Saturday, December 15, 2012

Old Romances (老情人 / Lao Qing Ren) Q&A

The three filmmakers of Old Romances - (from Left) Victric Thng, Eva Tang and Royston Tan - were present today for the World Premiere of Old Romances (老情人) at the National Museum Gallery Theatre to introduce their documentary, as well as to engage in a short Question & Answer session with the audience. The session went as transcribed below (with a few minor edits on my part for continuity reasons, my sincere apologies if this inadvertently - and I hope not - changes anything):

Moderator: I was just curious about the process, because most of the time you don't really see the narrators talking about the places, and also there were many, many beautiful stories, and memories, and places. So do you want to talk about the process, about filming, about finding the locations, finding the story tellers?

Royston Tan: Maybe I'll get Victric to talk about this?

Victric Thng: Thank you. The three of us have collaborated for Old Places, so Old Romances is really like a sequel to the documentary. So the format that we decided upon is that we will write down a list of the locations that we want to cover in the film, and after that, we will find people who happen to have any stories or memories about the place, to help us by sharing those memories in the film. But the directors decided not to be imposing, since there are three of us and each one of us have a very different style, so we decided to take a backseat, we like the film to be a space for the audience to enter into while listening to the stories of those people who will voiceover their memories. So generally I think the format is that we are taking a few steps back. If not you'll see a range of three styles where every director has his own take about things.

Moderator: So how do you come to a consensus with regards to the places and the stories. Was there any special place that you planted yourself because you like the place and wanted it to be featured?

Eva Tang: Actually there are a lot of places we wanted to film, but some have gone before we've manage to shoot them. So there's always regret in life. So how do we come to a consensus? We list down the locations, and for each one we try to find photographs, or even pass by and take photographs, so that the three of us have seen the images, and agree upon that this is consistent with the style. Because the place has to have a certain history, and also in terms of decor there must not be a lot of upgrading or renovations. So it has this style and aesthetic appeal to us.

Royston: And for me I represent a department called the "Emergency Helpline" like the police. What happen is like, we have a Facebook group and there's also a number that you can actually call us. Like if there's a place that's going to be demolished very soon, once you call me, what I'm going to do is to activate a crew to shoot it within.. our fastest record was two hours, to capture the last location of the mooncake place, because the next day they will be closed already. So I captured this and I captured Xin Cai Hong (New Chay Hong Beauty Salon). The railway station was very fast as well. We activated six different people stationed at different places to capture the same train passing by. We did it in a primitive style. We just take a handphone, and "Hello, the trained just passed me by", so the next team could stand by. So it's done in a very primitive, old fashioned way

Moderator: When you say an Emergency Team, I thought was to rescue you from the dentist! You know, it's very old school. The new dental equipment are very sleek and look less dangerous!

Royston: This uncle doesn't believe in love, doesn't believe in gentleness. They don't allow people to film this place in the last 30 years. So I waited there and finally there was a trade-off, that the uncle said "I will allow you to film in this place, but I have to check your teeth". And before that the uncle was scolding the patient before me - (In Mandarin) "Your teeth is so dirty! I will have to extract them all! I will do it now!" - I was waiting outside and my heart was beating very fast! But after that we became very good friends. You know the dentures that he made, he gave me the very first set that he made for his mother, so it's in my house now. So he's almost like a grandpa to me, and he's a wonderful person.

Moderator: I'm not going to ask about the address of the place!

Royston: It doesn't exist already. He retired last year. So actually 40% of what you have seen have all disappeared.

Moderator: I was looking at the film and there were a lot of places that I've passed by but never noticed. So it's an amazing experience, that as a Singaporean, I feel like, oh, have I actually seen the whole of Singapore, and I realize that I haven't. So I would like to ask the three of you, if there's any special place that is in this film, and you feel that you would like to revisit, or has a special significance to you in the filming of this project.

Eva: OK, this is a favourite question of a lot of people - which were our favourite places. Frankly and honestly, each one, and every one, is a favourite. Because after knowing their story, you love them even more. Personally, it has to be related to where I'm staying, because I stayed in Tanjong Pagar before, I stayed in Portsdown before, so this was where the train passed by, where the train station was, and in Portsdown with the railway track. So I've seen them there and they're now gone in a very short span of time. And also I like the Tanglin Halt neighbourhood. There's this provision shop which you've seen. People just pass by, and especially children who will remark "Why so smelly?" because there's no air-conditioning inside. (Eva then proceeds to describe the old fashioned way of cashiering using a pulley-tin system) But when you understand them, then it's like... their grandfather started from nothing, that's why they say "When I'm still alive I don't want any renovation". And what I really like about them is that they're really generous, and really care for the poor people. So even if you have 20c or 30c they can still sell you the garlic or onion. You don't have to go to NTUC (a large supermarket chain) to buy a big packeted bundle and can't finish it. Even for rice they can sell it in small packets. If you don't have money, it's OK if if you pay them a few months later. It's what we say in Chinese, we call it "Ren Qing Wei"

Moderator: Well, the sentimentality?

Eva: Yeah, the sentimental values, the humanity that's so important. So next time when I pass by old shops I don't think they're smelly anymore, because they're full of "Ren Qing Wei".

Moderator: Thanks Eva for sharing, it's a beautiful story. Victric?

Victric: I agree with Eva, it's very difficult to pick your favourite, since we started with Old Places and now with Old Romances, because every place is unique on its own, and every place has such rich stories and such beautiful memories. But if I have to pick something, I'm very happy that this time round we've covered more playgrounds. We covered some playgrounds in Old Places, and this time round we've covered more playgrounds. I miss all the old playgrounds. I miss playgrounds with sand where I can run around and play with my friends. And it's kind of like, when we put together the old playgrounds, when I was editing it, I felt like I've lost my playfulness and innocence. I forget how to have fun. I'm very happy we've covered, I think, all the old playgrounds in existence in Singapore, and I'm very happy to go back to Silat Walk estate, because that was really my playground. I play hide-and-seek, and catching, with my childhood friends over there. When we went down to cover the stories while filming, the people, they're all moving out, because the whole place got en-bloc, and they're going to the new HDB flats. I asked them how they felt about it. Of course they don't feel happy, because they felt that in their Silat Walk estate, it's really also their kampong and playground. But they can't do anything about it because of change. There's a lot of things we wanted to say while doing the film, but we can't, but we're very happy to have done this film for all of us.

Royston: I think it's the same for me. I like everything that's old, retro, old people. So if you hear any rumour about me liking people who are younger, obviously it's not true, it's tabloid!

(laughter from audience)

Royston: If you were to ask me to list a particular place, I think it will be Xin Cai Hong. Xin Cai Hong is a very, very special place because they will not allow walk-in (customers) at all. And if you're not an old lady, you cannot enter.

(laughter from audience)

Royston: I'm serious. I really waited very long, and kept pressing the bell until she allowed me to go up there. I'm in fact the first one or two guys that actually when up there. It's like "Er-Mei"

(laughter from audience)

Royston: No guys allowed, we cannot even sit on the chair. It's a very pure place and I went in there it was being preserved just as it was. So Xin Cai Hong is a very special place to me, and ever since then, the auntie and I now became good friends, and I'm still trying to convince her to shampoo my hair!

(laughter from audience)

Royston: But yeah, she's still considering.

Moderator: Did she lend you this, over here?

Royston: This is from my friend, but she has another one that's even nicer but I didn't dare bring it here for fear of damaging it. But it will be in my new house.

Moderator: I think Royston can explain a bit about the furniture here today because about 80% of the stuff are from your house?

Royston: Yeah, they're from my house, and some of the stuff are souvenirs given to us by all the old lovers inside the show. And yeah, I'm a big lover of retro stuff, so if there's anything you want to throw away, please let me know OK? Thank you.

Eva: And Victric is a vintage furniture collector, lover.

Question from audience: Hi, it's been very nice to hear all these very engaging and very interesting stories, but I think there was a conscious decision not to epilogue, was there? To the whole thing, not to epilogue some of the old places that are no longer around, or perhaps still are around today. What went into the decision not to epilogue?

Royston: I think personally for us, you can get the official answer from all the usual newspapers, or textbooks, but this time we want to let the interviewers tell their own side of the stories, and that makes it a little more human. And in the course of doing that we discover even more stuff.

Eva: And also Singapore is a country that always change. And the 45 locations you've seen, they are persistent. It's very rare to find these kind of people who are so stubborn, who don't want to change anymore, who don't go with what is trendy. There's a charm, and this is the charm that I feel is good to preserve.

Victric: I think for us, through this film, we're writing love letters to all these beautiful and lovely places. And we agree with you that, sometimes, or some of the places, 40% of the places are no more. I think it's not our place to give it an account, but because as filmmakers we want to kind of pay tribute to all these places. So it is our way to express our affection to all these places.

Moderator: I think the most powerful part about the film, for me personally, was that after we've seen the film, we're just reminded of our own experiences that you might (have) walked down with your first love at the bus interchange with the reluctance to board the bus, and of some places that kind of remind you of a place that doesn't exist anymore. Personally I appreciated that a lot.

Question from audience: Was it difficult to convince the narrators/story-tellers to speak up, after all, they're from the older generation. And my other question is, will there be a version with Mandarin subtitles, since this may appeal to the older generation who may not know English, to appreciate this film as well.

Eva: We have to do a lot of sweet-talking. We got a lot of rejections. Actually we've secretly filmed a few places but there are those that didn't make it into the cut because we still didn't get their permission. So some of them we've film secretly, and after more sweet-talking they said OK. Because they are older, they're more stubborn, and they always felt that their places were so dirty, so old, don't film us, but this is what we wanted to film about! They've never thought that their things could be shown on the big screen. But after a lot of interviews and seeing what we've done, they really, really love it and appreciated it. They've never seen it so beautifully done and we went to discover it through a pair of eyes that can see the beauty of it. As for the Mandarin subtitles I'll leave it to Royston to answer.

Royston: For very difficult locations, I just had to be very sincere. For example, the dentist, I really waited. I went three days and waited for him, until the third day he just gave up. I was holding the fruit basket and told him I will die if he didn't let me film this (place). And it's the same for Xin Cai Hong also. I just kept standing at the staircase (near) there, and waited like a ghost. I think they were very touched to see that we were so persistent about capturing this and not taking advantage of them. I think for the subtitling bit, I'll highlight to Objectifs which is our distributor, and hopefully with the following screening we can come up with something.

Question: I would like to ask, with the disappearance of some of these places already, do you intend to print, maybe a book, with a map of their locations, so we'd know there used to be something there. Because in a video, I don't think I can locate a lot of these places. The other thing is, Rochor Centre is going to be demolished some years later. It looks like a retirement centre for old people. So I don't know if you have any intention to film the place. Perhaps if you go to a particular place, you'd have a longer clip for that place, and perhaps have a longer film with more details? With a short clip of each location, you'll lose a lot of details.

Royston: We also want to protect the privacy of all the people, so we try to leave the address a little more vague. I'll give you one example. In Old Places, we revealed to people a place to catch wild guppies, and after that the whole canal, no more guppies already, because everybody went to catch guppies. So we try to be a little bit more vague, because they still live in their own environment, so we try not to invade them. Yeah, Rochor is a very interesting place. Let's see if we can find funding, or my two co-directors still have the strength to shoot a Part 3, because they're almost dying after making this. To be honest with you, the effort we have to put in - they were on standby, it's a two year process, and one of the biggest problems we have was that every time we do editing at 2am or 3am, when we're cutting the food segment, we really can smell the food, it really comes out! And after filming a place, and realizing the place has disappeared, emotionally it's a bit of a... burden, I don't know what you call it, emotionally we need some time to recover.

Question from audience: Did you manage to take any record of the Seventh Storey Hotel, before it was demolished?

Royston: It's a pity we do not have.

Eva: Just personal photos.

Question from audience: How about, do you intend to cover People's Park, because they're going to remove one of the buildings there to give way for SMRT.

Royston: I think in Old Places we've actually covered Yangtze Cinema, so that's one place. We need to see how the response for this one goes before we can decide on the third part. Actually I'm very scared about this question, you can see their (Eva and Victric) faces all turning green!

(laughter from audience)

Victric: It seems like it's becoming our responsibility to record old places! We're very happy and we hope that you guys enjoyed the film. And we hope that we inspire you to move forward to record your own old places and old romances, instead of leaving to us! So if you can, in any way, if you know of any place that you used to have fond memories of, please go ahead and document them in any way that you can, because eventually if we ever do something like this, and if we can't find any more materials, you guys will be the ones to supply all these materials.

Comment from audience: Maybe you can consider this as part of a syllabus. I think it's good education, and a kind of history that should be included, at least from primary or secondary school onwards, as part of the curriculum that the students will understand where we've come from. Like for me, I'm in my twilight. My parents decided whether they were to be in Singapore or Malaysia, so my mom is an a-go-go girl, and my father is actually a Nanyang kind of, square-spectacled guy. So what you've shown, is that there was a lot of movement in the past, and I think my kid needs to know so I've brought my kid along today.
Royston: Thank you so much. We have a Facebook group, it's actually called Old Places. Actually a lot of stories have been contributed through this Facebook group, so do join us and contribute stories for us so that we can prepare ourselves. In fact a lot of the stories were from these contributors, and some of them are here today. So please join our group.

Moderator: And please support local filmmaking. You can purchase the DVDs outside, give them out as Christmas presents, New Year presents, and there would be an autograph session. Once again we would like to thank Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng!

Royston: I just want to say a very big thank you to each and every one of you who are here today, because part of the proceeds from the ticket sales, as this is project about love, we're going to give part of the proceeds to Action for Aids to help the HIV patients. So thank you so much for supporting us and coming to this event. Thank you!

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