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Royston Tan (in blue suit), with the cast of 3688. Local singer Joi Chua (third from left) plays Fei Fei, a parking warden who dreams of being a singer.

Musical inspired by pop diva and parking wardens

While researching 3688, Royston Tan saw that not all "summons aunties" come from hell.
Sep 18, 2015 5:50 AM

WHEN it comes to public enemies, parking wardens must rank alongside Yang Yin, land-burning Indonesian farmers, the guy who flicks the "on" switch for ERP gantries every morning and foreigners ... who come to sell tissue paper.

Ask any driver and they'll tell you stories of how they've had to leave behind half-drunk cups of kopi and bowls of bak chor mee to sprint back to their cars to display a parking coupon whenever a "summons aunty" appears.

Royston Tan knows the plights of these law enforcers all too well, having studied them from coffee shops and trailed them while he was doing research for 3688, his first film in seven years. The musical-comedy, about a parking warden named Fei Fei who aspires to be a singer like her Taiwanese crooner namesake Feng Fei Fei, opened in cinemas on Thursday. It pays tribute to the singer's music and the wardens for the thankless job they do.

Tan, 38, said: "They're all quite poor things because people don't realise that the better they are in what they do, the more scorn they get from the public."

He added that these wardens cannot even sit down to eat at hawker centres because people get angry or anxious to see them in uniform. "I was at Maxwell Hawker Centre once when I saw one of them and immediately everybody ran to their cars. The whole place shook and it felt like an earthquake," he said, chuckling. "The funny thing was, she wasn't even there to issue fines and was instead going to the toilet to change out of her uniform so she could eat in peace."

The incident inspired 3688, as much as the late pop diva Feng did.

Tan is an ardent fan of the singer, who died of lung cancer in 2012 at age 58. He owns original pressings of her albums on vinyl, and gets emotional just talking about her.

"If you've watched some of her last concerts, she was actually performing even though she was already very sick, but she put on a brave face ... I find a lot of solace in her music and although we have never met, she's always been in my life."

She is known for her flamboyant collection of oversized hats - similar to the large ones local parking wardens don to shield themselves from the sun. And it struck Tan that Singapore too has its own Feng Fei Feis doing the rounds in car parks.

"My films are always about capturing things that are disappearing from Singapore and this could be a vanishing trade, as more car parks become automated," he said.

3688 was shot on location in Dakota Crescent, which will also soon be no more, as the ageing residential district near Kallang is slated for urban renewal.

Tan hopes that the film's light-hearted humour would cast parking wardens in a more favourable light. "They're also human beings trying to make a living, and it's not their fault that they have to issue summonses - we build enough flats but not enough car parks, so that's actually the real problem," he said.

Although he doesn't drive, he has had his fair shares of close encounters with Singapore's own "Feng Fei Feis". "You know how they all take pictures of your car these days before giving you a fine? My friend and I once went up to one and we took photos with her - that incident is re-enacted in the film," he said, laughing.

He said he has come across more understanding wardens. "I was having a coffee with my friend when we saw a parking warden. She looked at our cups and then told us she would come back in half an hour. Some of them do have compassion!"