Tuesday, April 24, 2007

[SIFF] The Changi Murals (World Premiere)

I only remember one other time where a local short film had its world premiere here to much fanfare. The organizers clearly were of the opinion that most of the sell out crowd were here to view Boo Junfeng's The Changi Murals, but I thought that most were here for James Leong and Lynn Lee's Aki Ra's Boys instead. In any case, I thought Aki Ra's Boys was the real deal, and The Changi Murals the sideshow, even thought it was played first.

I would have expected that a film on the much talked about murals, with its rich backstory, would have made a compelling, deep, and emotional movie. While it was beautifully filmed, it seemed a bit sterile, in having a rather unrealistic looking set, POWs who seemed to be well fed as opposed to well publicized pictures, and a story that didn't engage. It was rather superficial in its treatment of the murals.

Although it was supposed to be lyrical, there's something lacking in the way the short tried to achieve its objective. Hopefully, a feature version, with a relatively larger budget, might do this topic some justice, and this probably be a short teaser to what it could have wanted to be.

Anyone curious about the murals, might have better luck from a site like this one.


Boo Junfeng was present today at the National Museum Gallery Theatre for the World Premiere of his short film The Changi Murals. The following was the Q&A session which transpired after the screening. Do note that it's not verbatim.

Q: Were there was any problems with getting the expatriate actors for the roles?
A: It was difficult and close to 2 months were spent looking for the cast.

Q: The environment looked quite clean. Was it like that during the times?
A: Much effort has been taken to recreate what it was like as much as possible. The locations within the camp were not too bad actually, and quite well kept, because it was in a hospital as Stanley (the character in the film) was suffering from dysentery at the time.

Junfeng shared that he didn't want to assume what it would be like for a POW, and decided to go lyrical, and let the images, natural surroundings, and the murals speak for themselves - perhaps it's more of an interpretation of the murals.

Q: Is there an intention to make a feature film from this short?
A: The inspiration came from my knowing of the murals for a long time, and given I live in the same area in Changi, it intrigued me that the place where I live at one time had atrocities committed, and had POWs living around the area. I did think it had feature film potential, but for the obvious the lack of resources to make it.

Q: Why the 6 months of preproduction?
A: I was in NS at the time, and the scale of putting it together was quite huge for a short film, as you can see from the end credits. I had to also find people and tried to engage professionals, as well as to find the time to do it.

Q: Did the actors look anything like the real persons they are portraying, or were certain artistic liberties taken?
A: Naturally if you look at the body shapes of expats in Singapore.... we had to select the skinnier of those who turned up for the auditions.

Junfeng revealed that the faces on the murals were actually based on fellow prisoners, so he decided to feature a lot of these faces in the film, coupled with plenty of tight shots. He also shared that the murals were restored 3 times after the War ended, and twice by Stanley himself, who was an art teacher in school when a colleague sounded out to him about some murals found in Changi. In the 60s when they were discovered, almost nobody knew the murals existed. Only when they were clearing a storeroom did they realized that the site was an ex-chapel, and the murals had been covered by another layer of paint - the murals were completed in 1943, and one mural was destroyed by the Japanese when they converted the site into a store room.

Q: What was the effect that the murals had on the Japanese soldiers, as depicted in the film?
A: From the book, the chain of command of the British and Australian army were pretty much intact, so the Japanese were there literally as guards and nothing else.

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