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3 Peas in a Pod: Michelle Chong’s new film follows lives of international students in Australia

Diane Leow

Wed Apr 03 2013

3 Peas in a Pod

SINGAPORE’S Michelle Chong is making her second movie, this time about three international students taking a trip across Victoria and South Australia. Diane Leow caught up with the cast and crew of 3 Peas in a Pod when they were on set in Melbourne.

It is a surprisingly warm autumn day in Melbourne, and the cast of 3 Peas in a Pod are getting their makeup and hair done before filming starts. They’ve just flown in, and immediately they get to work.

Jae Liew, Calvin Chen, and Xander Lee have had a long day – and they are starving. Xander’s been ordered by director Michelle Chong to eat more.

While lunch is being prepared and their hairdresser styles Xander’s hair to perfection, he is watching episodes of The Noose, a Singaporean satirical television series about local current affairs – which his director Michelle, who is also a veteran Singapore actor, stars in.

He can’t stop laughing at her antics on the show, and his eyes light up when people tell him there are more episodes he can enjoy.

Calvin gulps down some cup noodles before getting his hair and makeup done, while Jae sits compliantly in the makeup artist’s chair.

The camaraderie between Calvin, Xander and Jae provides for much entertainment – even before the cameras start rolling.

I think audiences will have no trouble believing they are indeed three peas in a pod.

3 Peas in a Pod tells the story of three friends from Singapore, Taiwan and Korea who go on a roadtrip that changes their lives forever.

It will be  Michelle’s second movie, after her directorial debut Already Famous crossed the million-dollar mark in the Singapore box office after two weeks in the cinemas. It was also selected as the Singaporean entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.

Michelle says she decided to make a movie about an epic roadtrip as she was once an international student herself at Bates College in the United States. Call it an unfulfilled dream, if you will.

She is very candid about the fact that Tourism Australia is a major sponsor for the movie – which is why 3 Peas in a Pod is mainly set in Melbourne and Adelaide. Besides that however, Michelle loves that Australia is a very scenic place.

“Australia is a place that a lot of Asian students go to for their undergrad studies, and it’s a place Singaporeans are very familiar with. But there’s still so much more to explore, so a road trip movie is always a good idea,” she says.

Jae, Xander and Calvin were once international students, so there wasn’t much preparation involved when it came to portraying characters that study overseas.

As a newcomer, Jae is the envy of thousand of girls worldwide, working alongside Xander of U-Kiss fame, and Calvin from Taiwanese band Fahrenheit. She plays Penny, the female lead.

She was handpicked by Michelle out of a few thousand girls in an open casting call held in January. Her emotionally-charged performance impressed everybody on the panel, who were surprised she had never undergone formal acting training.

Jae's room in the movie.

Jae’s room in the movie.

Jae is no stranger to Melbourne, having done Year 12 at Taylor’s College a few years ago. She describes returning to Melbourne to film 3 Peas as “coming home”, and is visibly excited to be back in the city where she once created amazing memories.

“I’m looking forward to… everything! Except the weather,” she says, to raucous laughter from everyone.

This is Xander’s first trip to Australia, and Calvin’s second – his last trip was more than fifteen years ago.

While both Calvin and Jae have completed their studies, Xander is on hiatus from university.

“I’m continuing my college life today as Peter Park,” he says, half jokingly.

He also recalls the struggles he went through when he first moved to the United States.

“I remember it was really hard because at the beginning I was with my sister, she took care of everything – renting the house and everything. And when she left, it was hell for me. It was so hard because everytime you need help, you just go ‘Mum! Mum!’ so that was really a wow for me, but at least I learned to be more independent and more responsible,” he says.

While Calvin left Canada in 2005 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, he brings to mind one of the highlights of his time as a student – an epic road trip he took with his friends, just like the one in 3 Peas in a Pod.

Over the summer holidays, he and six friends drove from Vancouver down to the United States, to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and back.

“It took three weeks and the total length of the roadtrip is 10,000 miles – it’s so similar that it was the most memorable roadtrip of my life. I hope this will be the second one,” he says.

Michelle is most excited about seeing her script come to life, and with these 3 Peas in a Pod, she’d probably be very happy with the end result.

Filming has since concluded in both Melbourne and Singapore. Look out for the movie to be released in Asia in November 2013.