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Sex In Singapore Film

24 Oct

SINGAPORE: Film-maker Ekachai Uekrongtham observes wryly that Singaporeans – the media included – are mainly focused on the sexual elements of his new film, Pleasure Factory.

But then with the red light district of Geylang as its theme and full frontal male nudity, Pleasure Factory, which opens in cinemas on Thursday, is not quite the kind of flick Singapore’s young film industry has been turning out.

The movie, shot almost entirely in Geylang, goes behind the scenes in an area notorious for its brothels. The film is composed of four loosely intertwined stories, that of a foreigner (Thailand based, Pan-Asian actor Ananda Everingham) who views the area through the eyes of an outsider; a jaded middle-aged prostitute (Taiwan’s Yang Kueimei, best known for her collaborations with art-house auteur Tsai Ming Liang) whose daughter (Isabella Chen) gets involved in the sex business; a National Serviceman (Loo Zihan) who is in Geylang to lose his virginity; and a young sex worker (Jeszlene Zhou) who has just serviced her last client for the night.

The Board of Film Censors has rated the film R21, but even so, Uekrongtham had to trim about two minutes from the final cut. Excluded from the cinema version is a homosexual sex sequence, Loo’s character masturbating in the nude and Chen’s character performing oral sex on a customer.

Not that Uekrongtham, whose last film was 2003’s Beautiful Boxer, is bothered by the cuts: He had prepared himself for the possibility that the film would not even be screened here. “Maybe I was expecting the worst, so when it turned out the board wanted cuts, I could deal with that,” he said.

But if in-your-face sex in a local film – admittedly rare – is what audiences are curious to see, then that is what they are going to get. Thanks to his role, actor Loo now holds the honour of being the first Singaporean male actor to bare all in a local film that is also screened domestically.

Due in part to Uekrongtham’s demand for realism, some without professional acting backgrounds were cast.

Take for example, the prostitute – billed as Xue Er in the credits – that Loo’s character eventually has sex with. Uekrongtham declined to say if she was a real-life sex worker.

“Whoever comes into my world is real to me,” was his cryptic reply. “In Europe, because they weren’t familiar with Yang Kueimei, they thought she was a real prostitute!”

Pleasure, he said, is a very transient thing, which was what the film is trying to explore.

“A place like Geylang is not quite the right place to find pleasure. Sometimes, the characters manage to touch it, and sometimes they don’t.”

The nature of pleasure is probably not going to be a talking point in Pleasure Factory. Early publicity for the film centered on newcomer Loo instead of the film’s headliners Everingham and Yang, both established names in their own right.

The 23-year-old Loo, currently among the pioneer batch of students at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media, is well aware that sex is the film’s selling point.

“I’m sure people are going to watch it for the sex, but maybe someone will see the sentimentality in the film and change the way they view erotica,” he said.

“If the audience wants to regard the film as porn, then that’s how they’re going to see it. But if they go in with an open mind, they’re going to be able to take away much more from the film.”

Loo is also the co-director of Solos, another controversial film, this one a homosexual-themed one about the relationship between a teacher, played by Lim Yu-beng and his student, whom Loo plays.

Solos has been invited to be screened at the American Film Institute’s film festival next month, but will not be released here because the producer did not agree to any cuts.

Both Uekrongtham and Loo are firm that sex and nudity was never an issue in the filming of Pleasure Factory. Loo was aware that full frontal nudity would be required – although not the extent of it. But he said: “I gave Ekachai my trust and respect because the actor’s body is an instrument that you mould and use to tell the story.”

Uekrongtham said he was never tempted to self-censor in order to second-guess the censors, nor was Pleasure Factory a deliberate attempt to break boundaries.

“I don’t think as an artist you should think: ‘I want to test boundaries.’ This was a small little project until we heard Cannes might be interested, and then we got so stressed … Then we thought, let’s just go ahead and do whatever we planned to do. You should always go with your guts,” he said.

“The hardest part was capturing the raw emotions. It was the emotional nakedness that was difficult to capture. The question was – how could the camera capture this transient thing called pleasure?”

Will audiences be able to empathise with his intentions? That is the risk faced by a film like Pleasure Factory, which so far has received mixed reviews.

Unfazed, Uekrongtham used the analogy about the fifth generation of Chinese directors who faced tough opposition at home for films which were initially considered controversial, but which were eventually regarded as art when they gained international acceptance.

“It’s always toughest in your own country,” he said. –

Channel News Asia

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