See what Singapore looked like, in the restored 1960 film Lion City

Mr Ang Hao Sai is painting the movie poster for the 1960 film, Lion City, which stars Lian Tong Seng and Wong Ting Ming (both above). -- PHOTO: CATHAYKERIS FILMS
Mr Ang Hao Sai is painting the movie poster for the 1960 film, Lion City, which stars Lian Tong Seng and Wong Ting Ming (both above). -- PHOTO: CATHAYKERIS FILMS
Mr Ang Hao Sai is painting the movie poster for the 1960 film, Lion City, which stars Lian Tong Seng and Wong Ting Ming. -- PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Mr Ang Hao Sai is painting the movie poster for the 1960 film, Lion City, which stars Lian Tong Seng and Wong Ting Ming. -- PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Five Singapore films from the 1950s to 1970s will be screened free, with their original hand-painted posters recreated

Five films from the golden age of Singapore cinema from the 1950s to 1970s will be restored and screened for the public for free at Capitol Theatre from Aug 20 to 23.

Step back in time with the 1960 black-and-white Chinese film Lion City. Gaze upon the island from the top of Mount Faber without cable car lines cutting up the view and see Raffles Place starting to come alive as a financial hub.

"You see the first HDB flats and the lives within the flats themselves. For Singaporeans, it will be very nostalgic, especially for the pioneer generation," adds Ms Karen Chan, executive director of the Asian Film Archive.

The screenings are part of the SG50 celebrations. Details on how to obtain tickets will be released later.

The other four titles are Malay period action drama Chu Chu Datok Merah (1963), the early P. Ramlee drama Patah Hati (1952), Hokkien opera Taming Of The Princess (1958) and Tamil romantic comedy Ninaithale Inikkum (1979).

The project, called Spotlight On Singapore Cinema, is led by the Media Development Authority in collaboration with the National Library Board, National Archives of Singapore and Asian Film Archive, National Heritage Board and the National Museum Cinematheque.

The plot of Lion City centres on a female factory worker's romance. It is much more than that, though, as the movie "really does capture the essence of the time, how Singapore was developing and the issues of the time". Ms Chan adds that it touches on day-to-day topics such as education and making a living.

Apart from being a valuable historical document socially, Lion City is also important for its unique place in local film history.

It was the first Chinese film produced by Cathay-Keris in post-war Singapore and it was one of the few movies shot from such a perspective at a time when Malay titles dominated the industry. More than 400 Singapore films were made in the 1950s to 1970s. Unfortunately, many are lost.

Spotlight On Singapore Cinema also celebrates another icon - artists of hand-painted movie billboards that were ubiquitous in the old days.

To bring back the movie-going experience of the 1950s to 1970s, Mr Ang Hao Sai, 64, will recreate the posters of the five restored films and they will be displayed at Capitol Theatre during the screenings in August.

He is one of the last surviving artisans of the movie-poster painting trade. He left school at the age of 12 to pursue his interest in art and he says in Hokkien: "I would get a zero for my studies but when it came to drawing, I would top the class."

His passion for his craft is clear and he laments the decline of hand-drawn posters and its substitution with inkjet-printed pieces. "There's no art in that," he laments.

The sense of achievement he gets comes from the feedback he receives.

"When people say that what I paint is beautiful, I'm really happy and that's enough. When people say that it doesn't resemble the actors, then I get dejected."

He started his own firm, Hao Meng Art Studio, in 1987 and it takes on jobs such as scenery painting, backdrops for company functions as well as digital inkjet printing.

His eldest son, Adrian, 41, runs the outfit today but Mr Ang continues to be active.

He says: "I'll keep on painting until I can't do it anymore. This is an art form of Singapore."

bchan@sph.com.sg