Jonathan Chong, Creative Partner of Semicolon

Jonathan Chong’s passion is advertising. Being given his first toy at the age of 13, a Nikon FM2, Jonathan’s hobby grew from there into his advertising career.
What’s your story?
My interests in images started when I was little. My father was trained in fine arts and that really influenced me since my early days. I didn’t get any toys from my parents as a kid, the only ones I had were handed down from my cousins. The first “toy” my dad bought me was a preloved Nikon FM2 that he gave to me when I was around 13. Since then, my hobby grew from drawing to firing shutter on the trusty film camera, which still serves me well today.
I discovered the medium of moving images when I was 15. The use of soundscape (and the lack of) along with moving images, I began to draw my fascination as a medium of storytelling and expression. I started freelancing in advertising in different roles for various production departments from that year onwards.
I love telling stories, desperate humanity is my favourite recurring theme (and choice of movies) and the medium opened doors beyond my imagination. From meeting people at film festivals across the globe, to eventually entering the prestigious Beijing Film Academy for my MFA in Film Directing under the Chinese Government Scholarship.
During my stint in Nanyang Technological University as an undergraduate student in digital filmmaking, I was given the opportunity to co-direct my first TV Commercial with a fellow classmate who would eventually become one of my business partners in our boutique production house, Semicolon.
Advertising became my passion.

What excites you most about your industry?
Unlike feature films or even short films, TV Commercials have an extremely tight turnaround. It is very challenging and one that gets me all pumped up from the moment I receive a brief until post production ends. This is something that really fuels me, the excitement I receive from every individual brief.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore and I fly between China and Singapore. The Chinese market is really intriguing but at the same time challenging for “newcomers.” The entry benchmark isn’t the show stopper, it’s more about understanding their unique “rules of engagement.”

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I haven’t had many business opportunities in Asia apart from Japan, India, Australia and China. While China is known for its film industry especially in Beijing, Shanghai has a very vibrant advertising scene, the project briefs they receive are sometimes really out of this world as compared to the limited market we have in Singapore. As such, the times I’ve been in Shanghai have really opened my eyes.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My father lifted this proverb from a Classic Chinese literature, 塞翁失馬,焉知非福 (Sài Wēng Shī Mǎ, Yān Zhī Fēi Fú). It is a story about the the old man who lost his horse but a series of events thereafter would prove that everything that happens leads on to effects (good or bad) that in turn become a cause for something else altogether.
Basically it’s a story meant to remind me to take everything in my stride because nothing is as good or bad as it seems, it is all effects and causality.
This advice has always helped to keep me grounded.

Who inspires you?
There are too many for different reasons but the champion would have to be my father.
From the early influence in fine arts and photography, to my eventual passion in advertising, it was my father who educated me and inspired me to become who I am today. He supported me throughout, including my decision to start my own production house instead of inheriting the family business. His advice always keeps me in check and often proves invaluable.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Wookie suits are made from human hair.
Wild life documentary filmmakers and researchers use Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” to lure animals to the camera.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would probably do everything just the way I did. My decisions made me who I am today and I’m pretty content having a career out of my passion.

How do you unwind?
Scotch and music. I listen to a wide genre of music. It really depends on the mood but scotch always works. That is why you will always find a bottle or 2 in our studio and they run out fast.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
This one’s based purely on the fact that I drive a 1973 Land Rover Series 3, off-roading and camping by the waterfalls in the various campsites in Malaysia has been the best form of relaxation for me. Sitting in the water with a cold one in hand, lying in the hammock with a book while listening to the waterfalls and when night approaches, a campfire and grill, seals the deal.
I have yet to drive beyond Pahang, so I guess it’s Malaysia for now.
I can’t explain why, you’ll have to give it a try.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Caroline L. Arnold’s – Small Move, Big Change.

Shameless plug for your business:
Semicolon was co-founded along with 2 school mates. Each of us have a very unique fields and areas of interest. Like a semicolon, connecting interdependent and sometimes opposing statements, we are a young, diverse bunch with backgrounds spanning across the various creative disciplines with an uncanny ability to make seemingly dissonant ideas work in perfect unison.
We seek new forms of expression through various mediums of advertising and that becomes a joy and pride in every individual project brief that comes to us with the key interest of our client’s brand activation.
Visit us at

How can people connect with you?
Drop me an email for a chat.

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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