Lim Kay Tong as LKY in 1965 movie

From ‘Lim Kay Tong to portray Lee Kuan Yew in SG50 film’, 8 Oct 2014, article by Genevieve Sarah Loh, Today

After an extensive two-year search for the right actor to play the nation’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the upcoming SG50 film, 1965, producers of the movie have picked veteran local thespian Lim Kay Tong to fill the role.

The film has been five years in the making, starting off as a biopic about Mr Lee, but evolving into a story about the time the nation experienced racial riots. As the film’s executive producer Daniel Yun told TODAY last month, it was about “how fragile racial harmony can be and how we can take it for granted”.

In their search for a leading actor, the producers spoke to almost 20 people, including local actor-turned-Hollywood mainstay Chin Han.

Interestingly, Lim Kay Tong was cast in the lead role of the 2004 local film Perth as a taxi driver prophetically named HARRY LEE. Though LKT seems to be a shoo-in for the role despite the lack of physical resemblance (LKY is taller, for example), I would be more interested to see who the other candidates were besides Chin Han. I’d expect the criteria to be English-speaking, Singaporean with some Hollywood experience preferred, and I can’t even count the number of other local actors who could meet the minimum standard with one hand. In terms of Hollywood blockbusters, Chin Han in fact beats Kay Tong hands down if you go by number of appearances in movies, though his roles were largely restricted to bit parts, with the exception of the Dark Knight where he played a typical Asian scumbag (which LKY is so obviously not). Chin Han’s age of a youthful 44 also matches that of LKY in 1965 (42). Maybe having ‘Masters Of the Sea’ as part of his filmography was the deal-breaker.

I can only think of a total of 3 other actors who could fit the bill. Edmund Chen, for example, is effectively bilingual, though Hollywood may only remember him for his role in Street Fighter:The Legend of Chun Li, where he gets a few kicks in with the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s Balrog. I’ve a feeling he may be too good-looking for the role too. Adrian Pang, a solid dramatic actor and recognised thespian himself, worked alongside Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game. The last one is the just married Ivan Heng, who was in Luc Beeson’s Fifth Element. So who were the other 15, I wonder. Could Mediacorp staples Pierre Png or Tay Ping Hui possibly have cast their lot in the mix? If Huang Wenyong were still alive, could he have been considered for the role despite the language handicap?

Before LKT, there were rumours that HK acting god Tony Leung would be chosen for the role. LKY was also depicted by Chinese actor Zhang Guang Bei in a Deng Xiaoping drama series. LKT’s heavyweight role may very well overshadow all the other aspects of the 1965 movie, the fact that Joanne Peh and hubby are in it but not playing lovers, that there’s a Singapore Idol in it (the last one, perhaps), and 2 of the main cast are not even Singaporeans (Qi YiWu and Deanna Yusof). But most telling of all is that 1965 is bankrolled by none other than the MDA and MCCY, and PAP bigwigs like the PM himself and Yaacob Ibrahim will be invited to the movie premiere and, regardless of how bad the movie actually turns out to be, praise the film not just for LKT’s powerhouse performance but that it is an ‘objective portrayal’ of events, not in the least ‘self-serving’, ‘one-sided’, nor does it contain a single ‘distortion’ or ‘untruth’. Not like some other film about other people fighting for independence. 1965 is a film immune to criticism or censorship, and I sympathise with the reviewer assigned to rate it once it’s out.

I’m just surprised that the responsibility of directing didn’t go to Jack Neo. Maybe he’d have come up with a more interesting title than the boring ‘1965’. Like ‘Lao Lee’,  ‘Ah Lee to PM’ or ‘Where Got Riots?’. If the PAP decided to make a movie about the ‘watershed’ 2011 GE, I have my own selection of actors to play the ministers/MPs.

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And of course Baey Yam Keng. As himself.

 

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To Singapore, With Love banned by MDA

From ‘Local film To Singapore, With Love, not allowed to be distributed, shown here’, 10 Sept 2014, Today

To Singapore, With Love, a film about political exiles directed by local director Tan Pin Pin, has been barred from distribution or exhibition in Singapore. The Media Development Authority (MDA) has classified the film as Not Allowed for All Ratings (NAR) where films are not allowed for exhibition or distribution.

“MDA has assessed that the contents of the film undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals,” the MDA said in a statement released today (Sept 10).

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said in a Facebook post that he agrees with and supports the MDA’s assessment.

“The individuals in the film have given distorted and untruthful accounts of how they left Singapore and claimed that they were unfairly denied their right to return to Singapore,” he said. “It is not surprising that ex-CPM (Communist Party of Malaya) members and sympathisers wish now to give their own accounts of historical episodes that they were involved in. But individuals who have chosen to leave and remain outside Singapore, and refused to account for their past actions, should not enjoy a public platform to purvey distorted and untruthful accounts to mislead the public, absolve themselves or deny their past actions.”

At first glance, the title of Tan’s film reads like that of a National Day song, and cleverly chosen too. The last time a NAR rating was slapped on a local film was Sex. Violence. FamilyValues for racist themes, which was eventually toned down to a R21 with cuts. It’s unlikely that Tan Pin Pin’s nuclear warhead of a film that threatens our very NATIONAL SECURITY would get emasculated likewise. Another local firebrand known for featuring political ‘agitators’ is Martyn See, whose film on Chee Soon Juan ‘Singapore Rebel’ was unbanned in 2009 after 4 years on the blacklist.  His other documentary, Zahari’s 12 years, was banned in 2007 for ‘distorting’ Said Zahari’s detention and arrest for ‘communist united front activities’ by the ISD in 1963. Today, you can find both See’s films on Youtube. The country has yet to explode to kingdom come since these were uploaded.

Tan herself was questioned by THE POLICE during the crackdown on See’s Singapore Rebel in 2005, after she, along with 9 other filmmakers, wrote a letter to the forum asking the government where the ‘OB markers’ lay when it comes to political films. Not as renown as household names like Jack Neo, Royston Tan or Anthony Chen, Tan is also the creative force behind ‘Singapore Gaga’ and ‘Invisible City’, both critically acclaimed as quirky odes and mirrors to the ‘real’ Singapore. Unfortunately in the case of a touchy subject like political detainees and ‘commies’, shit just got too real for the PAP to handle. Yaacob even tried to paint them as disloyals who ‘chose to leave’ Singapore. It was either surrender to an absurd charge and suffer endless heckling or flee. To these detainees, there was never a ‘choice’ in the matter.

This communist paranoia belies the decision to give ‘To Singapore, with Love’ the chop, which makes me wonder if MDA and gang are still stuck in the 60’s hunting down the henchmen of the Red Skull. For a film making the rounds on the international circuit, our ban strikes the foreign audience as a shameful symptom of a country in outright denial.

Here’s a quick bio of some of those exiles featured in Tan’s film (which you may eventually watch for yourself when it comes online). If you watch some other interview snippets off Youtube, these folks hardly look like the sort to tear the very foundations of our society asunder, more like people whom you’d want to give up your seat to on the MRT. Besides we already have ISIS flag flyers and Syria freedom fighter wannabes to worry about. They’re the ones who’re more likely to pick up rocket launcher shooting as a hobby.

1) Ang Swee Chai: She’s the prominent surgeon and wife of fellow dissident and outspoken human rights lawyer Francis Khoo, who both spent more than 35 years in exile. The ISD allegedly escorted her away while she was in the middle of an operation. She’s also the co-founder and Patron of British Charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. Now living in London, she recounts more than 72 hours of relentless interrogation during the ordeal, just so to dig out the whereabouts of her then missing husband. They were married for barely 2 weeks.

Incidentally, husband Francis Khoo (died in 2011) was one talented chap. He draws satirical LKY cartoons, recites poetry and sings in this video below. No wonder Ang chose to stay by his side in asylum although she doesn’t have a Marxist bone in her body.  A double loss for Singapore indeed.

2) Chan Sun Wing and Wong Soon Fong: These two were Barisan Socialis assemblymen, or ‘comrades’, which the ‘secret police’ were chasing back in 1963 for alleged involvement in the ‘Satu’ general strike. In an interview not related to Tan’s film, Wong Soon Fong spoke about his fight against British colonialism, the merger with Malaysia, spending time in the mountains like a true badass commie guerilla and missing his relatives back home. He was in Thailand at the time, along with ’20 OTHERS’. Come on, Yaacob, he’s just a harmless uncle who can pass off as someone who sells chwee kueh for a living. Let him come home for God’s sake.

3) Tan Wah Piow: Arrested as a student leader for ‘rioting‘, Tan sought political asylum in Britian and lives in London till this day. SBC even produced a 2 part TV series called ‘The Conspiracy‘ which exposes Wah Piow’s Marxist plot to SUBVERT Singapore, a ‘mastermind’ of a network of communist conspirators. It read like the Al-Qaeda of the time, but today the government is more hung up on him escaping NS than extracting confessions of plotting to overthrow the PAP.

4) Ho Juan Thai: Like Wah Piow, this former WP candidate fled to Britain after being charged for ‘playing up issues of Chinese language, education and culture’ to incite VIOLENT, CHAUVINISTIC reactions from the Chinese speaking population at election rallies. He’s also accused of forging his passport to gain entry into Britain.

In a digital information age where we’re encouraged to think critically and be open to viewpoints other than those of the ruling party, it’s embarrassing that the MDA, which has recently tried, but failed miserably, to ‘co-regulate’ with arts groups on self-classification of performances, has resorted to its staple blunt, arcane method of pushing the panic button with an iron fist whenever a film featuring Singaporeans who got into trouble with the regime is produced. Ironically the MDA blames the producers for ‘whitewashing’ some of the lawbreaking, but doesn’t address the oppressive crimes against humanity by the ISD. Surely these detainees were never as dangerous as Ebola, and neither is Tan’s film as remotely insidious as the propagandist bile that is the Young PAP’s Servant Leadership video.

With all this hype over next year’s SG50, maybe it’s the perfect opportunity for the government to exercise some graciousness and compassion by reconciling and engaging our political exiles and bringing them home, absolve them of alleged crimes, let them spend some time with their loved ones rather than whitewashing them off our history books as cowardly fugitives instead of the ‘pioneers’ that they deserve to be.

The Singapore Story is incomplete if those who dared to fight for their fellow countrymen, at the risk of cruel scrutiny and being shunned from the authorities with the same contempt as drug traffickers, scammers or murderers, never had a say in it. In the spirit of all things Singaporean and Family, the homecoming of political exiles, a gesture of the PAP moving beyond the old world paranoia of the past and putting family togetherness before petty politics, would be the one true thing worth celebrating on our 50th birthday.

Ivan Heng is a happily, openly married man

From’ Ivan Heng weds his partner of 18 years on a perfect British summer’s day’, 3 Aug 2014, article by Boon Chan, ST

Cultural Medallion recipient Ivan Heng has tied the knot with his long-time partner Tony Trickett in London. It took place on Aug 1. Heng, 50, is the founding artistic director of Wild Rice theatre company and Briton Trickett, 57, is its executive director. They were married at the Chelsea Old Town Hall in London on the 18th anniversary of the day they met and fell in love, according to Heng’s Facebook post.

…Growing up, he explained, there were no positive gay role models to look up to, nor were there happy endings in gay-themed entertainment. With marriage equality now a reality in the United Kingdom, Heng and Trickett decided to tie the knot at a ceremony attended by “our family and our closest friends”.

Heng wrote: “Our marriage is a declaration of our love, and we invite the world to share in our joy. In closing, I would like to report that your fellow Singaporean, Ivan Heng, is now ‘openly married’.”

A law graduate with Honours and one of our theatre pioneers, Ivan broke into cinema with a bit part in The Fifth Element, a Luc Beeson film that featured a gay-ish ‘Ruby’ character (Chris Tucker) that Ivan himself would have felt perfectly comfortable in. Since then, he’s gone from subordinate to evil mastermind Gary Oldman to a bartender and most recently, a pole dance competition judge. His ode to his husband Tony on Facebook reads like a Richard Curtis feel-good movie script, though if it were adapted into film or play, you’re unlikely to ever see it in Singapore.

MDA must be desperately looking for the ‘balance’ in Ivan’s love story to justify it suitable for print in the ST, of all places. After recent crackdowns on comic characters getting married, male penguins rearing a chick together and Mandarin songs about Rainbows, it’s surprising that the media decided to announce our theatre doyen’s happy marriage to another man, a union that’s still illegal here. There was no official ‘coming out’ prior to the ceremony to the extent of Vincent Wijeysingha’s confession on Facebook last year, but to many familiar with Ivan’s cross-dressing tendencies from Emily of Emerald Hill to M Butterfly and his Pink Dot involvement, it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise either. He even appeared on the ST front page in almost full-frontal nudity with Glen Goei, which was, well, super-gay.

Somehow we managed to ban fiction like Archie and educational material like ‘Who’s in my Family’ from shelves, but not block a real life same-sex marriage story from our newstands. Some years back, we even had a real life ‘And Three Makes Tango’ situation when we named an orchid after Elton John in the presence of his partner and adopted child, much to the dismay of some critics. There will be at least 2 famous people we know who won’t be giving Ivan his blessings, the imam behind the Wear White campaign and fellow Christian Lawrence Khong, both probably concerned that this piece of news would encourage gay Singaporeans to tie the knot overseas and give the LGBT/Pink dot community a glimmer of hope at claiming marriage equality, though I doubt Ivan may be the first Singaporean to do so.

LGBT site Fridae reported the marriage of Nic and Tim in 2012, both of ‘Singaporean Chinese heritage’ possibly living in Australia now. The same year, some viral video (that turned out to be ‘fake’) featured Naresh proposing to Clement in the middle of Orchard freaking Road. It was only a matter of time before a flamboyant personality like Ivan Heng decides to take the right to love one step further.

When Ivan met Tony, they were at a gay bar called, ironically, ‘Brief Encounter’ and a disco song titled No More Tears (Enough is Enough) brought them together. A song that wouldn’t strike me as a gay anthem, but a great choice as a dedication to wet blanket naysayers like Lawrence Khong, or those spouting vicious slurs about how ‘unnatural’ this all seems. More importantly, it has Barbara Streisand singing in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea Old Town Hall starts swelling with Singaporean bookings as we speak. In any case, there’s no reason why we should continue to ban narratives about ‘alternative families’ if our dear ST has already put such a positive spin on Ivan’s life event before the censors could do anything about it. Speak now, MDA, or forever hold your peace.

Noah movie is a gross distortion of the biblical story

From ‘GV notice for Noah is misguided’, 18 April 2014, Mailbag, ST Life! and the ‘Rock of Ages’ Facebook post, 12 April 2014.

(Kam Tin Seah): I was intrigued by the notice put up by Golden Village (GV) at the screening of Noah in Singapore. It read: “The film Noah is director Darren Aronofsky’s version of the story of Noah. “Noah is inspired by the Book of Genesis. Though artistic licence has been taken, we believe the film to be true to the values and integrity of the biblical story.”

…Any informed person would have gathered from the media that since the release of Noah on movie screens, it has raised objections. Malaysia and Indonesia have banned the screening of Noah. Given such controversies, what does the notice intend to achieve?

I proffer that it will precipitate the divide between the money-making motive and religious conviction. Worse, it may be perceived by many as an intention to taint the minds of those who are unaware of the historical context and divine purpose of the flood as told in the Bible. This assaults the very tenet of respect for and practice of religious freedom enshrined in Singapore’s constitution.

Is it wrong to make movies only for profit? Not really, insofar as they do not show disrespect and distort the sacredness of any religious belief or racial norm. I beseech GV to immediately remove such a misguided notice from all the screening venues of Noah.

(Pastor Les and Adeline Chia): The Noah film is another example of the postmodern spirit at work. The film claims to tell the biblical story of the Flood but disappointingly, it does not stay true to the biblical narrative. Instead both the script writers and the director take excessive artistic license and reframe the story. The final product is a gross distortion of the original biblical account.

We understand from the bible that Noah was a righteous man, blameless among his people and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9). God Himself has singled out Noah as one of the three most righteous men apart from Job and Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14). But the film gives Noah a dark twist. It portrays him as a complicated, uncaring and evil person.

…In the film, the character of God is also distorted. God is portrayed as evil and unmerciful. Noah was led to believe that God intended to eliminate humans altogether. So, in obedience to God, he tried to kill his granddaughters but failed. And he sort of apologised to his Creator, “I can’t. I can’t do it. I am sorry. I am sorry.” Noah was just too compassionate to carry out God’s cruel plan. He was more loving than God.

I watched the film and found it surprisingly entertaining, especially for a non-believer. Aronofsky’s previous work include Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, and anyone familiar with his narrative and visual style will walk into the theatre expecting something radically different from what we’d imagine from the Bible. Yes, it’s a distortion of the gospel ‘truth’ and it has elements of typical Hollywood blockbuster fare, but with Paramount’s disclaimer, I thought it would be a simple matter of one man’s interpretation of events and their meaning vs another, since even the most devout people have different takes on the Bible anyway. No ‘biblical film’ has been spared this testament poison that is ‘artistic licence’, whether it’s the Passion of Christ, Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments. If you were to make a film about the Bible literally word for word, it’d probably bore people, Christians included, to death. You’d have people nitpicking on the colour of Moses’ skin, the number of lashes on Jesus’ back and the type of wood that Noah used to construct his vessel.

Aronosky, incidentally, is a Jew, and had consulted texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls for the plot. It appears that what the above writers are disappointed about is not so much about how certain characters in the movie resemble fantasy beasts from LOTR (no spoilers, I swear), but how one of the most famous prophets in the Bible has been portrayed more like, well, a flawed HUMAN BEING. In the film we see a stoic, violent, fatherly, drunk, fat Noah played by Russell Crowe, a chosen one devoid of any humour whatsoever that all other plot devices (Methuselah, evil villain, snakes, sex in the forest) around him had to make up for his stony conviction and austerity. If Noah were evil, and his God were equally evil, then it only makes sense since God ‘made Man in His image’. If you wanted a biblical superhero, go watch Son of God.

The word ‘God’ was not mentioned once in the movie, with the writers opting for the more universal ‘Creator’ instead. In the film, the Creator comes across as merciless, stubborn and vengeful, and the ROA pastors were upset that Noah was above all His genocidal tendencies. Well, what’s new here? Isn’t this the same God who annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah? The same God who commanded one to go ‘smite Amalek..slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (Samuel 15:3)? One moment He appoints you to shepherd everything that ‘creeps and crawls’, and the next He slaughters your camels and asses.  Wouldn’t He be more of a Destroyer of Worlds than Creator in this instance?

What about God being portrayed as Morgan Freeman in a comedy with a similar Ark-building theme, Evan Almighty (Malaysian Muslims called for its ban, naturally). Are Christians saying that it’s OK if Noah is played for laughs, but unacceptable if it’s supposed to be a serious movie?

The writers stop short of calling for Noah’s ban entirely, though ROA concluded by urging their followers to educate the masses on what really happened in the build up to the Ark. MUIS also acknowledged that there were ‘alternative narratives’ of the prophets and indivudal discretion is advised. Isn’t this, then, what ‘religious freedom’ is all about? Would you rather have the general viewer watch a pedantic, preachy deluge of a movie that’s the cinematic equivalent of stuffing a Bible down your throat?

From the perspective of the movie industry, Noah is a resounding success, and it’ll take some convincing of the Christian community that Noah, as compared to more overtly religious films like Passion and Son of God, is more likely to pique the interest of non-believers, atheists even, to read up on Genesis than any other ‘biblical’ film in recent memory. If there’s one statement that I agree with the ROA pastors, it’s this:

In conclusion, I think that the Noah film is a great opportunity to engage people that would not otherwise want to talk about God.

Amen to that.

Batman is a normal Javanese name pronounced ‘But-mun’

From ‘Batman Suparman story takes off’, 17 Nov 2013, article by Nur Asyiqin Mohammed Salleh, Sunday  Times

Singapore’s Batman Suparman (below) made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website. The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his unusual name.

His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about here and elsewhere. “A person’s name is not a laughing matter and it’s our business what we name our child,” she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero. She claimed Batman, 23, was a “normal” Javanese name properly pronounced as “But-Mun”.

Only one other person in the phone directory is named Batman but when contacted, the woman declined to be interviewed. There are 23 listings of Suparman, the name of Batman’s father.

…Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that while Suparman is a common Javanese name, Batman is not and has no meaning in Malay or Javanese. “I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic.”

What happens if you Google Image 'Batman Bin Suparman'

What happens if you Google Image ‘Batman Bin Suparman’

To date, no one has published a photo of Batman outside of his identity card and it would be interesting to see what he looks like now. I thought it was also rather insensitive of ST to ask Batman’s mother about his superhero name when he’s serving time in jail. No wonder she was irritated; she must have been asked the same question a million times. Nobody cares if you name your son ‘Tan Ah Kow’ anymore. Too bad the writer of the Batman article wasn’t Kimberly Spykerman.

Kudos to Ch5 newsreader Chew Wui Lynn for keeping po-faced when reporting Batman’s arrest. And she passed the pronunciation with flying colours. This is how you say ‘Batman Bin Suparman’ like a pro, ‘bart-mon (as in monday)’.

Not so for the rest of the world, who say Batman as, literally, Bat-Man. Holy Java Chip Frappucino!

But let’s go beyond the Internet sensation and the most famous Singaporean other than LKY, or the Dark Knight, and try to uncover the origins of ‘batman’ if its Javanese source is disputed. In 1912, a CAPTAIN BATMAN was fined $10 for stowing away a ‘decrepit Chinaman’ into the ‘Colony’. In Melbourne, there’s a place called Batman’s Hill, named after founder John Batman (1801-1839). All this happening, of course, way before the father of the creator of DC’s Batman was even born.

In the military, a ‘batman’ is an obsolete term for a soldier assigned to an officer as a ‘manservant’, and is tasked with ‘batting’, or basically being at the beck and call of your boss.  You could say that the comic’s butler Alfred is a ‘Batman’ in his own way. In 1951, the Singapore Free Press published a report with the headline ‘Batman in theft case’,  so it’s not the first time that a real-life ‘Batman’ has committed a crime.

A batman is also an ancient unit of mass, as defined by the Ottoman empire, roughly working out to be today’s 7.6 kg. The Turkish province Batman, the Batman River and the Batman airport all hint at a possible connection with the Javanese ‘Batman’. ‘But-man’ itself isn’t immune to mockery either (think ‘Buttman’). Either Batman bin Suparman’s parents are closet superhero geeks, or are well versed in the ancient Ottoman metric system. What the journo should have done to uncover the mystery of Batman as a first name, is to get a Javanese or Turkish phonebook rather than a local one. Only then will you get some insight into how, well, Batman Begins.

NS as a 2 year character enrichment programme

From various letters, 15 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Sim Ruiqi): I READ the results of the Institute of Policy Studies survey on public perceptions of national service with much caution (“Poll reveals changing perceptions of NS”; last Wednesday) – in particular, the finding that more people viewed NS as a way to instil discipline and values among the young than as a pillar of national defence.

NS should not be seen as a two-year enrichment or character-development programme as much as it is an individual’s contribution to the nation. There is an undue emphasis on the transformation of boys into men, as portrayed by recent movies and television series.

(Gerard Ong):…We must never forget that we train our national servicemen to fight to win – nothing less.

…When I was called up for NS, many of those in my cohort and I were convinced that we were going to be trained to be fighting soldiers. We understood that the discipline and values that came with our training were incidental and part and parcel of military life. We wanted to be out in the field, learning how to handle our weapons, field craft, operational procedures, shooting and unarmed combat.

We came in wanting to be fighters, not disciplined team players, which we had already learnt how to be by playing team sports or joining school uniformed groups. The survey findings should be examined closely by our leaders and Ministry of Defence, as the public’s perception of NS as primarily an instiller of discipline and values is rather disturbing.

There was a scene in the Ah Boys to Men 2 movie where the main cast applied their military skills to enact revenge on a couple by bombing their car with shit. A comedy played for laughs, some viewers thought Jack Neo’s movie trivialised NS, calling it sexist, misogynist and bad for SAF overall. By the end of the movie, we never know if the boys are capable of killing the enemy, but are constantly bombarded with the message that NS is great for life-skills, family bonding and ‘camaraderie’. There is, however, no evidence that men emerge from NS as better friends, husbands, employees or leaders, and the social benefit of NS, grossly exaggerated in pop culture, has turned from a by-product of regimentation and suffering to a convenient justification for having NS in the first place.

The army itself is guilty of plugging the ‘character building’ angle. Being in uniform would supposedly make you more attractive to women. It also makes you think of your father as an embattled hero and role model. Unlike the ads for the Air Force which emphasise protection of the motherland, the Army insists on humanising NS because the original bloody intent of conscription i.e killing people is a bitter pill to swallow. Especially if you’re a worried parent who’ve seen one too many boys die for nothing.

The researcher who led the poll, Dr Leong Chang Hoong, revealed to the media that only 1 in 10 women would serve NS, and then followed up to say ‘even simple gestures from the female population, such as ORGANISING LUNCH for men training in the field, would make a “significant psychological impact”. Is it any wonder Singaporean women would decline the offer to don the uniform and hang out with the boys, only to be summoned to make Ayam brand tuna sandwiches or cook instant noodles in mess tins for them? I doubt anyone would argue that NS for girls would make them better wives or mothers without receiving a nomination for AWARE’s Alamak Awards. Why stop at green eyeshadow? How about distributing a recipe booklet called ‘Outfield BBQ for Heroic Boys in Green’ or something.

I’m not sure if the survey addressed the ‘fighting soldier’ argument as to how many of our men are actually battle-ready and willing to die for the country, that includes the writers above who support the ‘pillar of national defence’ rationale. The reality is many men spend their NS in filler, ‘supportive’ roles like ‘storemen’ or logistics supervisors, and are likely to pass out of it without a single day of field camp, without a sense of undying self-sacrificing purpose that anyone who puts on that uniform is supposed to have. Men without a single meaningful memory outside of staying in the bunk and waiting for orders to perform odd jobs.  At the other extreme, some have compared NS to SLAVERY, whereby minions are drilled in unarmed combat and how to stab dummies with a bayonet. Sort of like gladiators, perhaps. And then there is this guy, who has clearly applied aggression, the vital force of a winning army, in real life. In a LIBRARY. Shudder in fear, enemies!

Despite gaining all the ‘discipline’ and ‘values’ over 2 years, your boss may still quietly frown on your frequent call-ups, or you may miss out on crucial projects that could have earned you a promotion. Some can do without the ‘enrichment’ altogether by getting themselves downgraded, to the extent of celebrating it in public. How ironic that a ‘chow keng’ becomes a millionaire even before you manage to land your first job because you’re too busy defending the nation. Well, at least you still have your lifelong friends and an arsenal of explosive swear words, eh?

Our boys aren’t born Vikings, nor do they pass out of BMT mass chorusing ‘We will still be Friends Forever’ in Vitamin C’s hit ‘Graduation’. Personally I wouldn’t call NS a total waste of time, but I wouldn’t make a big-deal macho fantasy out of it either. The ST editor referred to our defence strategy as that of a ‘poison shrimp’ (NS is no glorified boot camp, 12 Oct 2013, ST) which deters anyone from stepping on it despite our miserable size. It’s dangerously unrealistic to think that we’re tiger prawns instead.

Ilo Ilo child actor physically assaulted on set

From ‘Why was child actor caned’, 8 June 2013, Mailbag, ST

(Teo Eng Swee): I refer to the article, As Real As It Gets (SundayLife!, June 2), on the award- winning film Ilo Ilo directed by Anthony Chen.

It is stated that the child actor was caned for real several times in two takes while shooting a scene. I was taken aback to read that the child was physically assaulted in the name of achieving realism in the film. Even though his mother appeared to have consented to the caning, this seems to be wrong. Animals are humanely treated during filming. It seems to me that children should be treated to a much higher standard.

I hope that the relevant authorities, such as the Media Development Authority, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Manpower, will set high standards that safeguard children who are working in the entertainment industry

Koh Jia Ler, 12, had no issue with being whipped on set. In fact, in the interview he said it was a ‘small thing to him’ and admitted that Mommy used to trounce him when he was younger. Which means some parents are still using the old fashioned method of discipline as recently as 2000. I believe a TWELVE year old actor should be mature and professional enough to deal with a little pain for the price of stardom. After all, this could be the very last time he may experience the once familiar hot sting of tough love. These days, men either have to PAY, or go on a graffiti rampage, to get some spanking dished out.

Only time will tell if being flogged for everyone in Cannes to see would leave psychological scars on a growing boy. Protective parents and human rights activists could be up in arms over Ilo Ilo for being too ‘gritty’ for its own good, but forget that they live in a country where even adults are systematically caned as a form of punishment. Foreign audiences familiar with our barbaric penalties would view the scene as a commentary of Singapore’s medieval caning ‘culture’, though modern parents, Singaporean or otherwise, generally shun the rod and spoil the child instead. Better they turn out to be brats who sleep with their iPads than hooked on Prozac and listen to goth. If a stern voice, fierce scowl and ‘reasoning’ works for your kid, then congrats. But if the little bastard turns out to be a problem child from hell, then perhaps a ‘light touch’ which celebrity parenting gurus rave about may be as useful as placing a crucifix on Godzilla.

But this isn’t the first time the dreaded Cane is featured in a local movie. Jack Neo unleashed his fury with one in ‘I Not Stupid Too’.

In the original I Not Stupid, Jack slapped the boy actor playing his son (Shawn Lee) till he BLED FROM THE NOSE. It was almost comical in its brutality. Damn it Jack, either you’re paying your child actors too well or you’ve hired budding masochists for your films. Today, Shawn Lee seems like a normal young adult in a relationship according to his Facebook page despite being viciously attacked by Neo before puberty. Didn’t think he needed ‘safeguarding’ by the likes of MDA, an agency known for doing more damage ‘protecting’ the public than doing nothing at all.

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Tough love Jack Neo style

You don’t hear anybody complaining about I Not Stupid’s violence against children, nor children inflicting violence on themselves (Shawn’s character considered SUICIDE by jumping) because its attempt at sociopolitical satire overshadowed all explicit depictions of child abuse. In fact, Neo’s film was lauded by the British, for whom caning or smacking children is ILLEGAL. Most locals tend not to gasp and cover their eyes at such scenes, not because we routinely mete out corporal punishment ourselves, but we can understand why some parents resort to smacking Singaporean kids about. For those at the end of their tether but struggling to hold back, you could even say they’re envious of it. But why harp on tortured child actors when women are getting slapped left-right-centre in Taiwanese soap operas?

Let’s hope it’s not just a case of forbidden fruit and Western parents’ secret desire to throttle their unruly kids that earned Ilo Ilo its 15-minute standing ovation triumph at Cannes, that the movie won its prize not because people are drawn to Singaporean kids being ass-whipped as they are to North Korean kids playing hopscotch. If MDA censors Ilo Ilo because of scenes depicting child cruelty, perhaps another Hong Lim protest is in order. We could call it #FreeMyIloIlo, but that would sound too much like a protest about pasta.

Doh’mestic violence

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