Royston Tan to produce film anthology about how one makes Singapore home

Letters From The Motherland is one of the five shorts in 667.
Letters From The Motherland is one of the five shorts in 667. PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE CULTURAL CENTRE

Two years after he helmed the SG50 omnibus film 7 Letters (2015) to critical success, home-grown film-maker Royston Tan is producing another anthology of shorts about Singapore, by some of the country's most acclaimed directors.

The new anthology, titled 667, features five shorts about the search for one's cultural roots and how one makes Singapore home. 

The individual segments are helmed by Eva Tang, director of xinyao documentary The Songs We Sang (2015); Kirsten Tan, director of acclaimed drama Pop Aye (2017); Liao Jiekai, who made coming-of-age film Red Dragonflies (2010); He Shuming, director of short film And The Wind Falls (2014); as well as new film-maker Jun Chong, who makes his debut here.

Each segment is told in a different Chinese dialect: Tang's short, The Veiled Willow, is in Cantonese; Tan's Wu Song Sha Shao is in Teochew; Liao's Nocturne is in Hokkien; He's Letters From The Motherland is in Hainanese; and Jun Chong's Ke is in Hakka.

The anthology, which was commissioned by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC), is produced for the centre's inaugural SCCC Cultural Extravaganza, an eight-day festival of events starting on May 20 that showcases Singapore's Chinese culture.

At a press event held at the centre to promote the anthology yesterday, the film-makers talked about how much more appreciation they have for their respective dialects after working on the film. 

Tang, 45, says: "My film is set in the 1960s, but Cantonese has changed so much over the years as people start using slang. So, I worked closely with a Cantonese- speaking writer to get the dialogue as accurate to the time as possible. In doing that, I realised just how beautifully nuanced the Cantonese dialect is." 

Liao, 32, shares a similar experience, saying: "When we started rehearsals for the film, we suddenly realised that all of the actors in my segment each came in with his brand of Hokkien - meaning that they wouldn't be believable as a single family. For example, one person spoke Taiwanese Hokkien, while another actor spoke Hokkien with a Teochew accent. 

"You don't think about this kind of things until you start production, but there was the additional challenge of making everyone sound as authentic and similar as possible." 

The anthology is titled 667 because it represents the average size in square feet of an HDB flat in Singapore.

Royston Tan, 40, is known for naming his works with numbers such as 881 (2007) and 3688 (2015).

The 40-year-old says: "The HDB flat is something that most Singaporeans are familiar with.

"It is home for many Singaporeans and it has brought people of all walks of life together to form a single community. 

"As this film is meant to be about how people find their roots and make homes for themselves in Singapore, I thought that the HDB flat would work as a good symbol here." 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Royston Tan produces new anthology of S'pore shorts'. Print Edition | Subscribe