Immersive film Fever Room offers more than a movie

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul created Fever Room, which complements his 2015 film Cemetery Of Splendour.
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul created Fever Room, which complements his 2015 film Cemetery Of Splendour.PHOTOS: KICK THE MACHINE
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul created Fever Room, which complements his 2015 film Cemetery Of Splendour.
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul created Fever Room, which complements his 2015 film Cemetery Of Splendour.PHOTOS: KICK THE MACHINE

Award-winning Thai film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's immersive film experience Fever Room opens at Victoria Theatre tomorrow.

He describes the work as "expanded cinema", in which the audience gets a different perspective of film than is usually achieved from the viewers' seats.

Fever Room is presented as part of The Curators Academy, a new initiative by local arts group TheatreWorks meant to nurture curators and arts practitioners through workshops and exposure to genre-bending performances.

Fever Room complements Apichatpong's 2015 film about sleeping soldiers, Cemetery Of Splendour, which has never been shown in Thailand because its themes of a troubled and repressed country risk upsetting the ruling military regime. Cemetery Of Splendour has, however, toured film festivals and been shown in the United States and Britain.

The Asian Arts Theatre in Gwangju, South Korea, provided funding for Cemetery Of Splendour on condition that the director produce a work of performing art.

This was a challenge for Apichatpong, who says: "I'm pretty far from theatre. I don't get it at all." While touring the theatre, however, he had a breakthrough while standing on stage and looking at the rows of empty seats before him.

"That was the start, when I wanted the audience to experience what I felt. I asked myself, for this performance, would it be possible for the audience themselves to be part of the dream?"

  • VIEW IT / FEVER ROOM

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Tomorrow , 10pm; Friday, 5, 7.30 and 10pm; Saturday, 2.30, 5, 7.30 and 10pm; Sunday, noon, 2.30 and 5pm

    ADMISSION: $20 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Thai with English subtitles

In Cemetery Of Splendour, Thai soldiers are affected by narcolepsy and a housewife, Jen, navigates the borders between her reality and their dreams.

The director says Fever Room will hopefully make the audience feel part of the film's dreamscapes too. "For this show, I experimented with the lighting designer and graphic designer for the feeling of drifting or being on some border. What my work has focused on for a long time is the border between reality and fiction and life and death."

His film about a similar brush between the real and surreal, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Apichatpong, who turns 48 in July, was born in Khon Kaen in north-eastern Thailand, the location of Cemetery Of Splendour. "As a kid in a small town, there was nothing to do. Movies allowed me, when I was young, to see the world," he says, adding with a laugh: "When I make movies now, it takes me to different places, like film festivals."

In 2016, he was one of several directors commissioned by National Gallery Singapore to make a short film based on works in its South-east Asian art collection for an anthology shown at the Singapore International Film Festival.

He says visual art is "closer" to cinema, but theatre is something he is still learning about.

What he likes about theatre is its flexibility: "For a feature film, once you finish it, you can't do anything about it. For Fever Room, I keep changing it", based on the layout of the performance space and audience feedback at previous sessions.

He likes to keep the audience in the dark about the nature of the immersive experience. "I don't even allow documentation of the show or photos to go out," he says. "It's quite sacred, you have to experience it yourself."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Experience a film's dreamscapes'. Print Edition | Subscribe