Michael Tay, Jeffrey Seah, Anthony Chen

Anthony Chen, 33

Filmmaker, director and founder of Giraffe Pictures


[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]nthony Chen might be no stranger to red carpets on the international film circuit, but the home-grown filmmaker leads a frugal life. To keep his expenditure low, he cycles everywhere in London, where he is based, and dines out once a month Rachel Yan, his wife of nine years.

“I’m very domesticated,” he says, sharing that he does most of the cooking at home. If he has to travel for work, he prepares and freezes dumplings for Yan so she doesn’t have to eat anything less.

Unfazed by reversing gender stereotypes, Chen takes a professional interest in “exploring female characters and identities”. The insights he gleans carries over to his upcoming film which he describes as “an intimate drama entirely driven by its sole female protagonist”. Multilayered female characters also drove his debut feature film Ilo Ilo, which clinched the distinguished Camera d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, before going on to sweep over 40 international awards.

Looking beyond his own success, the 33-year-old founded boutique film company Giraffe Pictures to help young directors in Singapore and the region make the leap from short films to feature films. The company has since incubated and catapulted to global fame Pop Aye, the award-winning debut feature film of fellow Singapore filmmaker Kirsten Tan. Apart from the big screen, Chen is working to map the same cinematic rigour and imagination onto television – with shows that are a marked departure from typical Asian fare saturated with melodrama.

A SOFTER TOUCH “When I was in my 20s and about to head to the UK, I was putting on my trousers when a button fell off. My dad helped to sew it back on. That was the first time I saw him – a man who doesn’t even cook instant noodles and would spread butter on bread if left to his own devices – pick up needle and thread. I was entirely surprised and very moved by this small gesture. There’s something quite beautiful about witnessing the gentleness of a masculine father figure.”

ROLE PLAY “I know (Taiwanese film director) Ang Lee personally, and really look up to him. Before he started making his first film, he struggled for seven years. During that time, his wife brought home the bacon while he played the role of house husband. He eventually went on to have this wonderful career. But each time he heads overseas for a project, he prepares and freezes a batch of jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) for his family. Here’s a man who’s able to balance work and family while earning respect among his peers – not just for his work, but for his immense humility despite all he has achieved.”

TUNING IN “I’m very sensitive to human dynamics, emotions and relationships – not just in women, but in men too. I’m not sure if most men share this ability or if they refuse to acknowledge it, but for me, I reveal that in my work. I believe that’s the reason why I can write complex characters and capture life on screen.”

NEXT-GEN SENSIBILITIES “The millennial man has the courage to show his vulnerabilities and is emotional when he needs to be, defying the saying that men don’t cry. He doesn’t need to lean on aggression or violence to show his power. It’s more about being as strong as one can be, while coexisting with your fragile side.”

ESTABLISHING AN EQUILIBRIUM “We’re at a place in time where the modern man has to make sense of a lot of conflict, balancing the baggage from our Asian upbringing – where Confucian values affirm societal constructs of a man’s behaviour – along with broadening definitions of masculinity. As much as I believe in gender equality and regard myself as a feminist, there’s still a big part of me that feels like if the sky falls down, I have to be the one to hold it up. This tension is an interesting negotiation for all modern men trying to rediscover who they really are.”

Jeffrey Seah, 48

Partner at Mettle & Salt Partners, and Venture Partner at Incuvest and Quest Ventures

[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]s a budding footballer trying to break into the Bedok Boys School team in the 1970s, Jeffrey Seah faced a stumbling block: Coaching sessions were conducted in Malay, the mother tongue of the entire team, except his.

Urged by his grandfather, he learnt the language. Seah also worked hard to kick and dribble with both feet, securing his place in the first team. In surmounting those obstacles, he learnt an important lesson – that roadblocks present opportunities. Today, this guides his mindset on life and career.

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Seah found work at advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather in 1994, and quickly embraced the nascent digital technology at a time when industry gurus were sceptical. It helped him partner Internet-related accounts such as Yahoo! and Asiaone and his instincts proved right. These partnerships grew and within four years, he caught the eye of Leo Burnett, and became the managing director of their media specialist arm Starcom Mediavest Group.

He then worked with innovative digital start-ups such as Nugit and Knorex that went on to become success stories. The former transforms business data into decisionready reports, and the latter provides performance marketing technologies and solutions. At his last post as Starcom’s South-east Asia CEO in 2016, he led over 600 staff in the region.

The 48-year-old has since been focusing his time on helping to develop the data, technology, media, and content industries as a partner of Mettle & Salt Partners, and venture partner at Incuvest and Quest Ventures.

DIGGING DEEPER “Rugged muscles, virility and being a stern leader who’s always charging forward are manifestations of masculinity. But beyond all that is an underlying mental framework of conviction and sensitivity to see things that others don’t see.”

LEADERSHIP, AN UNGENDERED NOUN  “Leadership and masculinity are not necessarily one and the same but they get mixed up a lot. In my last corporate role, my global boss was a rough, rugged woman who was probably more of ‘a man’ than many in the executive team. Her speech was aggressive, she wasn’t afraid to assert her points with swear words, and she exhibited every trait of (United States war generals) Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. Leaders, as with generals facing duress in war, are forced to make hard decisions, and the ability to do so is independent of gender.”

UNWAVERING FORTITUDE “My dad was a civil servant and was busy during the critical years of Singapore’s growth. As such, I spent much time with my granddad, who emigrated here from China as a coolie. A burly six-foot guy, he was no stranger to hardship. He told me stories about fellow passengers dying on board a ship heading to Singapore. During the Japanese Sook Ching massacre in Singapore, he stepped up to the plate as the eldest child in the family to protect his siblings. To him, it was always about honour, duty and protection. Those are the same values that have stuck with me.”

THE MAN HE LOOKS UP TO “My childhood friend, whom I’ll refer to as SKS, is the coolest guy I know. While we are as different as chalk and cheese, we share the same instincts. He is not as sporty as I am, but his sense of conviction and sensitivity are greater. In a quiet way, he exhibits every form of masculinity. The connection we share is something I treasure.”

PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS “My idea of masculinity is the belief that one can do the right thing and do it well. Some think that if you do right, you can’t deliver a task well, and vice versa. Take for example an institutional employee. In order to save his scholarship-earned job, he makes decisions ascribed to his role – saying it’s not his fault as this is what’s required of him. I don’t agree with this way of thinking . I believe you can excel by doing what’s right.”

Michael Tay, 59

Founder of the Foundation for the Arts and Social Enterprise, and co-founder of Sing Jazz

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hile others rely on economic policies to build ties, Michael Tay – Singapore’s ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2002 to 2008 – took a different approach. He commissioned renowned Russian composer Vladimir Martynov to compose a symphony about Singapore in 2005, creating an enduring link between the two countries through soft diplomacy.

Today, as founder and director of the Foundation for the Arts and Social Enterprise, Tay continues to nurture external relations for Singapore through arts projects. He is also the founder of the Sing Jazz music festival and sits on the board of New Opera Singapore.

Though he has created for himself a larger-than-life persona – one who parties with Russian tycoons and hangs out with musicians at underground venues – Tay maintains that he is an introspective person who prefers solitary activities such as reading and listening to music. And while he is a connoisseur of the finer things in life, his has no love for showy frivolities of little substance.

Here is a man who is as shrewd as he is emphatic, as gregarious as he is simple. And to him, masculinity is an equally fine balancing act between being confident yet humble, of being assertive yet respectful of others. “The true measure of masculinity is how ready you are to set aside your ego for a cause that is bigger than you.”

A BIGGER PERSON “Masculinity for me is associated with a sense of struggle. It is about ambition to do something bigger than yourself and transcending your limitations. It is about being a human being – be it a man or woman – who is ready to live their potential.”

MACHISMO NOT REQUIRED “Cultural icons like Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen were successful in creating a masculine image for themselves. But it is ultimately fabricated. Sometimes, to be masculine is to be able to embrace your feminine side – you are so comfortable with being your true self that you don’t need to have a great physique or act macho.”

THE CHALLENGE TO STAY TRUE “In exploring the definition of masculinity, we might find that the true question actually is this: What makes one authentic as a person? This is an important question to ponder today, when many hide behind the mask of social media. Being true to oneself in this time and age becomes even more challenging.”

DIFFERENT FACES FOR DIFFERENT STAGES “Being involved in the church from young and having been groomed to be a pastor, I always had a certain sense of serenity growing up, and have always been comfortable with who I am. If there was a stage in life where I had to break out of my mould, it would have been in Russia, when I had to suddenly become very different. To commission that symphony, I couldn’t be that low-key, under-the-radar person that people liked and would trade information with. I had to be really out there almost every night with the tycoons at clubs and musicians at underground bars. I had to always be in the media to raise money. It felt like I was discovering a new side to myself. But however different a person I was at different stages in my life, one thing was constant: the desire to do something greater than myself.”

OTHERS BEFORE SELF “A very important part of being masculine is to always have self-doubt – or you will never understand things and that will stymie your efforts. If you don’t question yourself, you will become egoistic and lose that sense of mission, which is for others, rather than for you.”

REAL MEN CRY “Men who act with a sense of grandiosity – those who drink and get violent, thinking that this showmanship is manly and a display of power – have an outdated percept of masculinity. This percept is, unfortunately, not outmoded. A man who can cry with another seeking empathy is more manly than those trying to attain that false sense of power.”