Last year, his short film Ah Ma became the first Singaporean film to compete for the short film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This year, his next short film Haze is headed for the Berlin Film Festival on Feb 17 as the first Singaporean short film to be selected to compete in the short film category.
The 15-minute-long Haze follows a teenage couple as they skip school and on a day plagued by the haze from forest fires. The film was selected from 1,500 entries from 64 countries.
Chen, a graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film Sound and Video course, said he received the news at 1am on Thursday.
"My team and I are surprised, we're elated," he told TODAY. "But, since the festival is only slightly more than a month away, we're preoccupied with trying to rush out a 35mm print of the film to send to Berlin."
Haze was only completed in the first week of December. Chen had sent a rough cut of the film to the Berlin film festival organisers in October. They saw potential in the film and urged him to send in the complete version when it was ready.
Despite his early success, making a feature film is not yet in the pipeline for the young director — although he has been approached by people in the film industry both here and overseas.
In two weeks' time, he will pack his bags for London to pursue a two-year Masters course in film directing at the National Film and Television School.
"It's not about which festivals your film has gone to, but about being ready. There are still a lot of skills I want to pick up. I want to build on my foundation for making films," said Chen.
Three other Singaporean films are also going international via renowned film festivals. Ho Tzu Nyen's The Bohemian Rhapsody and Boo Jun Feng's Katong Fugue are in competition at the Clermont-Ferrand film festival on Feb 1. The former is competing in the Labo category, and the latter in the main International Competition section.
Meanwhile, Lucky 7 — an independent feature film by seven up-and-coming local directors including Sun Koh, Brian Gothong Tan and Tania Sng — is set to screen at the Rotterdam International Film Festival on Jan 23.
While an Oscar may not yet be forthcoming, local films are certainly off to a good start. - TODAY/fa