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The Torch: Coming to a theatre near you, soon?

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In a relatively young and comfortably cosmopolitan nation such as Singapore, ideas abound. Whenever a number of open-minded folks come together, some curious flicker of ingenuity will flare up, soon sparking an all-consuming visionary fire, which then spreads.

The TorchSome of that dynamism, particularly in the field of independent films, is found right here on Sinema.SG, well documented, ensuring that nothing of interest escapes your attention. In fact, the sheer volume of productions in the various well-known stages of first beginnings, right up to the singular bedazzling payoff is impressive – equally so to any outsiders, such as myself, looking on from a distance. So what more is there to wish for?

Everyone has their own secret ambitions and harbour some form of outlandish dream project of doubtful prospects. Like it or not, we are all, both as consumers and creators, unalterably linked to the market system. Understanding that demand is what drives the industry and sets wheels in motion, here is my call for Singapore films to take on these matters, my personal wish list of what I would love to see one of these days (and it does no harm, should any one item have been conceived already):

– a film that honestly tackles the issue of religious diversity in Singapore, as well as highlights the spirituality resurgence observed in almost every developed country around the globe nowadays. Where there are so many different parties all in one joined community, tensions sure exist. They need to be addressed, voiced and heard in order to not fester into something sinister and potentially dangerous. For terror, in its every form, always manifests itself from within, be it society as a whole or the tormented individual thrown onto themselves. Certainly this is an urgent and universal subject, don’t you think?

– strong genre cinema, a stylish and super-cool gangster flick for example, which is stamped “a product of Singapore” to the last dot, loaded with references and intelligently capitalizes on the good familiarity your audiences have with HK productions of that type. Show that you can expertly master the mainstream by embracing it to the fullest and taking advantage of marketing open roads. Perhaps it is easiest to excel when starting off from a higher ground (and an achievement it would be undoubtedly!)?

– an all out gay-themed movie that is neither a caricature nor a melodramatic teen-sensation, but doing justice to a marginalised fact of life right next to you; something not alien to neither family nor friends of yours, but something true and simple. Taiwanese cinema has taken the lead here among Asian countries and achieved a lot in giving voice and dignity. But every society has to confront this issue on its own terms, is my conviction. It takes time, certainly, but even closeted countries like Korea, Japan and China have made progress, surely Singapore won’t want to lag behind, I hope?

– a dashing take on your own brand of hybridised mythology: How the Merlion discovered Temasek – and why on earth he decided to stay on – or something along these lines, but without being too serious. If modern Singapore had to be built from scratch, then there should be plenty of white virgin paper around to cover your ancient beginnings, which up to today still appear shrouded in semi-darkness. And where the outlines are not too clearly visible, make up your own and create a hilarious Monty Python-like fantasy myth to make an impression!

– speaking of history, there is of course plenty of serious stuff to unearth as well (you know it better than I do). World War 2 and the Japanese occupation – these alone must yield worlds of untold memories and stories unfinished. When you just happen to have the wherewithal and are given the tools to recover the past and confront some of what, inevitably and pretty soon, will be lost to oblivion, then this should be the time to go and ask the last remaining witnesses among your families and neighbourhoods. The same, of course, is true of the early 60s race riots and the scars that may have been left behind, scars not always visible at first sight. But even buried hopes may have an afterlife, and in my opinion all that is contemporary which still holds the power to affect us today. If we allow for it to do so, intriguing insights could be gained, and valuable lessons learned – a German might know a bit of that…

– remakes can be fun and of good quality – it just depends on what you input. With the Asian Film Archive and its newly obtained treasures at your disposal, chances are aplenty for reviving the glorious years of the black-and-white era, of devoted audiences and a truly home-grown entertainment scene. Seems to me like there is little point in waiting any longer, especially when a true piece of originality waits to be inherited – it always takes both sides to make a connection, right?

– I also wish for a portrait of your armed forces, any aspect of it, honestly. Tell anybody over here in Europe that Singapore, this small island nation at the tip of the Malayan peninsula, even has an army just in case, and they will (with all due respect), most likely raise an eyebrow and call it a most foolish kind of heroism to even think of “the case”. In addition to this, the setting seems most tempting: a quite artificial return to the jungle amidst a fiercely ambitious metropolis – all male, theatrical and ideal for any tropical chamber piece you may (or may not) think of. Pride and honour are the generic breeding grounds for stereotypes and the cliché, in reality as much as outside perception – what could be more challenging?

– and last but not least, I cannot spare you my ultimate heart’s demand: the first ever German/Singaporean big screen co-production (“The House of Harmony” was for TV only). Everything is possible – I’m absolutely convinced – and money, skills and creativity are already in the system of either side as of today. All it takes is a group of people who don’t accept any limits to their imagination, all it takes is somebody to make the first move…

These are all but tiny sketches, I concede. Surely you have much better plans for what to invest in and dedicate your energy to, but one may not always be entirely self-sufficient – I suppose much of what your nationhood is all about is reaching out, am I right? ‘Ang Moh’ fancy has it that perhaps you could, with much reward, explore Singapore as a model society of the 21st century. Have others explore your nation and what it can mean to our increasingly globalized world. Sell your films to international markets: how about giving an expat’s view on living in Singapore? How do Singaporeans see the world and what happens when expectations meet reality? Mirror yourself in others and face how the rest of the world sees you, and what is being expected of the country in terms of living up to its growing international responsibilities in orchestrating regional development, guaranteeing world markets’ stability, eradicating poverty, fighting climate change etc.

We might be eager to learn how openness affects nationhood for better or worse, and what future statehood could be grounded in. All these are questions that are making themselves felt and leave their marks on the lives of Singaporeans today. Therefore, anyone now has a good opportunity to credibly break a global perspective down into real human issues and compact the big picture into a digestible film, and make the individual speak with a universal voice. Likewise, any Singaporean as a global citizen should go out and make an inventory of the world as they encounter it; yours is an original voice also – you have a right to make your image of everything out there.

Come to think of it, there are astonishingly good prospects for Singapore cinema, but do you doubt it? Well, whoever wishes to do so may take me for a reference: I’m not that easily convinced. But where I am, I will speak up.

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1 Comment

  1. randy ang
    25 October 2007 at 9:51 pm

    Haha, great suggestions MO. But the Merlion DID NOT discover Singapore. It was created by the Tourism Board in 1985. In some ways, maybe it did – for a nation constantly seeking to find its identity.

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