TOH HAI LEONG, AUTEUR
by Felix Cheong
In another life, Toh Hai Leong, self-professed film critic and director of the mockumentary Zombie Dog, mustve been a love guru. Because thats all he ever talks about: sex and lovers, lovingly counted and recounted.
Probe him on his fascination with zombies and his answer, with the inevitability of a river meeting the sea, winds its way to his love affairs.
"Our life is really no different from automatons," declared the 48-year-old former librarian and security guard now "in the early autumn of my life."
"Were all creatures of habit," he added, his eyes fixed at a point in the distance, in their own world, like the drift of his talk. "We [used to] live and die in small villages but [not anymore] because of globalization. It happens that Ive been lucky and been able to travel and been hunted by different women."
What was that again? Zombies, urbanization, lovers? Which turning did you miss?
Ask him why he took up a six-month stint as a security guard and read this slowly, please he ended up describing a crush he had once.
"There was a daughter of a former deputy police commissioner. She was delicate-looking. At that time, she was crazy about a dog. She ended up leaving me for a dog. So my love for her just went to the dogs."
Which turning did you miss again? You smiled politely at his pun but continued to keep a watchful eye on his hands which, thankfully, were expressive but not destructive throughout the 45-minute interview with Today.
You persevered, testing again the still waters which, in Tohs case, must run very, very deep. An innocent question about whether his interest in film was really to pick up women did the trick. It finally helped you pick the lock of his mind.
"Girls and film come together because film embodies dreams and a lot of girls love dreams and also men who dream." There was little in his demeanor to indicate if he had realized the poetry in his observation. "Im like a Truffaut hero: the man who loves women who loves dreams." Truffaut was one of the leading lights of the French new wave cinema in the 1960s.
Perhaps there was method to Tohs madness after all. Yet in the same breath, this Pre-university dropout, who would have you believe he was so poor at one stage he was eating instant noodles every day, undermined your good opinion by asserting: "Im a predator. I go for women who really believe in me...Im like a serial killer. I pick up women with the same traits, the same characteristics."
But of course, he stops short of summarily dispatching women to the next world because "the law is always retributive. You kill, you have to pay for what you do. You have to love them but not kill them. Its a creative process really."
Toh has certainly been very procreative over the past 10 years. He did not flinch from admitting to fathering two girls and two boys, out of wedlock, from his on-off liaisons with five girlfriends, who include a Taiwanese, Korean, Hong Konger and Malaysian.
None of this is verifiable, of course. In fact, most of what he related to you is best filed away under "tales of the unexplainable." Like his account of a surreal dream both he and his Korean girlfriend had of him swallowing his dentures and choking to death. Or his claim that many young, independent filmmakers here refused to pay him his due after hes helped them make contact with international festival directors.
"I only [helped] people with talent, like myself. I figure Im a talent because I took a lot of risk on myself."
Is he deluded? Did man really land on the moon? You tried to make out the man behind the shifty manner, the crew cut and the thick glasses one last time. But all you could discover is that, like trying to cup seawater in your palm, there are things you can grasp and things you are better off not holding onto. Zombie Dog was shown at the Singapore International Film Festival in April 2004.
Also read a review of Zombie Dogs.