Film-making — From Made in Singapore to Made by Singapore

03 April 2018 |  Daniel Yun  |  Today

Director Eric Khoo (centre, in jeans) with the cast of Ramen Teh.  The author says the film, which has been sold to over 40 countries, is an example of how boundaries between countries, between races and between cultures are crossed and blurred.  Photo: Facebook / Ramen Teh

Ramen Teh marks coming of age of co-productions with foreign partners

Recently a young guy I know, who we sometimes broadly categorise as a millennial, asked me gushingly: “Do you know Takumi Saitoh is in a Singapore film?” I nodded briefly. I thought he should be referring to the Eric Khoo movie starring Japanese pop idol Seiko Matsuda alongside Mark Lee and Jeannette Aw.

After watching Ramen Teh, I left the cinema feeling a little overwhelmed.

The perennial and single biggest challenge our semblance of a film industry faces has been our small market. The two most logical solutions have been to produce movies that can travel to foreign markets, and to co-produce with overseas filmmakers.

Yet our filmmakers have taken decades to come around to fully comprehending these seemingly simple solutions as well as adjusting their approaches and skill-sets to finally yield some results. Continue reading

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Ramen Teh

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When was the last time, while watching a movie, you realised you have started caring for a character without knowing? And when something momentous happens to the character, you feel all the significance. At a special screening of ‘Ramen Teh’ last evening, many in the audience started to tear without fully comprehending why. Such deftness in character portrayal, the incredible lightness of unraveling a story, can only come from an experienced hand. There is also a simplicity that can only come from matured understanding of the human condition. Even when a seemingly heavy subject matter is introduced, there is no judgement, the film still feels light, there is no unevenness in tone. In fact, there is an enjoyable leisurely pace consistent from start to end; the whole movie is an exercise in simplicity and lightness. Yet it does not take away from the most endearing reason to watch this movie – at its core, ‘Ramen Teh’ has a big heart. There is tenderness in ways the director handles the characters, as there is love in ways he directs and shoots the food dishes. I have never felt more proud of our local food. To have famous Japanese chefs enjoying and aspiring to master cooking some of them! To have a foreigner describing a famous local dish in details we always knew but never heard in Japanese. This a film Singaporeans at large can be proud of. As a collaboration between Singapore and Japan, the narrative feels real, the local and Japanese elements are integral, the ingredients organic to each other. ‘Ramen Teh’ opens in cinemas today. If there is a Singapore film to watch, one you can savour both the taste of local and Japanese cuisines, one with an ensemble cast, one with the indomitable Mark Lee, and one with the ageless Seiko Matsuda…

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Youth

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Feng Xiaogang’s ‘Youth’ celebrates how rich the narrative texture of Mainland Chinese cinema can be. How its stories can be as real and turbulent as its modern history. It sweeps through the lives of members of a Chinese military performance troupe from the 1970s to the 1990s in a whirl of grand, dramatic gestures. Based on novelist Yan Geling’s adaptation of her own novel – which in turn was based on the writer’s 13-year spell as a dancer in an arts troupe in the Chinese Army, Feng, who worked in a military arts group himself in his youth, seeks to remind modern audiences how those young soldiers from a seemingly more dogmatic era could be just as selfish, sexual, superficial and human as anyone their age in the here and now. And how fate can twist at the expense of the stained, even the faultless who are outcasts. But life goes on. By the third act, it appears this can be Feng’s most pessimistic film to date. Until the narrator offers some semblance of poetic justice from her insights. George Bernard Shaw may say youth is wasted on the young, but at the end of 2 hours and 26 minutes, audiences would have lived the full lives of the characters and savoured what it was like to be a part of that colourful Chinese history.

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I, Tonya

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How many of us can say we know a world-class figure skater? After today, I think I can. After watching this seamless fusion of docu-drama, real-life drama and mocku-mentary, where characters constantly break through the fourth wall, where one of the biggest scandals in sporting history is turned on its head as a black comedy, I feel I know Tonya Harding personally. The opening credits states upfront it is ‘based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly’. It culminates in the 1994 knee-bashing of Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s Olympic skating teammate and rival, the ‘incident’ that made Harding the most notorious woman in sports. ‘I, Tonya’ shows her as the foul-mouth, chain-smoking outsider the sports world was not ready for. Try as she would, she could not separate her bold proud-to-be-a-red-neck image from her skating. Her mother, husband, his best friend, along with Harding herself, collectively became a skater career’s biggest enemy and worst nightmare. We see a train wreak unfolding, a disaster waiting to happen, complete with familial abuse, wife beating, and the wonky scheme to take down a sports rival going down in Olympics infamy. Working with an excellent cast, it is clear director Craig Gillespie is faced with a script in which the truth was irrefutably stranger than fiction. Which is why, while we find ourselves rooting for this white trash of a sportswoman, along with feeling a great sense of missed opportunity and wasted talent, we are made to laugh at and with the tragedy.

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All The Money In The World

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I watched All The Money In The World with expectations. Didn’t read any reviews but know they are generally glowing. Especially the performance of the last minute replacement, the 88 year-old Christopher Plummer. He takes on a major role, with only nine filming days, and delivers a detached, gallantly considered, and at times vulnerable oil tycoon John Paul Getty. Yet the detachment is not one with the ruthless coldness needed to drive home the film’s message, which is just how shockingly cold the human soul can be, with or without extreme wealth and power. The Kevin Spacey scenes might have been reshot but the whole film was not remade. So although he is physically not in the film, his presence jarringly is. Which is the problem. I think the ensemble cast play against a much nastier Getty than the one we see in Plummer. Ridley Scott says Spacey played Getty harder. From the House Of Cards, we know the actor can summon a coldness bothering on evil from within. The level of disgust in Michelle William’s performance which is shared later by Mark Wahlberg’s character feels like a disconnect. The movie left me cold. The detachment makes the characters unreal even though they are based on real people. I am looking forward to Danny Boyle’s Trust, FX’s new ten part TV series, also based on Getty and the kidnap of his grandson…

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