Director Royston Tan draws on childhood memories for telemovie The Provision Shop

Left: Royston Tan (centre) with his aunts, grandmother and younger brother (right) at the family's provision shop in Lorong Chuan. Above: Tan's new telemovie, The Provision Shop.
Tan's new telemovie, The Provision Shop. PHOTOS: TRIBAL WORLDWIDE, COURTESY OF ROYSTON TAN
Left: Royston Tan (centre) with his aunts, grandmother and younger brother (right) at the family's provision shop in Lorong Chuan. Above: Tan's new telemovie, The Provision Shop.
Royston Tan (centre) with his aunts, grandmother and younger brother (right) at the family's provision shop in Lorong Chuan.
Left: Royston Tan (centre) with his aunts, grandmother and younger brother (right) at the family's provision shop in Lorong Chuan. Above: Tan's new telemovie, The Provision Shop.
FILM-MAKER ROYSTON TAN (above), who says his film, The Provision Shop, is not about recreating his family's provision shop.

Childhood memories of his family's provision shop inspire Royston Tan's new telemovie, The Provision Shop

Film-maker Royston Tan lived in a kampung in Lorong Chuan until he was 10 and spent many happy hours at the provision shop his family owned.

His father was in charge of deliveries while his mother took care of the shop. Other relatives helped out as well.

More than just a provision shop, it was also a focal point for the community.

Tan, 39, says: "It was the community centre where people exchanged information. When people went overseas, they would hand their house keys to us for safekeeping. The trust element was always there."

Once, floods that reached as high as an adult's waist swept into the area and the Tans' neighbours helped them move the goods out of harm's way.

It's all new items now. Mine was in this kampung and the architecture was different. There's no Rediffusion box anymore. Even if I tried to recreate everything, it's just the form, it's not the essence of the place.

FILM-MAKER ROYSTON TAN, who says his film, The Provision Shop, is not about recreating his family's provision shop

The film-maker recalls with a laugh: "I was still in kindergarten and they carried me and my brother and put us on the highest shelf."

He explores the relationships and stories that take place in and around such a space in the telemovie The Provision Shop, which airs tomorrow on Channel 8.

It comprises four stories involving characters such as a shop owner, his daughter, an ice delivery man and a maid. The cast features familiar faces from the small screen and the stage, including Sora Ma, Marcus Chin, Li Yinzhu and Siti Khalijah.

Tan, whose output has included nostalgia-laden documentaries Old Places (2010) and Old Romances (2012), says he had more than nostalgia on his mind when working on his latest project.

"What makes it different this time is the question, 'Why is this place able to adapt to changes and still be around?'" says Tan, who shot the movie partly on location in Rosyth Road at the 60-year-old Tee Seng Store with its zinc roof and wooden display racks.

To further create an authentic environment, he and his team spared no effort in tracking down items such as a hanging Milo tin can that is used as a cash container and the out-of-production old-school snack Kaka.

"On our final day of shooting, we received a phone call from the makers of the snack in Malaysia, saying that they were clearing their warehouse and had found a box of 30 packets. We were so excited we got our people to wait at Customs to collect it," he says.

In the end, though, the movie, which was filmed in collaboration with advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Singapore and the Ministry of Communications and Information, is not about recreating the provision shop of his childhood.

He points out: "It's all new items now. Mine was in this kampung and the architecture was different. There's no Rediffusion box anymore. Even if I tried to recreate everything, it's just the form, it's not the essence of the place."

What he misses most is that sense of trust and "renqingwei", or human warmth.

"If you go to a supermarket now, it's not a very personal relationship. It's even worse now, just pay using a machine and don't even deal with a human."

•The Provision Shop airs tomorrow on Channel 8 at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Place of provisions and human warmth'. Print Edition | Subscribe