New Hollywood thriller Hitman shot here: Other times Singapore featured in pop culture

MPH Bookstores can also be seen Hitman: Agent 47's new trailer. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
MPH Bookstores can also be seen Hitman: Agent 47's new trailer. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
Singapore's iconic blue Comfort taxis are seen in the new trailer of upcoming Hollywood film Hitman: Agent 47. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE
Singapore's iconic blue Comfort taxis are seen in the new trailer of upcoming Hollywood film Hitman: Agent 47. -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - There are plenty of guns, fights and fiery explosions in the just-released trailer of upcoming Hollywood film Hitman: Agent 47. But if you are a true-blue Singaporean, only two things should matter: MPH Bookstores and blue Comfort taxis.

These quintessentially Singapore things are the real thrills for locals. Expect more Singapore snapshots in the film, which was shot in Singapore last year and will open here on Aug 27.

The film, which stars Zachary Quinto and Rupert Friend, also shot at iconic attractions like the Singapore Flyer and Gardens by the Bay, but it was the familiar sight of local taxis in the two-and-a-half-minute clip that have got Singaporeans talking.

But in case you were wondering, Hitman is not the only high-profile movie to have been filmed on location here - here are some famous examples, as well as other notable pop culture references to Singapore.

Singapore (1947)

The first Hollywood film to be set here is called - what else? - Singapore, a Casablanca-inspired romance drama starring Fred MacMurray as a pearl smuggler who returns after World War II in search of his lover (played by sex symbol Ava Gardner) and stash of pearls.

The tagline from its trailer reads: "Singapore, city without a conscience".

It was remade as Istanbul in 1957, with the film shot in Turkey instead.

Wit's End (1969)


A cinema still of 1969 film Wit's End.  PHOTO: VIRGINIA FUNG

B-movie Wit's End, otherwise known by its other ludicrous title of The G.I. Executioner, is touted as the first US film to be shot entirely in Singapore.

Filmed here in November and December 1969, it tells the story of washed-up ex-Marine Dave Dearborn, who gets caught up in a seedy web involving the CIA, foreign spies and local gangsters.

Chinatown, Arab Street, Bugis Street and the historic Raffles Hotel on Beach Road are featured in the film, which contains plenty of action sequences and nudity.

In a 2013 interview with local film website SINdie (the movie premiered in Singapore for the first time in January that year), film director Joel Reed admitted he had been "totally misinformed about Singapore".

"Before I came, I was told that it was a sinful, brothel-loaded, darkly romantic and dreary place," he said. "When I arrived, I found a vibrant, growing metropolis with a few gems of nostalgia that could have been capitalised on."

Saint Jack (1979)


A cinema still of 1979 film Saint Jack.  PHOTO: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE

US author Paul Theroux's 1973 novel Saint Jack, which depicts the worst of the Lion City's sleazy underbelly, notoriously spawned a Hollywood film by acclaimed director Peter Bogdanovich six years later.

It follows the life of Jack Flowers, an American pimp in Singapore who tries to strike it rich by opening a brothel and ends up in a confrontation with the local Chinese mafia.

In order to film the movie illicitly here, the production crew famously created a fake film synopsis called Jack Of Hearts. It was subsequently banned in Singapore from 1980 to 2006.

A Straits Times report in 1980 quoted authorities as saying they were "aghast at its portrayal of Singapore as a seedy fleshpot of a country, rife with gangsters, pimps and prostitutes".

Famous scenes in the film include its opening sequence, a 360 degree pan of the old waterfront - then still a working harbour - the General Post Office (now Fullerton Hotel) and Bugis Street, once a notorious haven for trans women.

2000 AD (2000)


Aaron Kwok stealing a police car on the set of 2000 AD.  PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER 

Filmed in Hong Kong and Singapore between March and May 1999, this Hong Kong actioner directed by Gordan Chan starred Hong Kong's Aaron Kwok and Daniel Wu, along with local names Phyllis Quek, James Lye and Cynthia Koh.

The premise revolves a computer geek (Kwok), embroiled in a computer virus conspiracy, who is bailed out by an undercover cop from Singapore (Lye).

Memorable scenes? A thrilling car chase that ravages Boat Quay.

In The Mood For Love (2000)


Tony Leung (left) and Maggie Cheung in 2000's In The Mood For Love.  PHOTO: WARNER BROS 

Decorated Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai's evocative masterpiece is set briefly in Singapore, when Tony Leung Chiu Wai's journalist character relocates here in the 1960s to take up a job with local paper Sin Chew Jit Poh.

Also starring Maggie Cheung as a married woman, this tale of forbidden love contains a memorable scene of palm trees set to the strains of Bengawan Solo.

Another of Wong's films, 2046 (a loose sequel to In The Mood For Love), also references Singapore.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (2007)


Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat as pirate Sao Feng in 2007's Pirates Of The Carribean: At World's End.  PHOTO: DISNEY 

Who can forget pirate lord Sao Feng's (played by Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat) much-parodied "Welcome to Singapore" line in this third instalment of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise?

The film's soundtrack also featured a 3 min 40 sec musical theme titled Singapore, composed and conducted by Oscar winner Hans Zimmer. It incorporates Asian instruments such as the erhu.

There are also fictional scenes of an 18th century Singapore in the critically-panned film, although Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has a killer jokey reference to this Little Red Dot.

Cannot get enough of the pop culture references? Here are some honourable mentions of Singapore in other media.

More films

In 2005's Batman Begins, the Dark Knight (played by Christian Bale) is told by butler Alfred Pennyworth that some of his Batsuit's parts could be shipped via Singapore. Ditto the 1995 Keanu Reeves science-fiction vehicle Johnny Mnemonic, in which he gets his cybernetic brain implants from the Republic.

Another name-drop occurs in Peter Jackson's remake of the classic King Kong, in which Jack Black's character said he planned to shoot a movie here.

Comics and books

In his 1986 sci-fi novel Count Zero, cyberpunk-pioneering author William Gibson weaves a story of industrial espionage and envisions Singapore as a premier biomedical hub. One of the book's main characters, mercenary soldier Turner, gets blown up in a bombing and undergoes a three-month reconstructive surgery in the island-state.


The April 2005 issue of DC Comics' Birds of Prey, which was set in Singapore.  PHOTO: DC COMICS

DC Comics' Birds Of Prey series paid homage to Singapore in its April 2005 issue, with the heroes engaging in local pastimes such as eating chilli crab and complaining about the humid weather, as well as battling a villian called Ah Beng.

Two issues in volume one (2009) of US comic book series Irredeemable, which follows the fall from grace of the world's greatest superhero Plutonian, detailed how Singapore was blown up and sank into the ocean.

Cartoons

Popular 1998 Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop has shown the Merlion in one of its episodes. One of its characters, Faye Valentine, is implied to be from Singapore.

Episode 16 (which aired in October 1985) of old-school cartoon franchise M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armored Strike Kommand), about an underground task force fighting a criminal organisation, centres around the heroes investigating a series of temple thefts in Singapore.

Video games

A signboard pointing to Changi Airport appeared in the trailer for shooting game Battlefield 4, while the game's campaign mode involves you escaping from Shanghai to Singapore.

Cyberpunk-inspired game Deus Ex: Human Revolution also features Singapore prominently.

Music

All-female Japanese pop punk band Shonen Knife's 1986 album Pretty Little Baka Guy has a song called Ah Singapore.

It has lyrics like "You can't buy chewing gum/Anywhere in Singapore/But you can buy/Peppermint candy."

mklee@sph.com.sg

Sources: The Straits Times, SINdie, Tech In Asia, World Film Locations: Singapore