Upcoming Eric Khoo film dedicated to late horror writer Damien Sin

Mee Pok Man, which starred Michelle Goh and Joe Ng (both above), was based on a short story in Damien Sin’s Classic Singapore Horror Stories. -- PHOTO: ZHAO WEI FILMS
Mee Pok Man, which starred Michelle Goh and Joe Ng (both above), was based on a short story in Damien Sin’s Classic Singapore Horror Stories. -- PHOTO: ZHAO WEI FILMS
Director Eric Khoo, who is dedicating his new film to the late author Damien Sin (above). -- PHOTO: FLAME OF THE FOREST PUBLISHING
Director Eric Khoo, who is dedicating his new film to the late author Damien Sin (above). -- PHOTO: FLAME OF THE FOREST PUBLISHING

Eric Khoo says the late horror writer wrote Mee Pok Man, which launched the director's career

Eric Khoo wants to set the record straight about his new movie, In The Room, due to be released in a few months.

Too much has been made about its erotic themes, he says. The work is not a sex movie, he stresses to Life!.

Comprising several linked stories spanning more than 50 years, it operates on several levels. One key element is that it is an ode to the national cultural trends, landmarks and pop music.

"It's a look at Singapore through the decades. It's a homage to the country."

But there is one level he wants to point out and that is how it is dedicated to the memory of the writer who helped Khoo, 49, launch his film-making career.

Foong Yu Lei, better known as Damien Sin, penned Khoo's first feature Mee Pok Man (1995) and its success launched his career.

The story of a lonely, simple-minded noodle seller (played by Joe Ng) who falls in love with a prostitute (Michelle Goh) and becomes intimate with her in a bizarre fashion, won international festival acclaim.

It was based on the short story One Last Cold Kiss, which appeared in the second volume of Classic Singapore Horror Stories, a series of bestsellers authored by Sin.

The tale has the classic Sin ingredients - humour that is both pointed and profane; quotes from rock songs, disdain for social elites, and a doomed, emotionally vulnerable protagonist who is one of life's losers.

The writer cultivated a public image that was darkly glamorous and at odds with Singapore's focus on certificates and getting ahead. The A-level dropout, who played in several glam rock bands, spoke publicly about his struggles with drug addiction.

Working with publisher Alex Chacko at Flame Of The Forest, he produced four volumes of the Classic Singapore Horror Stories, a book of poems, and a book with both poems and short stories.

Chacko considered Sin a close friend as well as a partner in work.

"The average Singaporean loves his books to bits. He wrote bestsellers that sold 30,000 to 40,000 copies. They are selling even now. His stories had social commentary about the rich and the poor, about winners and losers and beauty and human weakness," says the 56-year-old publisher.

According to a previous report, Sin died of a drug overdose in 2011. He was 45 years old.

Khoo had met Sin just before his death in 2011 and was shocked to learn of his passing last year. "I was upset. I owe a lot to him," says Khoo, who will formally dedicate In The Room to the late author.

The film's anthology format is an appropriate tribute to a writer known mainly for his short stories, he adds.

The new film features a character with a supernatural edge that will remind viewers of the author. "There is an essence of him in the film," Khoo explains.

The two began their relationship when Sin called Khoo, who had gained some notoriety after his short film Pain was banned in Singapore in 1994 for its depictions of torture (the ban was later lifted).

Sensing a kindred spirit, he sought Khoo out, inviting the film-maker and graphic- novel illustrator to create drawings for his second horror compilation.

Sin, Khoo and Chacko met at Chacko's former office in Yishun. Khoo took the job.

"I wanted to do a feature film but I had no material to work with. One Last Cold Kiss stayed in my head. But it was too macabre," he says.

Khoo offered a few suggestions, such as changing the job of the protagonist from mortuary assistant to noodle seller. Sin took up Khoo's ideas and, in two weeks, returned with a finished script.

The director says: "The film was a success, it went to more than 30 festivals. If I hadn't made Mee Pok Man or had made another film, it might have died and that would have been it for my career. On the strength of Mee Pok Man, I'm still here."

johnlui@sph.com.sg