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Phillip Lim (part 2)

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Read part 1 of the interview here.

Die-hard romantic, relentless director

I’m the kind of person who enjoys chick flicks but considers them a guilty pleasure on the order of a box of Van Houten chocolates or a bargain basement dress: they’re great, but I have this nagging feeling that I ought to know better and expect a film to do more, to be more.

So it almost comes as a relief to spend an hour chatting with Phillip Lim, director of The Teenage Textbook Movie (1998), and have him extol the simple virtues of what he considers a good film: “In 90 minutes, develop a three-part act, have a good story and connect with the audience. I cannot stress that enough: story, story, story — the story must touch people.”
A self-professed romantic, he’s happy to declare that he wants to make love stories for the Singapore audience. “It’s escapism, right? Real life isn’t a three-act play, the guy doesn’t always get the girl. In a film, confirmed the guy will get the girl! Because I’m the director — I call the shots. I want to make films that make people feel good and give them a sense of hope.”

After all, he observes, “If Singaporeans can watch a Hollywood love story and feel touched by it, why can’t they feel that way about a Singapore film telling a love story?”

Phillip’s equally unapologetic about creating films with a mass appeal. He used to work full-time in television for MediaCorp (back when it was called SBC), HBO, MTV and AXN. His present freelance work includes the odd turn in creating MediaCorp Channel 8 drama series like Yours Always.

“ith TV, you pay attention to the ratings every single week,”he points out. “You’re always aware of how audiences are responding to your production.” It seems that his TV training’s given him a healthy respect for the bottom dollar, not to mention an adamant belief that a filmmaker’s responsibility is to entertain and communicate.

He’ll get historical on you if you let him, but only because he’s done his homework. “If you look at the history of film, you’ll see that it started out with the objective of entertaining the masses. Early Hollywood films were out just to entertain — but they also managed to weave in their own agenda below the surface.”

As for films today, his verdict is that whether you’re talking about Hollywood or Singapore, they’re often so focused on having a message, they forget about the story. He emphasises, “It doesn’t matter if you make the most beautiful film in the world, if you can’t communicate with your audience.”

If these are the expectations Phillip has for film in general, what does he have up his sleeve for his next film, then? I’m still shaping the story, so I don’t want to say anything right now,” he demurs, “but let’s just say that I’ve been through enough real-life experiences to write plenty of love stories.”

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