Animal stars that stole our hearts
Put an animal in a film or TV show, and there is a high chance that they will immediately steal the spotlight from their human co-stars – and steal our hearts – without even trying. Here are some of our favourite critters who shone on the big and small screen:
Bong the elephant (Pop Aye)
The road trip genre is a rather ubiquitous one, but to have the largest land mammal in the equation is an unusual thing indeed. In Singapore-born filmmaker Kirsten Tan’s directorial debut, 21-year-old Bong plays an elephant who is reunited with his old owner (played by veteran rocker Thaneth Warakulnukroh), who leads him on a trek across rural Thailand to return to his childhood village.
While it was understandably not the easiest thing to work with such a huge creature, executive producer Anthony Chen told us that Bong is “the most talented elephant I’ve ever met”, and claimed that the tusked thespian probably committed less bloopers than the humans. And to think that Kirsten nearly didn’t cast him because she found him too “handsome” for her “rugged, raw” standards.
In the end, Bong’s kind and soulful eyes won her over, just like they would eventually do to audiences when Pop Aye premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it won a screenwriting award.
Pop Aye is now in cinemas.
Photos: Golden Village Pictures
Flapper Choo the dog (Sudden)
Sure, 2013’s Sudden may feature award winners Romeo Tan, Rui En, Rebecca Lim and Zhang Zhen Huan, but the real superstar of the show – despite his brief appearance – was Flapper, a talented and lovable “Golden-Labrador-mix” who (spoiler alert!) broke all our hearts with his demise way too early in the series.
Flapper’s colleagues were just as charmed by him on set. Rui En said he was “extremely well-trained and obedient”, and director Leong Lye Lin joked that his “performance is better than Romeo’s”, which Romeo agreed with because Flapper has more substantial movie-acting experience (the celebrity canine was previously in My Dog Dou Dou). After Sudden, Lye Lin was clearly so impressed with Flapper that she cast him in two more dramas, 2014’s Mystic Whispers and 2015’s Love?. And guess what? Flapper will be reunited with his Sudden co-stars Rui En and Zhen Huan once again for upcoming Channel 8 drama Have A Little Faith! We can hardly wait to see them all together on screen again.
When Flapper isn’t stealing the spotlight from famous human co-stars, he’s busy maintaining a website and Facebook page, or being the poster boy for various campaigns and brands.
Photos: Channel 8, Flapper Choo/Facebook
Merlot Ong the dog (Dream Coder)
Putting aside our disbelief that anyone would abandon a schnauzer on the street, Merlot – also named Merlot in the show – made a welcome addition to Dream Coder despite her brief cameo.
Stars Carrie Wong and Romeo Tan also couldn’t help but snuggle up with her for photos. “Little baby, today you made all of your big brothers and sisters tired, but seeing how adorable you were made it all worth it!” Carrie gushed in her caption on Instagram. We’d willingly work extra hard with such an adorable “colleague” too.
Photos: Carrie Wong/Instagram, Romeo Tan/Instagram
Ace the chinchilla (Let It Go)
Fluffy little Ace has the honour of being able to pee and poop on his onscreen owner Jeanette Aw at work and get away with it scot-free. In fact, his carefree toilet habits did not stop his Let It Go co-star from gushing over him after filming was over, and she even claimed that this was her first time being so happy working with an animal.
We also got to meet Ace at the press conference for the Channel U drama, and we were every bit as enchanted as Jeanette was. The darling little rodent knew how to look straight at the camera while its photo was being taken, and could even perch on our shoulder on two legs. Squee! Can he appear in more dramas already?
Photos: Channel U, Toggle
Dal-yi the dog (Hearty Paws 1 & 2)
This golden girl has done something the rest of us can only ever dream of doing: sharing screen-time with Yoo Seung Ho and Song Joong Ki, and getting lots of loving pats from them! The Labrador Retriever was also reportedly the highest-paid star of Hearty Paws 2, South Korea’s first film franchise starring an animal.
According to her owner, Dal-yi understood over five times more commands than the average pooch and was always up for a training session, making it easy to prep her for her role. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 15 in May last year, after working on another movie Blind and other projects. We hope she left this world knowing that she lived a cool, glamorous and fulfilled life.
Beetle the cat (Imaginary Cat)
Another furry thespian that got to rub shoulders (and heads, paws etc.) with Yoo Seung Ho is Beetle in what is touted as the country’s very first cat-based show. Their chummy, squeal-inducing interactions on the show were undoubtedly the highlight – and some would say the saving grace – of the series.
Beetle’s role as Bok Gil has a nice extra touch with actress Han Yeri providing the voiceover for the feline’s inner monologue, giving viewers insights into her feelings. Unfortunately, this made it extra difficult and emotional at the end when (spoiler alert!) Bok Gil is about to pass away and we are privy to her sombre thoughts and final wishes. Sob.
Be right back, we’re going to give our pets a nice, big, long hug now.
Ah Dou the dog (Prince of Wolf)
The handsome husky was already a superstar before appearing in the hit Taiwanese drama – his Facebook fan page boasts over 200,000 followers and he was even reported to be paid more than leading man Derek Chang, who plays his adopted “son” in the Tarzan/Jungle Book-like tale.
Ah Dou was also treated more delicately on set than his human co-star. In one episode, he and Derek were originally supposed to wait in the rain for Amber An’s character, but because the crew was worried that Ah Dou might get sick, they tweaked the script to have him go and seek shelter while Derek got soaked all by himself. It looks like the title Prince of Wolf could have been referring to this pampered canine all along!
Photos: Derek Chang/Facebook
Quigley the wolf, Zunni the dog (Game of Thrones)
Sadly, most of the Stark family’s furry, ferocious companions in the hit fantasy series (spoiler alert!) have been tragically axed, save for Arya Stark’s direwolf Nymeria – whose whereabouts are still currently unknown – and Jon Snow’s direwolf Ghost.
While Ghost was played by a regular pooch in earlier seasons, the role was eventually given to a 9-year-old Arctic wolf (yes, a real wolf) named Quigley, who got to be part of some pretty epic scenes including gruesome fights and (another spoiler alert) the resurrection of Jon Snow. While his badass side is a delight to behold, our real favourite moments are when he acts like a faithful, sweet puppy to his human.
Sansa Stark’s pet Lady was the first direwolf to bite the dust in the show, but the Northern Inuit Dog who played her, Zunni, had a much happier ending in real life: her onscreen owner became her real-life owner when Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa) adopted her!
ET the dog (K9 Cop)
This Hong Kong drama’s star-studded [human] cast list, which includes Bosco Wong, Linda Chung and Raymond Wong, could hardly compete with the real attention grabber ET, the feisty German Shepherd who plays Brother the police dog. We just loved seeing him bust criminals alongside Bosco!
ET also made appearances at several promotional events for the series, where Bosco would try to get him to do some tricks. However, possible stage fright and the fact that Bosco referred to ET as his character’s name instead of his real one meant that things didn’t always go as planned, but it’s okay ET, you were still super cute nonetheless.
Photos: Linda Chung/Instagram, Bosco Wong/Instagram
Keiko the orca (Free Willy)
It’s been over two decades since Free Willy was released, and yet the image of the titular character leaping over a human remains an iconic one to this day. While about half of the orca’s parts were shot using animatronics or CGI (computer-generated imagery), star Keiko still went on to become one of the most famous whales in the world.
The popularity of the classic flick inspired campaigns to release Keiko from the amusement park he was living in, but the efforts were not without controversy, and opinions remain divided on whether his return to the wild was a success or a failure. Sadly, Keiko passed away from pneumonia in 2003 at the age of 27.
Rest in peace, Keiko. We’ll be replaying all our favourite scenes from your movie.
Photos: TPG, EPA
Crystal the monkey (Night at the Museum, The Hangover)
When it comes to celebrity critters, few have attained the acclaim of this grinning capuchin, who has appeared in almost 30 pictures. The furry little screen siren was even conferred the Lifetime Diva Achievement Award at the 2015 Pawscars (the animal version of the Oscars), during which she was dubbed “the Angelina Jolie of animal actors”. And she’s not just earning bananas: in 2012, she was one of TV’s highest-paid stars, having raked in US$12,000 per episode of sitcom Animal Practice.
That moment when you realise a tiny primate has accomplished more than you might ever will in your life…