From ‘Lights, camera, action – in S’pore’, 25 April 2013, ST Forum
(Matthew Varughese): THE Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is constantly striving to come up with creative ways to promote Singapore as a tourist destination…A lot of resources have been spent on advertising and organising events such as the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix. Perhaps it is time for the STB to consider another form of marketing that targets an international audience and creates a lasting legacy – that is, entice big-name international film studios to use Singapore as a location for blockbuster movies.
In this way, the STB can achieve its target of showcasing Singapore to the world and marketing it as a vibrant place to visit. Already, Indian film studios have shot movies in Singapore, and some Korean and Japanese bands have used our landmarks for location shoots in their music videos.
The next step would be to get leading Hollywood studios to shoot on location in Singapore. Our country has already been referenced in a number of films and, as a global city with multiple attractions and an iconic skyline, there should be little difficulty in incorporating a Singapore sequence into a modern blockbuster.
Regional cities such as Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong have already made their mark in Hollywood, and it could be time for Singapore to take to the silver screen. Movies in the James Bond and Godfather series have become staples that will be watched and re-watched for generations to come. Should Singapore be featured in such a film in future, the effects of marketing and publicity would endure for far longer than any print, radio or television advertising campaign.
Singapore’s skyline will never match the scale and pomp of China or Dubai, where you have impressive monoliths like the Burj Khalifa as a phallic set-piece for Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol. Hong Kong gets to be featured in Batman and was among the first Asian countries to headline the globetrotting James Bond franchise (You Only Live Twice, 1967). Even Petronas Towers in KL has been immortalised in the spy-caper Entrapment starring ex-James Bond himself Sean Connery. The last time someone attempted to pull off an action flick in our high-rise metropolitian setting was in the Hong Kong film 2000AD, which starred heartthrob Aaron Kwok and local actors like the now obscure James Lye and Phyllis Quek, though the HK superstar served more as product placement for RSAF in the trailer than a skyscraper-crawling daredevil.
Meanwhile, we await Hollywood magnates to take notice of the only candidate to star a blockbuster so far, the Marina Bay Sands. Fast and Furious star and rapper Ludacris gave us a boost by soaking in the Infinity Pool during the F1 season and tweeting about it in 2011, though since then we haven’t heard from Tom Cruise, James Bond or even the guys from the Hangover (with its sequel shot in hot and sultry Bangkok). We have, however, been featured in a Japanese porn film. MBS, chicken rice and all.
Even Julia Roberts’ character in Eat Pray Love would rather head to Bali for some spiritual me-time. So, if our buildings aren’t glitzy or gigantic enough and we’ve lost out on that Oriental lustre and LUST to fellow ASEAN nations, where does that leave us? Bollywood and its song-and-dance with national icon backdrops I suppose. Interestingly, the first ever Indian move to be shot here was titled ‘Singapore’ (1960), and featured Haw Par Villa in its prime. The ‘strange garden’ exists till this day, though more of a curiosity than a tourist attraction that it once was.
There was hope in the late 60s/early 70′s. Homegrown action starlet Marrie Lee (real name Doris Young) was featured in several foreign films including the iconic, Quentin Tarantino-endorsed, CLEOPATRA WONG, which had our campy heroine kicking butt in Chinese Garden (Trivia: Cleopatra also starred a dashing BRIAN RICHMOND, now veteran DJ with Gold 90 FM). Then America took notice with the softcore thriller Wit’s End, aka The GI EXECUTIONER (1971), which featured ‘sultry Singapore’ and sleazy sex in the Raffles Hotel. One version of the trailer started with an old local smoking an OPIUM PIPE. Singapore would have been perfect for the Hangover movies then. I’m surprised even master of the C-grade action movie Steven Seagal gave us a miss.
Then the Government happened. Local martial arts film The Ring of Fury(1973), featuring real-life kungfu master Peter Chong, was BANNED for its ‘portrayal of crime’ and depictions of gangsterism. Still, that didn’t stop Saint Jack (1978) from being filmed here, another American flick banking on what was left of our sleazy exoticism in Bugis Street. That means two American films in a decade, both with one thing in common. Barenaked BOOBIES. And nothing from Hollywood thereafter except for totally misleading references like the Singapore of Pirates of the Caribbean, a low-life haven that crosses evil Chinese temple with Old World kampong chic. Even our attempts to market the country through local film without foreign money have been stifled for being too seditious or racist for our own good. Jet Li, martial arts superstar and erstwhile Singaporean, has done absolutely NOTHING for our flagging entertainment industry. US chart-topping Singaporean diva-pastor Sun Ho would also rather sing about China than Singapore Wine.
‘Singapore’ has since been featured a 80′s MASK cartoon episode, the occasional foodie documentary with Anthony Bourdian and an Australian mini-series about the Japanese Occupation called Tanamera: The Lion of Singapore. Which ALSO FEATURES BOOBIES. Need I mention Sex: The Annabel Chong Story? Forget Batman, James Bond or Amitabh Bachchan. STB, you should know what to do to make Singapore more ‘Shiok’ now. How about an erotic courtroom drama about an underage prostitute and a high-flying politician, eh?