A Singaporean orphan is bought by a brothel, escapes to Hong Kong with an older prostitute, then returns to Singapore to uncover the mysteries of her childhood.  Based on a true story.



Singapore, 1960s.  In this true story, AH FONG, a five-year old Chinese orphan, is bought by a small brothel in the red light district.  She spends her formative years living in its back rooms among other little orphan girls, growing into the role of their friend, confidant, and sister.  The Madame of the house has a path for these girls: they are to do housework until they turn twelve, at which time they will move to the front of the house to start working as prostitutes.  But the stubborn and intelligent Ah Fong strays from this wretched path.  While she loses her sisters to prostitution, she excels in school and becomes a favorite of Madame’s daughter-in-law, who secretly arranges for Ah Fong to be taken away from the house by YOK YING, a prostitute making her escape to Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong, Ah Fong suffers under the hand of Yok Ying, who is resentful of being saddled with an adopted daughter.  Living in an uncaring, lonely world, Ah Fong becomes obsessed with attaining independence and going to the United States.  Throughout her teens, she goes to school by day and works in sweatshops by night, secretly squirreling enough money away to repatriate to the U.S.  Before she goes, however, she returns to Singapore for some unfinished business -- to find her old friends, and to find her real parents...

Based on the true life story of Ai Cheng, the writer-director’s mother, YOU'RE A BIG GIRL NOW is an ensemble drama following the multitude of characters that Ah Fong encounters while growing up in a brothel on Singapore’s Lavender Street. The film is about one girl’s refusal to give up hope, her tooth-and-nail struggle for personal freedom, and her triumph in the face of the impossibly harsh conditions of her upbringing.



  • IFP No Borders Co-Production Market
  • Sundance Creative Producing Lab & Fellowship
  • Tribeca All-Access Key Ingredients
  • Shanghai International Film Festival Co-Production Market
  • Film Independent Fast Track
  • Singapore Media Development Authority Fund - Finalist
  • Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF)
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    I always knew about my mother’s childhood, but always in bits and pieces. Several years ago, one of her oldest friends, a girl who grew up alongside her in a Singaporean brothel, died of cancer. That was the impetus for my sister and I to spend the next two years interviewing my mother and the dozen other women who grew up in the house on Lavender Street. Since many were illiterate, it felt enormously important to be able to document their stories. Seeing these women in person, you would never imagine that they had gone through these horrible experiences. It speaks to their inner strength that they were able to endure so much, but yet continue in their daily lives unabated and undeterred.

    After accumulating 600 pages of research and over 30 hours of video and audio interviews, I sat down to write this screenplay, sending my mother ten pages at a time to make sure I was getting the heart of the story right. My mother and I both agreed that the crux of this film was not exploitation. Rather, we wanted to tell the story of these women’s proactive, tooth-and-nail struggle for personal freedom and their eventual triumph.

    In the end, I hope this film will give a voice to the thousands of women like my mother and the women of Lavender Street -- those who have compelling stories, but no means to tell them.

    --Tze Chun