng is not only a role model but a brand ambassador as well. Last year, she was named NV Multi Corporation Berhad’s (Nirvana) ambassador to help cultivate a loving and caring society. The appointment came about due to her significant performance in Money No Enough 2. And just recently, the actress was engaged to promote the new blend of Cafe 99 Ipoh White Coffee.

Lai Meng will soon be acting in a local Mandarin TV series which will be shown on 8TV. She will also be appearing in a light-hearted comedy film which will begin shooting next month and is scheduled for release next year for the Chinese New Year.

“I’ll keep on acting for as long as I’m able to!” she proudly declares. “When people recognise me on the streets, whether they call me Meng Yee or tua pui poh (“fat lady” in Hokkien), I don’t mind. It just makes me very happy.”
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Re: Origin of TV drama 'Empat Sekawan'

Post by SimL » Mon Sep 20, 2010 11:31 am

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Re: Origin of TV drama 'Empat Sekawan'

Post by JFthunder1 » Sat Jun 11, 2011 12:17 am