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"Faeryville (above) is without a doubt, physically, psychologically, emotionally, not to mention, financially the most challenging film of my life. I had so much I want to say with the film - about youth, about rebellion and about life." - Tzang Merwyn Tong, film-maker

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Tong's gothic-inspired style has even found a following outside of Singapore.

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Oh says he went back to school after making Hush because he realised he needed to deepen his knowledge of film-making.

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Han did not contest the higher rating Rubbers was eventually slapped with as he felt it suited the subject matter.

Taking an alternate route

The niche works of indie film-makers are seldom shown outside of film festivals. At best, just a handful of cinephiles might catch them at one-off screenings that are usually held in obscure venues. But three local underground directors - Tzang Merwyn Tong, Jeremiah Oh and Han Yew Kwang - are defying the odds as their latest films hit the big screen for longer durations.
May 22, 2015 5:50 AM

Rebel with a cause

WHAT went on behind the scenes of Tzang Merwyn Tong's latest film Faeryville is probably dramatic enough to become a movie. Over the eight years the 36-year-old took to make it, he experienced three meltdowns, saw four producers come and go, and threw in the towel twice.

But the veteran indie filmmaker must be glad he made it to the third act because tickets for Faeryville's Singapore gala next week sold out the same day it went on sale last month. It is now set for an extended exclusive run at Filmgarde Bugis+.

To call it a labour of love for Tong would be a slight understatement. "Faeryville is without a doubt, physically, psychologically, emotionally, not to mention, financially the most challenging film of my life," says Tong, who declines to reveal the film's production cost. "I had so much I want to say with the film - about youth, about rebellion and about life."

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One of Singapore's best-loved underground filmmakers, his previous films V1K1 - A Techno Fairytale (2011), A Wicked Tale (2005), and e'Tzaintes (2003) have all gone on to become cult favourites.

Tong's gothic-inspired style has even found a following outside of Singapore as bootleg copies of A Wicked Tale, for instance, are being circulated as far away in Berlin and Montreal where it's screened at pubs, clubs and late-night theatres.

"It scared me how big my dreams for Faeryville were midway through the shoot, and how dangerously idealistic and hopeful I was, thinking I could do this independently," shares the polytechnic media studies lecturer about his new dystopian coming-of-age teen movie.

Tong adds the prolonged period it took to make Faeryville also meant he grew up with the film as he went from his 20s to his 30s. "Eight years is a long time - from shoot, to reshoot, to post(-production), to sound mix - the world was different (then) and certain world events forced me to rethink and review my work, only to realise how reflective it was," he notes.

Like Anthony Chen and Ken Kwek who both chose to premiere their films, Ilo Ilo and Unlucky Plaza respectively, overseas before screening it here, Faeryville made its debut in Los Angeles earlier this year where popular alternative movie blog Twitch called it "one heck of a ride" and praised it for "avoiding the tried-and-tested formulae that makes it big at the local box office".

Tong is also grateful Filmgarde is taking a chance with his work by screening it the same week that other Hollywood blockbusters like Mad Max, Tomorrowland and San Andreas will be playing. "It's a risk for (an exhibitor) to support local films and perhaps this is where the government should step in to make it easier for them," he says.

But most of all, he's encouraged by the reactions he's gotten from the LA premiere and private test screenings he's conducted here. "I'm impressed by the type of questions the audience asks after watching the film - questions about idealism, bullying and disillusionment," he adds. "Faeryville really has become the thinking film that I envisioned it to be."

Tickets to the opening night of Faeryville on May 26 is sold out but other sessions are now open for booking at www.fgcineplex.com.sg. For more information, visit www.faeryville.com or follow Faeryville on Facebook


Twist of fate brings new faith in craft

AFTER raising eyebrows in 2010 with his erotically-charged short film Hush - which featured actors in various states of undress engaged in a variety of sexual activities - Jeremiah Oh looked set to make something less controversial when he trained his camera on two Catholic divorcees to make a documentary to celebrate his subjects' new-found happiness after they get married to each other.

The plan, however, took an unexpected turn when the couple encountered a supernatural presence in their family home. Despite their Catholic faith, they turned to their brother-in-law, a Taoist medium, for alternative divine intervention.

"I used my instinct and decided to trash the original idea and followed the story that later became Blurred Lines," recalls Oh, who is set to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Film from the Puttnam School of Film at Lasalle College of the Arts.

The 18-minute documentary is part of his graduation project and will screen from Friday as part of the Lasalle Show 2015 Exhibition. There are also plans to tour Blurred Lines at film festivals here and overseas after that.

Oh, who is in his late thirties, says he went back to school after making Hush because he realised he needed to deepen his knowledge of filmaking. He was also offered a full scholarship at Lasalle and given a fast track to the third year because of his prior experience in the industry.

He says going back to school taught him to "handle sensitive topics" and "mature (his) craft so that (he is) able to view situations objectively". Oh adds: "It also struck me that there is a difference between knowing the practical skills and applying the theoretical knowledge to practical application."

Blurred Lines marks the first time Oh has ventured into documentary-making and he took up the challenge to diversify his repertoire. "I wanted to see if I could apply my fictional style into a documentary film," he shares.

Notwithstanding the unexpected turn of events during the making of Blurred Lines, the experience has been an eye-opening and enriching one for Oh, to say the least, as it showed him a new facet of his craft.

"As a fictional director, I tend to be a control freak because I want to make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be (but) in documentaries, I have to let go to allow the actors play out their roles so as to capture moments as undisturbed as possible," he explains. "It is in these moments where I find beauty in imperfection."

Blurred Lines will run from from May 22 till June 3 as part of the Lasalle Show 2015 Exhibition.

For more information, check http://www.lasalle.edu.sg/events/the-lasalle-show-2015-exhibition/


Succeeding against the odds

AFTER years of making underground movies, Han Yew Kwang has come to terms with the reality of being an indie filmmaker in Singapore.

"We definitely can't feed ourselves doing this full-time," says the 39-year-old, whose latest work Rubbers has been going strong at the box office. The naughty ensemble comedy is one of his rare mainstream outings and stars Golden Horse winner Yeo Yann, TV hunk Julian Hee, comedians Alaric Tay and Chuan En Lai, and veteran local actors Marcus Chin and Catherine Sng. It premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival last year where it was sold out and it has been playing in cinemas here since May 1.

Rubbers is hence set to become one of Han's longest-running and highest-grossing films to date as his previous features Unarmed Combat (2005), 18 Grams of Love (2007) and When Hainan Meets Teochew (2010) tend to only be shown at festivals or at niche venues like the now-defunct Sinema Old School at Mount Emily.

But Rubbers' box office potential is slightly hampered by its R21 rating which not only restricts its audience but also limits it to cinemas located outside of residential neighbourhoods. The higher rating also means the film will not get a home video release but is allowed on cable television's video-on-demand format.

Against the odds, it still managed to gross an impressive S$88,000 (and counting) in its first two weeks but Rubbers is unlikely to break even from its theatrical run because its production budget was S$500,000.

Han remains unperturbed and is just glad people are making the effort to catch it. "I didn't have any projected box-office figure in mind," he admits. "(Plus) when I made the film, I didn't really plan to achieve (a particular) rating. I just wrote and directed it the way I envisioned it."

Though Han initially thought it would only be rated M18, he did not contest the higher rating Rubbers was eventually slapped with as he felt it suited the subject matter. "It's a sex comedy so we might as well just screen it as a R21 film," he says, matter-of-factly.

But he doesn't deny commercial success is important for indie filmmakers like himself because "knowing that there are people watching (his) film and enjoying it actually motivates (him) to keep making films".

Han also adds he treats film-making as a hobby nowadays and actually makes a living from being a TV scriptwriter and director in a production company. "Many years ago, I wanted to make films full-time but I realised that's impossible unless I could produce one box-office hit after another," he explains. "I think I'm in a better (frame of mind) now knowing that I'm doing this as a 'part-time hobby' - I'm still passionate about making films but when you have to worry about how to make a living, that's not a good thing."

Rubbers is screening at selected Golden Village and Shaw cineplexes