Taiwanese veteran singer Zhao Chuan is no stranger to singing in Hokkien, but when he was recording Thank You, the theme song for upcoming Malaysian Hokkien film You Mean The World To Me, he hit a roadblock.

“The song was written using Penang-styled Hokkien, which is very different from Hokkien in Taiwan!” he said.

“I was a bit confused at first, and did not know which style to use. We even rehearsed the song in both styles of Hokkien. In the end, we decided that I should sing it in the Hokkien I am familiar with, because the most important thing is not the accent, but the emotion and feelings that the song is supposed to convey.”

Zhao Chuan was in Kuala Lumpur recently for a press conference announcing the film. He first shot to fame in 1988 when he released the hit song I Am Ugly But I Am Very Tender. Subsequently, he maintained his success with other hits like At Last, I Have Lost You (1989) and I Am A Little Bird (1990).

Zhao Chuan was named Best Mandarin Male Singer at the 1991 Golden Melody Awards.

The best choice

Known for his melancholy vocals and heartfelt delivery, the 55-year-old musician was one of director Saw Teong Hin’s first choices to sing Thank You, known in Hokkien as Kam Sia Li.

“When we were discussing who would sing the song, one of my producers immediately said, ‘Zhao Chuan’. And that was it!” said Saw during the press conference.

“I then went to check out all his songs on YouTube, and I was convinced it had to be him. Thankfully, Zhao Chuan also understood what we were trying to do with the film, and he could relate to it, so he agreed to be part of this.”

“I’m very proud that he chose me to sing this song,” said Zhao Chuan. “I watched the trailer before recording, and the most touching part was when the mother said, ‘He is my son. If I don’t love him, who’s going to love him?’. It really touched me, and after watching it, I need a tissue to wipe my tears!”

Inspired by true events?

You Mean The World To Me is a semi-autobiographical story about Saw’s family. It revolves around a Penang-born filmmaker named Sunny (Frederick Lee), who returns home to make a film about his dysfunctional family. The film is linked to a shocking incident he witnessed as a boy which caused resentment towards his mother (Neo Swee Lin) and his older, mentally-disabled brother Boy (John Tan).

The film also stars Chelsia Ng and award-winning Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann.

Because the film has a very personal meaning for Saw, Zhao Chuan knew he could not treat it like just any other love song.

“I could not use the usual emotions I would use for an ordinary love song … it needed to be more sincere and from the heart,” Zhao Chuan said. He added that he managed to do so because he could relate to the film’s theme of estranged family relationships.

“I’ve also had some similar stories in my family, and those images naturally came up when I was getting into the song. So, I managed to get into the song very quickly.”

Zhao Chuan and his busy schedule

Besides recording Thank You, Zhao Chuan has also been busy finishing his new record, which will be his first album of new songs since 2012’s Music Warrior.

He is also preparing to embark on a concert tour, and said that Malaysia is one of the places he might visit.

Looking back on his career, Zhao Chuan said he never expected to last this long in the business.

“I’ve never thought I would make it this far. This year will be my 30th year in this career, and I would like to thank my fans for all their support and for accepting me as I am,” he said.

“They gave me the confidence to be able to continue for so long, and to keep moving forward.”