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Fooism: I am a Singapore filmmaker, hear me roar!

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That is the war cry resonating through the cinema halls this August. It is almost official August is the Singapore film month. Adding to the national patriotic flavor and fervor, August is also the month where Singaporeans celebrate National Day.

August, to many industry insiders, is also the start of the season where there are less Hollywood films cluttering the cinemas preventing Singapore films from being screened. There are up to 3 local films now in the cinemas and a few more that will follow in September and October.

‘Kallang Roar’ is one of the three local films taking on Hollywood in the cinema chains these few weeks. A throw-back to Singapore’s glorious soccer past of the 1960s and 1970s, the movie is made by the newest filmmakers that this island state has seen. It took them almost a year to make the film – from fund-raising to fruition – realising the dream of the young film director Cheng Ding An.

The film tells the story of how Singapore’s soccer team; through the coaching of the eminent, passionate and tenacious Uncle Choo; bring back the Malaysia Cup for the Lion city. We are presented with very caricaturized representations of our soccer heroes many of us remember when we were young or in our previous lives. We are meant to relive the moments of soccer glory in the cinema; a time when people flocked to the stadium, suckled on sugared-ice sticks and munched on peanuts in filled newspaper-cones. A time when spectators shouted themselves hoarse critical of referee decisions, tearful of defeat and ecstatic over victories…

When a film is ‘sold’ for its nostalgia, you are playing with a very active part of the peoples’ minds. Nostalgia is a potion of brew for storytellers since time immemorial to conjure and rekindle old feelings. The expectations soar when there is promise of nostalgia, and when that promise is not met, be it in terms of delivery, scale or performance, people may come away from the cinema unsatisfied. This was the film’s huge challenge.

I believe the filmmakers were aware of this, and hence had taken steps to craft and steer the audience to different levels of believability. For this convenience, the film took many of its own artistic licenses in the historical fact, character personas and locations. This served to placate the simple viewer looking for entertainment, but would have others bunching their eyebrows.

The movie was shot on a variety of formats, with a mixture of prosumer to high-end digital cameras. While the texture of the cinematography was evidently digital, the framing successfully covered and controlled the scale of the film, another clever tactic by the filmmakers to keep expectations in check, and this is a first time that soccer matches are tightly shot; though I can expect a counter-argument to be ‘oh we want to put the audience into the thick of the action….’ Some parts the image to me was a bit too sharp and in high contrast for it to work as a nostalgia piece. I also overheard other viewers mentioning it was too much of a dreamscape which belies heavy color tweaking. Nonetheless, for the general audience what’s most important is the delivery of the expectations.

I laud the witty banter and comic timing that seemed to keep the audience amused. And I give credit to the writing. It is rare for an English speaking Singapore film to entertain genuinely and sincerely. My first reactions after watching the film was I felt pleased. Finally, a Singapore film that doesn’t have: a kid running a race to win a pair of shoes, neighbourhood coffee shop banter, HDB heartland woes, delinquent youths, a jilted lesbian jumping off a building hitting a fat man or an angst-ridden machete-wielding taxi-driver! It was refreshing to say the least. Nice!

In his early stages of preparation, Ding An, the director of ‘Kallang Roar’, researched very extensively for the story. He shared with me his research materials and the countless interviews he had spent on profiling the dramatis personae of the script. Creative due diligence is something of a rarity, and Ding An has indeed contributed. He has worked hard to make his vision a reality. When he was rallying the much needed support, another person lamented the grave lack of support Singaporeans give their filmmakers, and this is a reality many of us face. It is not easy to change this. Filmmaking, especially commercial feature film production is complex machinery that does not equate activity and passion to achievement.

Nevertheless, stepping up to the plate, having the courage and ready resources to make a first-time feature does not come easy. Any and every help should be appreciated. This crazed drive can only be appreciated by a handful with the same urge to direct their feature films; though few and far between can, will and eventually stand by their urge and resolve to make it. Perhaps filmmakers mirror the stories they tell, in this case, making a first film is just like scoring a goal. It don’t matter how you get there, because when you win, the feeling is indescribable. For the film director, now no one can chide him for not being a feature-film director anymore. He has done it and sometimes ambition’s debt is easily paid by glory.

‘Kallang Roar’ is a curtain raiser this August to the many more Singaporean films with new and first time feature filmmakers. The film is an independent film not financed by any other except for the film director’s family support and produced by a mixed team of fresh young film producers and a seasoned film crew and post-producers. Any other form of collaboration would have made the film lesser than what it is. I think any Singapore film with its heart in the right place should be given a chance to shake the box office coffers.

The roar echoes through, yet, will it percolate?

You be the judge.

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3 Comments

  1. 4 September 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Hey Juan,

    Good article. Interesting and objective analysis. Makes me want to go and root for the filmmakers. =)

    More and more commercial local films are appearing, and I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully it will bear fruit for long-term viability for our industry.

    The recent increase in local feature films has been very heartening, and I look forward to the day when Singaporean films become a regular staple for our avid cinema-goers, instead of the odd occurrence. =)

  2. 22 August 2008 at 12:50 pm

    hi daniel,

    yes, i apologise for the error. If we count documentaries ‘Mad English’ and ‘Hungry Ghost’ its two more local films. Apologies to Siok Lian and Tony !

    But it brings out interesting topics, what constitutes a ‘feature’ film? What constitutes a ‘local’ film?
    Sometime for a later discussion perhaps.

  3. 21 August 2008 at 10:29 pm

    there’re actually 5 local films in cinemas currently.

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