Saturday, December 15, 2012

Old Romances (老情人 / Lao Qing Ren)

Guess Where?

One good turn deserves another. When Old Places made its debut on television, many who missed it clamoured for a re-run, and it did. Since its debut two years ago, it has been screened multiple times at various venues, coupled with a DVD launch of its own. With Singapore's landscape that is ever changing, more "old" places, places that serve as a special venue to some, while to others hold nostalgic memories, get highlighted with a sense of urgency, and through the Old Places Facebook page, become a call to the filmmakers to once again capture a handful of them, which brings us to Old Romances.

Treatment wise, the filmmaking trio of Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng adopt similar techniques in the capture of the various venues that are under the threat of change. With three cinematographers this time round to beef up their arsenal of those willing, and able to be on stand by to capture sites that have been earmarked for destruction, the consistent look and feel to Old Places continued, which serves well when the companion films eventually get screened, or re-watched, side by side. And thematically, the title evokes memories of people, and the love stories as told by the various narrators, whether be it with the places featured in this documentary, or evoking sweet remembrance of lovers that once were, who had shared in the nostalgic look back down memory lane.

There are 45 locations featured in Old Romances, bookended by what was probably one of the largest changes in Singapore's landscape in the closing down of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, and moving up the railway from down south to the northern part of Singapore in Woodlands. Going with it are not only the station itself, with its huge waiting halls and food stalls, but the tracks that had cut through vertically down the island, with vast changes expected with the pockets of land surrounding the tracks that were unusable then, but not any more.

Technically the documentary has to continue in its style, which suited it well, with narration telling snippets of interesting nuggets surrounding a location, whether factually, or in anecdotical fashion, which inevitably includes locally flavoured humour. In Old Places the narration was largely made up by the man in the street from all walks of life. Now there's a slight difference in the presentation of these stories in Old Romances, probably in keeping with the theme and to live up to its title, in that a large number of these stories were told by the location proprietors, or their descendants, which adds more than the usual authenticity since they are intertwined with the places they help set up and establish, and have become icons in their own right amongst the multitude of loyal customers they had been serving. Not only do the places need to be preserved on a film archive, but it has taken more of an organic approach to also document the people, from a community centre pageant winner to a dentist still deft with his old tools of the trade.

One of the most successful documentaries done locally, and its success probably attributed to people sensing an urgent need to preserve some form of heritage in our short history, this is keenly felt when the directors revealed during a Q&A that 40% of what had been captured over the two year period of making the film, are no longer around today. But thanks to film, their slice of history can be preserved in a way, with expectations that will inevitably grow for the filmmaking trio to continue building on their good foundation to perhaps make this into a viable series. A definite recommendation!

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