The Kid From The Big Apple would not have been the same without Tan Qin Lin, 11, as the titular kid, and Jason Tan, 14, as Jia Bao, the cheeky boy who lives next door to her. Although this was their first feature film, the two kids are the true stars of the film.

Director Jess Teong took almost two years to cast the role of Sarah. Filming was supposed to start filming in 2013, but she decided to hold out until she could find an actress who could fulfil her criteria for Sarah.

The kid from The Big Apple

Director Teong with Jason and Qin Lin, the real stars of The Kid From The Big Apple. Photo: The Star/Ong Soon Hin

“My first criteria was that she had to be fluent in Mandarin and English,” she said. “Secondly, I didn’t want an actress who was too technical in her acting. I wanted someone who was natural.”

Teong’s third criteria was that the child should be independent, and not have her parents hovering around all the time. “Finally, she had to have perfect teeth! Because when Sarah is first introduced, you’ll really dislike her because she is so rude. But at one point, she needs to be able to make the audience like her, and one of the ways to do that, was to have a good smile, to melt peoples’ hearts!”

“My producers kept telling me it was impossible to meet my criteria, but I didn’t want to compromise, so we decided to wait until we found Sarah before we started filming,” she said.

Then, she remembered Qin Lin, whom she had seen in an ntv7 drama series, and decided to track her down.

“As soon as she walked in, I knew we had found Sarah,” the director said. “Her personality was perfect for the character, and even though her English was a bit flat at the time, it wasn’t a problem.”

The character of Jia Bao, the next door neighbour’s mischievous son, is also pivotal to the story. In fact, Teong recalled that one of the first things Ti Lung asked when they met was, “Have you found Ah Bao? He is very important!”.

Teong based the character of Ah Bao after her second son, so she had a very specific type of character in mind.

She met Jason during an audition, and he turned out to be perfect for the role. “What I liked about Jason was that he was natural, and he would even improvise his lines to make it natural and funny.

“When we asked him to pretend to do a lion dance, he added his own sound effects!” she recalled, laughing.