Singapore film The Return screens here after prestigious Venice Film Festival

The Return, by Green Zeng and June Chua (both above), is a film about a political detainee (Chen Tian Xiang) and his reunion with his children after being released from prison.
The Return, by Green Zeng and June Chua (both above), is a film about a political detainee (Chen Tian Xiang) and his reunion with his children after being released from prison. PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI, MIRTILLO FILMS
The Return, by Green Zeng and June Chua (both left), is a film about a political detainee (Chen Tian Xiang, above) and his reunion with his children after being released from prison.
The Return, by Green Zeng and June Chua, is a film about a political detainee (above) and his reunion with his children after being released from prison

The film about a political detainee's release plays here tomorrow after being shown at the Venice Film Festival

When artist and film-maker Green Zeng's debut feature The Return was selected for the Venice International Film Critics' Week in July, it took a while for it to sink in.

He says: "It never really hit me until I was on the red carpet and saw the Singapore flag. I always thought they simply put any flag up there, but I found out it happens only when your film has been selected."

The Return is about a political detainee's uneasy reunion with his children after his release from years of imprisonment. It will be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival tomorrow. It was scripted by Zeng, 43, and his wife, June Chua, 47, who also served as executive producer.

Royston Tan's debut feature 15 (2003) was the first Singapore film to be shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2003. Artist Charles Lim's short film, All The Lines Flow Out, received a Special Mention Award at the 2011 edition.

  • BOOK IT / THE RETURN

  • WHERE: Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore


    WHEN: Tomorrow, 9.30pm


    ADMISSION: $12 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Zeng made a short film, Sentosa: Pulau Blakang Mati (2007), about a political detainee revisiting the site of his detention on the island. The Return is more than just a simple extension of that work.

He says: "On a personal level, it is an homage to my father and the people of his generation. The main character is very much like my father - Chinese-educated, interested in politics, history and student activism." His father, an electrical engineer, died in 2013.

Perhaps as a result of his father's influence, Zeng has always been fascinated with historiography and he has been exploring the construction of history and its relationship with identity in the past few years.

The political aspect of history can be a touchy topic for artists to approach, though.

Film-maker Tan Pin Pin's documentary about political exiles, To Singapore, With Love (2014), was given a Not Allowed For All Ratings classification, while Sonny Liew's graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015), which spanned more than 60 years of local history, had its National Arts Council grant revoked because of "sensitive content".

The Return has been rated PG13 and Zeng and Chua were always confident it would pass the censors.

Zeng says: "I don't do so-called sensitive topics in an in-your-face manner. Instead, I have respect for the audience. I'd like to encourage people to discuss the work in a calm and rational manner."

In a year of celebrations commemorating Singapore's 50 years of independence, his contemplative work is an invitation to look at things from a different perspective. To him, history is not just about nostalgia, but also something to be explored and better understood.

He adds: "That's one of the things the work is supposed to encourage the viewer to think about."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'The Return returns here for screening'. Print Edition | Subscribe