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Lim Kay Tong playing Lee Kuan Yew in 1965. The plot of the movie covers the period of unrest that pre-separation Singapore was going through during Konfrontasi.

Turning history into a dramatic thriller

Jun 26, 2015 5:50 AM

LIKE Ben Affleck's Argo (2012) and Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005), historic events can sometimes be turned into edge-of-the-seat big-screen thrillers.

1965 aims to do the same, given that the plot covers the period of unrest that pre-separation Singapore went through during Konfrontasi.

"We found a premise during the years of 1963 to 1965 where there was an undeclared war; tension between the different races was high and there was the MacDonald House bombing," says the film's director Randy Ang.

Half a decade in the making, the film - which stars real-life TV couple Qi Yuwu and Joanne Peh; and Lim Kay Tong as Lee Kuan Yew - is veteran local producer Daniel Yun's most personal project to date.

Initially misunderstood by many to be a biopic about Singapore's late founding Prime Minister, 1965 went through three directors, five script writers and two producing companies before cameras finally rolled in the last quarter of 2014.

"1965 is about the common people living through one of the most tumultuous times in Singapore - people we honour as the Pioneer Generation today (who) may be a part of history in the making," clarifies Yun. "But at the time, like everyone else, they just wanted to put food on the table, protect and provide for their loved ones (so) their lives and stories cannot be separated from the life and story of Lee Kuan Yew."

It was only two years ago that he was finally happy with the right premise for the film to be made into a mainstream dramatic thriller in the vein of Argo. He fast-tracked it to production, playing the role of co-director for the first time in his career and co-writing the final script with Ang.

Despite their age gap - the latter is 37 while Yun is 57 - the pair's different sensibilities and skill sets complemented each other on set. "Daniel is very marketing-savvy and he knows the period of the film better than me," notes Ang.

No expense was spared to recreate the era as realistically as possible as production designer Tommy Chan (It's a Great, Great World) turned a specially-built set in Batam into Singapore of the mid-sixties.

The art and wardrobe team also turned to the National Archives and asked for over 1,000 photos to make sure everything looked right. "The Archives got a shock because that's even more than what is usually requested for an academic paper," shares Ang.

Yun reveals that the film's release this year is not timed intentionally to coincide with all the SG50 celebrations as the term did not exist five years ago when he embarked on the project. And for all its nationalistic elements, 1965 will not be two hours of propaganda, according to its makers.

"The main theme is the fragility of racial harmony," Yun explains, adding that 1965 instead uses a pivotal piece of history to tell the story of how the lives of a diverse group of immigrants and natives were transformed.

Ang says directing the film has also made him understand Singapore better. "I'm not the most nationalistic person but making 1965 over the last two years has been a journey of self-discovery for me - it feels like I've done my national service for a second time!"

1965 is out on July 30. For more information, check its Facebook page at