"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

I was a Singapore Dreaming seminar last friday with Writers/Directors/Producers Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen. After a short monologue (basically repeating everything from the website, press kit and the Mr Brown show podcast, they decided to open the floor to questions. Some interesting points raised:

The only Hokkien/Singlish words allowed in the trailer for theatrical release were "zho", "mana woo pian" and "yam seng". The rest had to be cut.

It was pointed out that the people in the movie were middle class, and that the middle class does not ask these questions, but only over-educated buggers like us. The questioner asked if there should be a movie about the concerns of the upper class or NUS undergraduates

The "Singaporean Film" line was trumpeted - foreign people did not come in, hire locals and release a film; this was helmed by Singaporeans. Personally I don't see why that would affect its merits as a film per se, and why it's so important to put Singaporean films in a separate category and evaluate them with separate criteria.

In response to my complaints that the film was didactic, Yen Yen said that they'd tried to be. The question was then sneakily thrown open to the floor to ask what they thought, with several responses:
1) It was didactic, but more polished than recent Singaporean films.
2) It had no subtlety and the characters were melodramatic, screaming out what they wanted to say.
3) It was like sitting in her grandmother's house, since her family was very dramatic.
4) Didn't think the directors' voices could be heard clearly, and thought they wanted to express normal Singaporeans' voices and channel their emotions. It was cliched because a developed society is not supposed to feel emotional, so if we see emotional scenes we think it's cliched [Ed: Huh?!]

1) Also commented that the opening was very predictable and they should've faded out at the funeral as the girl is holding her suitcase. The film went through 57 different edits and some were screen-tested on audiences, who didn't like it when the film faded out there since they felt it wasn't satisfying (what can I say, people like a happy ending). I have little knowledge of movie making so I don't know if 57 is a lot. A deleted scene also had Pa waking up in the afterlife surrounded by beautiful things but being unhappy and missing liang teh.

The filmmakers wanted to make the film accessible because Singaporeans do things like laugh at the wrong times in movies (eg Be With Me).

Yen Yen said that saying that Singaporeans do not care about things like Singaporean identity is inaccurate. It's not that they don't care, but you must couch it in terms they can understand. For example the old generation of women might not understand what is meant by feminism, but when they talk about their dreams and giving them up, and how boys and girls are treated in the family, they understand it; you need to frame it in different terms and speak their language so it doesn't go over their heads.

They admitted that the "structure of the film is very much like a soap opera, and it's deliberate" so audiences would know its grammar and they could discuss and engage with issues. This was as opposed to making a movie with a beautiful Chinese woman in a cheongsam smoking a cigarette, throwing light onto the rococo wallpaper: "The world does not need another Wong Kar Wai. The world already has a Wong Kar Wai." What works on stage and on film is not the same, otherwise you'd "stray into Woody Allen land" if the characters went "Woe is me".

Some distributors thought that the film was too arty and asked if they could make it more like Jack Neo. OTOH, they also didn't want a Singaporean movie that plays well only in France.

They said that if they didn't make the film we wanted them to make, we should make our own film. Hmm, that sounds awfully familiar and like the argument thrown out in some other arenas by some other groups. But then if you want to trumpet yourself as a "Singaporean" film, surely there's some obligation to be representative of Singaporeans?

Someone said the characters were cliched, but this was because they were based on stories shared with them, so people would identify with the characters and recognise them. For example, a burly man said that he was Mei. In AWARE's research, many pregnant women got treated the same way by their employers as shown in the film.

They thought the emphasis on the 5 Cs was a fault of the scripting, since the original title was "The 5 Cs".

The story of the $1000 will bequest was based on a true story when someone got $1 with the message: "I'm leaving you one dollar so you know you're not forgotten".

The programmers at San Sebastian in Spain thought it was very Western for an Asian film.

At some point various people from the audience started talking again:

1) "It's people like us sitting in a LT like this who go on about a Singapore identity".

5) Asked why Singapore Dreaming was about Chinese only, and not Malays and Indians. They pointed out the non-Chinese supporting cast, and said the main characters were Chinese because they themselves were Singaporean Chinese. They also wanted to focus on one family - this family. It was also pointed out that TalkingCock was multiracial.

Cock) The mistress was not as well developed as he'd like. The answer was that the movie was already long enough (cinemas hesitate to take any film longer than 120 minutes), and they didn't want the director to say too much. This sort of thing (a strange woman showing up at a man's funeral and crying) had happened many times before, and everyone knew what it was but didn't talk about it. Some Malaysian thought that it was good not to rub the mistress in people's faces.

6) Why "Singapore Dreaming" and not "A Singapore Dream", "Dreaming of Singapore" or "The Singapore Dream"? [Ed: If it'd been anything else, the same question would've been asked of that title.] The boring answer to the boring question was that it just sounded nicer than the alternatives (eg "Cooling Tea"), since the "ing" had a feeling of being ongoing and not stopping and hearkened back to "California Dreaming". 6) also felt it was unreal and had a sense of pseudo-reality, and that the actors were intentionally melodramatic to bring out the characters.

HWMNBN) Is the middle class HDB family representative of Singapore as a whole?

7) Why were there no expletives? In his experience, especially from the army, it's not Hokkien if there's no cursing. Woo: The older generation does not use Hokkien to curse, unlike the Slaves. "In my family, it doesn't happen. You don't say hello by saying 'kanni-'".

Different people have different perceptions of Hokkien - when they went to a secondary school to give a talk, the students asked why the characters spoke in Hokkien, since all Singaporeans speak English [Ed: ACS ah?]. "If you like expletives, see TalkingCock the Movie".


One asked how Woffles contributed. Reply: "If you notice, all the women have huge -"

Enming: I have been a follower of your work for quite some time.
Colin: Poor guy, you need a life.

2 people came because they had to do the film for their homework. Heh.

The yearbook was not, as some think, an RI one but a Gan Eng Seng one.

They said the actors speak like their characters in real life. Colin: In many Singaporean movies only the Ah Bengs speak in Hokkien, so the language gets a bad rep.

Any film needs an element of hyper-reality to bring out the story. It's a narrative, not a documentary or CCTV footage.

Be With Me got international acclaim but performed badly at the box office. Laurels might even be a turn-off for some Singaporeans who then think it's an arthouse film. Film fest audiences are not the same as real ones. In Taiwan in the 90s, a lot of local films didn't have a local market and could only go overseas.

At 7:45pm the end of lecture buzzer went off. I didn't know it was still on at that time.

Their "gift from us" - the number of the paper car is 3771 and the number of the paper house is 9348.
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