MyTurf

Places lost and found in S'pore movies

On the site of the old Great World Amusement Park (above), which was featured in Kelvin Tong's 2011 movie It's A Great Great World, is mixed-use development Great World City (below). Mr Peter Chong in a recent photo taken at the Singapore River, a si
Mr Peter Chong in a recent photo taken at the Singapore River, a site that was used in the 1973 movie Ring Of Fury that he acted in. Another location used in the movie was the old Satay Club, where the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay now stands.ST PHOTO: ZHAKI ABDULLAH

MyTurf is a fortnightly series that aims to share untold stories of our neighbourhoods. In this instalment, we look at sites in Singapore where movies were shot and which have vanished or been transformed.

As a teenager in the 1950s , Peter Chong would walk from his house in Ah Hood Road to nearby Jalan Ampas.

There, at Shaw Brothers' Malay Film Productions studios, he and his friends would watch movies being filmed.

"A lot of the movies being shot then were comedies, so we would laugh loudly during funny scenes and get chased out," the 76-year- old remembers with a smile.

Mr Chong - a karate master with his own dojo - would go on to star in indie movie Ring Of Fury, directed in 1973 by James Sebastian, who later became a novelist, and the late TV producer Tony Yeow.

Considered Singapore's first gongfu film, it was made at the height of the martial arts film craze but banned here until 1994 for its depiction of gangsterism in the Republic. A restored version of the film will be screened on Friday next week at the Asian Restored Classics festival organised by the Asian Film Archive.

In an ever-changing landscape, Singapore movies such as Ring Of Fury have captured places lost to the wrecking ball, and cast everyday ones in new light.


Tongkang boats lining the Singapore River, a site that was used in the 1973 movie Ring Of Fury. PHOTO: ASIAN FILM ARCHIVE

Many of the sights in Ring Of Fury are no longer around - the Satay Club at the Esplanade, where Mr Chong's character Fei Pao sold noodles, has made way for the "durian" domes; gone too are the tongkang boats lining the Singapore River, where Fei Pao confronted thugs who tried to extort money from him.

Much of the Singapore seen in the movies of the past has been lost due to urban redevelopment, said video artist and film researcher Toh Hun Ping.


Another location used in the movie Ring Of Fury was the old Satay Club (above), where the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay now stands. PHOTO: ASIAN FILM ARCHIVE

Citing the 1998 Jack Neo comedy, Ms Karen Chan, executive director of the Asian Film Archive, said: "Even for movies shot during the revival years in the late 1990s, like Money No Enough, there are sights that have literally vanished."

 

She gave the example of old-style cathode ray tube TV sets seen in some of these movies.

But some places still look more or less as they were in the old movies, said Mr Toh, who runs the Singapore Film Locations Archive website, which documents these sites.

These include the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, where popular films such as 1958's Serangan Orang Minyak (The Oily Man Strikes) and 1956's Anakku Sazali (My Son Sazali) were shot.

The rock formations on Pulau Sekudu - off Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin - have also remained untouched, and are still easily identifiable as the location where legendary warrior Hang Tuah led an attack against pirates in the eponymous 1956 film.

FUNNY SCENES

A lot of the movies being shot then were comedies, so we would laugh loudly during funny scenes and get chased out.

MR PETER CHONG, who, in his teens, watched movies being filmed at Shaw Brothers' Malay Film Productions studios.

The Tampines sand quarry, where a climatic battle scene in Ring Of Fury was filmed, also remains.

If early Singapore movies captured its kampungs and downtown areas like Bugis Street, those of more recent vintage often have the ubiquitous Housing Board estate or coffee shop as their backdrops.

The human dramas in Eric Khoo's 12 Storeys (1997) unfold in old-style HDB blocks in Stirling Road, Queenstown. And, in his film Mee Pok Man (1995), Hua Bee coffee shop in Tiong Bahru was where the hawker hero meets the woman of his dreams.

The block of flats where Joe Ng's titular character lived were represented by the former quarters of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway) staff, in Spooner Road in Tanjong Pagar. They now serve as rental flats.

Meanwhile, the skyscrapers of the Central Business District, seen in the opening war sequence of Jack Neo's 2012 national service blockbuster Ah Boys To Men, have replaced sights such as the Victoria Concert and Memorial Hall as symbols of a modern Singapore.

The latter was seen, for instance, in the multi-talented P. Ramlee's 1956 directorial debut Penarik Beca (Rickshaw Puller).


On the site of the old Great World Amusement Park (above), which was featured in Kelvin Tong's 2011 movie It's A Great Great World, is mixed-use development Great World City. ST FILE PHOTO


On the site of the old Great World Amusement Park (above), which was featured in Kelvin Tong's 2011 movie It's A Great Great World, is mixed-use development Great World City. ST FILE PHOTO

HISTORICAL VALUE

They serve as a moving documentation of what our landscape is changing into and becoming.

MS KAREN CHAN, executive director of the Asian Film Archive, who notes that films have a role in preserving Singapore's culture and allowing Singaporeans to better appreciate their history.

Some film-makers have also tried to recapture Singapore's past, as Kelvin Tong did in 2011's It's A Great Great World when he recreated the Great World Amusement Park, which closed in 1964 although cinemas, cabarets and restaurants continued operations at the premises until 1978.

This comes as others conjure up existing locations with tech wizardry - the three distinctive towers of the Marina Bay Sands were recreated in the Vancouver studios of visual effects firm Scanline VFX for the 2016 Hollywood movie, Independence Day: Resurgence.

Indeed, many famous or familiar spots on this sunny island - be they gone or otherwise - have been immortalised in movies filmed here.

As Ms Chan notes, films have a role in preserving Singapore's culture and allowing Singaporeans to better appreciate their history.

"They serve as a moving documentation of what our landscape is changing into and becoming."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Places lost and found in S'pore movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe