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A journey through S'pore films
Sin is reason Khoo now making erotic drama
ERIC Khoo's latest film, In The Room, might be making headlines for its daring sex scenes but the erotic drama is also his personal tribute to a dear friend, the late Singapore writer Damien Sin, who died of a drug overdose in 2011 at the age of 46.
The latter's short story, One Last Cold Kiss, was the inspiration for Khoo's critically acclaimed and commercially successful debut feature Mee Pok Man (1995). Both films will be shown at SGIFF.
Sin penned the screenplay for Mee Pok Man and the rest is history for Khoo, one of Singapore's best-known filmmakers, whose works frequently travel to international festivals.
The latter goes as far as to say if not for Mee Pok Man, he might not have enjoyed success as a filmmaker and could be doing something totally different now. Hence, it was only appropriate for him to pay tribute to Sin, who was also a musician.
Set in a hotel room and spanning several decades, In The Room features a character named Damien who dies suddenly but whose spirit lingers on to link the anthology of stories in the film together.
The role is played by Ian Tan, an uncanny find for Khoo. "I was going through a drawer of photos and saw photos of Ian whom I initially thought was Damien," he reveals. "That same evening I went to (a pub) and heard this voice and it's Ian Tan."
Shot in 10 days on a soundstage at Infinite Studios, In The Room is Khoo's most star-studded feature to date. The ensemble cast includes regional names such as Hong Kong's Josie Ho (Dream Home), Korea's Choi Woo Shik (Rooftop Prince) and Japanese adult actress Show Nishino. The trio will attend the Singapore premiere of In the Room at SGIFF.
Sin can also be seen in a newly restored 20th anniversary version of Mee Pok Man which will be screened at the festival. Presented in 4K resolution for the first time, it will include eight minutes of additional footage of out-takes and rushes.
SGIFF is also turning into a family affair of sorts for Khoo - a fixture at the festival since the 1990s - as it will host the world premiere of his son, Edward's short film June In Pieces. It is also in the running for the Silver Screen Awards in the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition.
But the senior Khoo says their filmmaking styles are totally different - "He's into fine cinema and a lot deeper than I am so I don't think I can be a producer for him because he's so meticulous. He's quite technical and would storyboard things whereas I would just go with "feel" but he would plan everything."
Still, as they say, like father like son and both filmmakers do have something in common after all. Referring to the themes of unrequited love which both explore in their works, Khoo laughs, "I guess that's because we're just lost romantics."
Eric Khoo's Mee Pok Man screens on Nov 29 while In The Room premieres on Dec 1. Edward Khoo's June In Pieces will be shown on Dec 5. For more info and ticketing details, check www.sgiff.com
Lawyer makes a case for local cinema
WHEN prominent lawyer Tan Min-Li was invited to join Singapore-based movie company Xeitgeist Entertainment Group by its founders Joe Thomas and Mark Montgomery, the life-long film fan leapt at the opportunity - on the off-chance of meeting Tom Cruise, she half-jests.
"I also felt that it was timely for a company established in Singapore to harness Singapore talent, infrastructure and strategic location to create international content," says Ms Tan, who joined this year as director. She adds on a more serious note: "One of Xeitgeist's missions is to bridge East and West: to bring Eastern culture and values to the West and this 'crossover' concept attracted me."
Incorporated here in 2011 by Mr Thomas and Mr Montgomery, who are the company's CEO and president respectively, the boutique multi-platform entertainment house specialises in IP acquisition and creation, management, licensing and distribution of film and television programming. Its first feature, The Man Who Knew Infinity, had its gala debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and opened the Zurich Film Festival to standing ovations and strong reviews. The drama, based on Robert Kanigel's biography of the late Indian math-wiz Srinivasa Ramanujan (played by Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel) and his relationship with his Cambridge professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) will be making its Asian debut at SGIFF. It is directed by Matthew Brown.
Xeitgeist has also co-produced Damascas Cover, a spy thriller starring Jonathan Rhys-Myers, John Hurt and Olivia Thirlby, slated for release next year. Its third project, mythical drama Shambhala will be shot in Singapore in the first quarter of 2016 and will star Rhys-Myers as well. It is also set to be the company's first wholly proprietary film, produced and directed in-house.
Ms Tan, who is one of the executive producers of The Man Who KnewInfinity shares that "a global approach" was used to make the film but some of the funding was sourced locally. She adds what that means for the local film industry is that it shows Hollywood is not inaccessible to Singapore companies with the right skills sets and relationships in the industry; and greater international exposure for the country as a filmmaking hub. "It showcases what we are capable of in this part of the world, that we can be generators and facilitators of quality film content with a global appeal," explains Ms Tan.
She adds with the local film industry "enjoying a certain renaissance now" as filmmakers such as Eric Khoo, Anthony Chen, Tan Pin Pin and Boo Junfeng put Singapore cinema on the global stage, "we are gradually gaining more mindshare in the international film audience".
On top of that, Ms Tan notes Singapore has a reputation for being an efficient and convenient business hub in South-east Asia, as well as a conduit for the China and India markets. "The more we have projects like The Man Who Knew Infinity, the more of a snowball effect there will be, with more international producers, brand-name actors, directors and film personnel interested to work in this part of the world," she says.
The Man Who Knew Infinity will screen on Dec 4
Turning point for director of 1995 film Bugis Street
THE colourful and sexually explicit 1995 drama Bugis Street marked a few milestones in local film history - it kickstarted a wave of Singapore-Hong Kong co-productions and it was the first to feature full-frontal male nudity.
For director Yonfan, it also became a turning point in his career as he moved from mainstream films to arthouse. Prior to that, the 68-year-old filmmaker-photographer-writer was a box-office champion, making films in Hong Kong and Taiwan with big stars such as Chow Yun Fat, Maggie Cheung and more.
Bugis Street will make a comeback on the big screen at the upcoming SGIFF with a newly restored print to celebrate the film's 20th anniversary.
Speaking over the phone from Hong Kong where he is based, Yonfan, who will grace the screening later this month, says he was approached by local producer Katy Yew who wanted him to make a film here. The topic of Bugis Street - infamous in its heyday as a red light district with transsexuals plying their trade - came up because he felt it was something an international audience also knew Singapore for.
His personal memory of the area goes back to the 1980s when Chow brought him there; but by then it was already half-demolished. "I did meet a 'Lin Feng-jiao' there who looked nothing like (the popular 1970s Taiwanese starlet and wife of Jackie Chan)," he recalls.
Unable to find a local scriptwriter here, Yonfan found one instead in Hong Kong: the then-unknown Fruit Chan who wrote the first draft of Bugis Street after staying in Singapore for a month.
The plot in turn was inspired by the real-life plights of transgenders, who also had roles in the film which also starred Vietnamese-American actress Hiep Thi Le (Heaven and Earth).
But Yonfan adds Bugis Street is not just a film about Singapore. "It's about people who are being looked down upon and whom the public don't think much of. . . I've always been fascinated by people who are different," says the filmmaker whose works after Bugis Street often explored the complexities of human sexuality.
He says making a film as daring as Bugis Street was not only risky as it might run afoul of censorship laws but also that he saw it as a personal challenge - one which transformed him into a different kind of filmmaker.
"Making Bugis Street changed me; it made me more confident," he explains, "At that time a lot of my friends were questioning why I wanted to move from mainstream to arthouse when I was enjoying so much success but I have never regretted it."
Yonfan adds he cannot see himself ever going back to making commercial films - or making any movies for that matter. His last work was Prince of Tears (2009), which became Hong Kong's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards.
"Fame and fortune is not what I want anymore. . . When you're making films, people are looking at you and you feel a certain glamour," he states. "It is very vain and at this moment, I don't think I'm vain enough."
Bugis Street Redux screens on Nov 28