Step 2 — Pre-production: casting – Lee Sinje (aka Angelica Lee & Lee Sum Kit)
I first saw Lee Sinje in Betelnut Beauty, for which she received the Best New Talent Award at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival. I met her in person about a year later in Sylvia Chang’s office and was struck by her sincerity and simplicity.
For the female lead in The Drummer, the character demands an actress who is simple and direct, yet full of complex emotions. Sinje is exactly such an actress. The character of “Hong Dou” is based on a real-life, junior member of U Theatre who is a trendy city girl down the mountain and a serious and dedicated drummer up the mountain. The character is one of the catalysts which propels the main character, Sid, to join the drumming troupe. Therefore it was important for me that the actress possesses similar qualities as the character she portrays.
The two sides of “Hong Dou”
As with the other actors, one of the reasons Sinje was attracted to this film was the drumming element. She wanted to drum from the get go. She wanted to learn it and learn it well. Therefore we set up intensive training in Hong Kong for her with a former member of U Theatre, about two months before principal photography began. This is how hard working Sinje is; she had been filming in China for a couple of months and this trip back to Hong Kong was supposed to be a holiday for her. Instead she ended up working even harder…
When she went back to China to finish filming, she brought with her the small drum we bought for her and a DVD of the training session I shot of her and her instructor. That way she could continue to practice on her own. Apparently, she practiced so much that she was dreaming about it every night!
Initial drumming lessons
Sinje and Jaycee, who plays the lead character of ‘Sid,’ are long-time friends in real life. They share the same music mentor – the “Godfather of Taiwanese pop music,” Jonathan Tsung Sheng Lee. In fact, Jaycee’s first “job” in the music industry was as a trainee at Jonathan Lee’s studio, where he had to get refreshments for the singers recording at the studio, including Lee Sinje, everyday.
The friendship and chemistry between Sinje and Jaycee were evident from day one, which was great because we had a very short rehearsal period. In fact, not only did they challenge each other to become better drummers and actors, together they also provided endless entertainment for the rest of the cast and crew. For example, Sinje would do stretch exercises daily before rehearsals and filming began, and Jaycee would follow suit… in his own creative way.
Sinje stretching her leg, Jaycee stretching his...arm
...being charmed by Jaycee
When full rehearsals began, Sinje not only had to learn even more difficult drumming pieces, she also had to train in martial arts, like the real drummers. She immersed herself with members of U Theatre, learning their ways, and living in their world. They embraced her into their group right away and taught her as much as she could learn in a short period of time.
Martial arts training
...being part of the group
Through it all, Sinje worked on her drumming with amazing concentration and dedication. She drummed with chopsticks when she was eating. She drummed on the back of the seat in the van to and from the set. And at night, the whole floor of the hotel where we stayed would be filled with the booming sound of her drumming in her room. Luckily, besides the two floors we took out for our cast and crew, there weren’t many other guests in the hotel.