While I had watched Saint Jack previously, nothing beats having to watch a 35mm print of it on the big screen of the National Museum's Gallery Theatre amongst a group of film fans, which curiously was made up of a more international community which outnumbered the locals, probably being more intrigued at how this film, the only Hollywood one shot entire in Singapore to date, was made with our authorities being hoodwinked all the way, resulted in a ban which was recently lifted. Rated M18 now, this is not the first time the film was shown of course, having a one off screening during SIFF eons ago, and 3 years back at the Arts House.
This season's screening was all the more special, because it marks the 30th anniversary since the film was made, and was graced by cast and crew such as Pierre Cottrell, Tony Yeow, Noel Joseph, Teo Bee Hui, Lisa Lu who was also producer, and of course, the female lead Monika Subramaniam, who flew from the USA where she now resides to attend this screening, as well as to partake in the Jack of Hearts Mystery Bus Tour, so called as “Jack of Hearts” was the title of the “fake” movie that was submitted to the authorities for vetting, and we're embarking on that historical pseudo-recce of locations that Jack of Hearts, aka Saint Jack, was to be filmed in . Hosted and conducted by Saint Jack expert Ben Slater, who also authored the book Kinda Hot which recounts the entire filmmaking process, I knew I just had to sign on for this excursion, joined by the cast and crew as well, to be brought around the places that were, and are now standing.
Running some 2 hours, the rain disrupted some plans to disembark from the bus to do a quick walk around at some rare instances where some recognized landmarks still exist, but no matter since a lot of buildings and roads have already morphed into our gleaming facades of today. I love Saint Jack for the reason that I can quaintly remember some of the sights and sounds that were captured on film, being born in the 70s and growing up in the 80s, such as the old Boat Quay area prior to the Singapore River cleanup, the General Post Office aka Fullerton Hotel, and the non pristine version of Chinatown and her unglam shophouses, which were of more character then, than those standing now can ever hope to exude.
The tour bus also had screens inside, so clips from Saint Jack at the various points, including its making of documentary, could be played and compared with what's exactly outside through the bus' large windows. A tinge of nostalgia crept up especially when I see rickety SBS buses captured on celluloid, versus the gleaming air-conditioned ones that are the norm these days, amongst other sights captured, and I'm pretty sure the older cast and crew members would have fonder memories of an unrecognizable Singapore.
Anyway there were only two bus tours organized, and both were sold out days before. For the curious, here is the rundown of the tour checkpoints:
1. Institution Hill, where Jack Flowers' whorehouse stood.
Now: the hill has been flattened (?) somewhat to make way for the construction of the condominium Aspen Heights which now stands on site. A little bit of the hill still exists, but it'll only lead toward that private property and you can't proceed any further.
2: Clarke Quay, Melacca Bridge
Now: the bridge still stands, though its surroundings are clearly different, with more sanitized looking shophouses and shopping malls on both sides of the river. The bumboats have also disappeared. Unfortunately the rain had prevented us from disembarking and walking across the very same bridge that Jack Flowers did, but (as of the time of writing on a Sunday morning) the group in this morning's session should be in for a treat.
3. Chinatown, Smith Street drive past. This was where Jack Flowers and William Leigh were chased by Chinese gangsters.
4. Chinatown, Amoy Street drive through and disembarkation point. Jack Flowers had strutted along this street to Hing's shop, meeting Gopi at the door.
Now: Unit 110 has become the “New Taiwan Porridge Shop”, and the environment is clearly more sanitized now, with various shops and eateries now occupying the neighbourhood shophouses.
5. Chinatown, Club Street drive past. This was where Jack Flowers confronted the Chinese gangsters and showed off the modifications made to the offensive words tattooed on his arms.
6. Empress Place, drive past. The makan place where Peter Bogdanovich's Eddie Schuman, Monika and Jack sat down near the waterfront, and that famous line uttered by Monika where she doesn't eat prawns with their heads still intact. The food centre is no longer around.
7. Fullerton Hotel / One Fullerton. The opening pan where the camera moves 360 degrees to show Collyer Quay, The General Post Office, and what the waterfront looked like in the 70s. Also the ending where Jack Flowers was standing at the road divider calling it quits.
Now: One Fullerton now stands at where once was the sea, and The Fullerton Hotel now operating from that iconic colonial building. No change to the number of lanes on both sides of the road though.
8. Raffles Hotel. 'Nuff said, although the courtyard where Jack Flowers met Yates and Mrs Yates is now concrete.
9. Bugis "Boogie" Street / Village which we get to see in abundance in the film, where transvestites and transsexuals once ruled the night life.
Now: Shopping Centres, and more Shopping Centres. The last bastion of what once was, is a "pasar malam" row of shops. Gone are the night time entertainment of course.
10. Shangrila Hotel is where George Lazenby's Senator stayed, and whom Jack Flowers tailed along 11. Orange Grove Road to 12. Hilton Hotel, where a proposition is made by both the Senator and Jack to a Chinese chap, separately of course.
Then it's a drive through along 13. (Lower) Orchard Road, before catching a glimpse of the spire of what was the 14. York Bandung Hotel, and then ending the tour at the 15. Goodwood Park Hotel, where the bus followed the almost exact same route of entry into "Paradise Gardens". Goodwood Park Hotel also served as the interior for The Hilton as well as Paradise Gardens. This served as the tour's end point and final pit stop, before heading back to the National Museum.
The tour would be a blast for both tourists and fans of the film alike, despite some of the locations being no longer in existence, which is a pity of course, but compensated by the lively discussions and reminiscence by both cast and crew. I'm not sure if this would be another feature some time down the road for those who had missed it this time round, and hey, how about including that Telok Kurau Lorong (J?) where the sex acts were performed :D
Here's another take on the bus tour, and another one here which was based on the dry run.