Our inboxes rang with delight (or maybe it was our alarm clock) as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences updated the media with the nominations for the Foreign Language Film category. Lo and behold, we saw a Singapore entry! And we saw Michelle Chong! And we saw Already Famous! (Does anyone believe in The Secret here?)

That’s right, ladies and gents: Michelle Chong‘s first flick that she took no-pay leave to film, direct and act in, “Already Famous” is the Singapore entry into the 85th Academy Awards. Final nominations will be announced Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8.30pm (Singapore time). Already Famous is competing with 70 0ther entrants for the coveted category including Malaysia’s “Bunohan” by director Dian Iskandar Said and Kenya’s “Nairobi Half Life” by David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga. This is Kenya’s first entry.

In a phone interview with the leading lass yesterday, Michelle was visibly enthused by the nomination and was “deeply honoured” at the pick by the Singapore panel. “It came as a nice surprise because I didn’t think the critics were going to like it. The movie had a nice mix of commercialism and artistic value. People already had certain expectations but I was surprised by certain reviewers who panned it,” Michelle explains.

Turns out, Michelle has been reading the reviews for Already Famous and related her confusion at certain reviewers who were quick to point out the showy aspects of cameos from Cynthia Koh, Kumar and Jamie Teo, amongst others. Even the cinemas were not in on her plans, only ordering the show for a limited time period. Michelle told us that demand from viewers caused the movie theatres to double the number of screens for the flick. She is confident the movie will perform overseas as well.

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“People could watch it for what it is overseas, instead of being put off by the cameos. They could see the true aspects of the media business. I am too busy to approach film festivals, but they heard about us and asked us for screeners instead. It was an honour to open for the Asian Film Festival with auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. This Oscar thing was the icing on the cake. For the Singapore panel to watch all the local films and decide that this was the best to go to the Oscars? I am extremely excited,” said Michelle.

Sweet victory indeed, since Michelle left MediaCorp in April this year to nurture her two companies, film production firm Huat Films and artiste management company Left Profile, of which she manages artistes Pornsak and Lee Teng. “I don’t feel different but it’s just that I have more control of my time. I can control how, what and when to do things. I was really quite burnt out (in MediaCorp), although I took the 7-month no-pay leave to film Already Famous,” Michelle said when asked about how life has been post-Mediacorp.

She now keeps herself busy with producing television commercials and her second flick, Chinese romance drama 3 Peas In A Pod. Michelle lets in on us that she wanted to film a movie featuring her well-loved character from The Noose, Barbarella, as her second flick but MediaCorp’s Channel 5 did not give her the character license. Raintree Pictures also wanted to do a movie based on The Noose. “They said the movie is going to come out around the same period as this Barbarella movie was going to, but until now, I’ve not heard of anything from Raintree,” Michelle said.

She is soldiering on though, and calls the change of plans “a blessing in disguise”. It is a chance for Michelle to espouse her brand of satire and heartfelt storytelling to her fans and supporters who have stuck with her post-Mediacorp. She is also looking to sign a few more artistes to her artiste management company, including “an overseas actress which we are in talks with”.

Thus, the inevitable question pops up: is she going to be the new Irene Ang? The media mogul herself has established Fly Entertainment, which manages a credible pool of artistes and a event management offshoot that has been purveyor to some of the biggest K-Pop concerts in Singapore. Michelle firmly denies it, stating that Left Profile “is not looking to be a big agency. We are looking to do the best we can for the few people we have.”

For an artiste that has ventured into new territory albeit with baby steps, the Oscar submission is a stamp of approval to her commercial and critical success. Even if it does not make the cut come January, Already Famous’ box-office earnings worth millions and the success the film has received at film festivals is a sign that Michelle is not going to bid “Auf Wiedersehen” anytime soon.

Photos: Huat Films