Royston's Home Ground - Catch 'Old Places' tomorrow on Okto 10pm


It is 8.30 pm on Monday and I am about to call Royston Tan. He smsed me to call his home phone instead - which adds to the intimacy of the interview. I have not met seen Royston for about a year now, at least in person. The strange thing is, thanks to facebook, I feel so close to his recent activities and yet, I am technically not that close because we never had a chance to work together before.

Royston's been very of late nailing down shoot after shoot. Amidst a few random commercial projects, I hear of his new short film and even a music video involving a dozen men in drag. But this project of his called, Old Places or 老地方, seems very close to his heart. As many of us would agree, nobody does nostalgia better than Royston. His brand of very personal and intimate nostalgia (mostly seen in 'Sons', 'Mother', '12 Lotus', 'Hock Hiap Leong') had spawned of so many copycats among student works. SINdie's never interviewed Royston before, so this seemed like a great entry point.

As Royston shares, Old Places which will screen on Okto Channel on 8 August 10 pm, is an MDA supported project. But my instincts were also right in identifying it as a very personal project of Royston's. He is truly a champion of this. I think he, like me (we are 1 year apart) belong to a special age group that got to see the last vestiges of old Singapore while we are just in time to catch the train that is new Singapore. The most classic example is we got to see the National Theatre before its demolition in 1986. And would have seen how boat quay and clarke quay in form not too different from how they appear in the movie Saint Jack.


I asked him to share some of the places that project's brought him to. He mentioned examples like the dragon kiln (didn't it appear some of our social studies textbooks?), a Shanghai dry cleaning shop, a flour mill, some mama shops, Katong swimming pool (which was built in 1965) and others. You can begin to imagine the ripple effect this documentary is going to have on the filmmmakers here. For a industry so starved of location scouts, this will be a perfect watershed for new landscapes to be seen on film.

'Old Places' is not about Royston's romance with the vontage in Singapore but really a collective romance. The places featured are suggested by the public. Chuan Pictures put out a call for suggestions months ago and people phoned in with a wealth of info on these hidden gems. In this documentary, we can expect to hear 'horses' mouth' accounts of these places and in a range of different languages as well. Royston shares an account from a caller about the Capitol cinema. She has a soft spot for it because on several occasions after watching a movie she always won something. Incidentally, The British Council is also organising Depict!, a 90 sec video competition in which people can send in their 90 sec clip about an old place.

'Old Places' is not single-handedly the artistic vision of Royston. He's roped in Eva Tang and Victric Thng to cut up the Singapore pie. The idea was conceived he met them casually for a meal and decided to collaborate in this. In the documentary, the 3 filmmakers can be distinguised by their different treatments. Eva has the most logical mind, probably honed from her journalist days. Victric is a skilled hand in handling visuals. Royston is Mr touch-feely-emo. Their assigned places are simply split by regions.

While so much painstaking effort has been put into this, it seems quite a waste that the masses can only see it on an obscure channel like Okto and given the National Day eve long weekend, chances are that your parents are more likely to catch it. So, stay at home for once will ya!?

On the other hand, Royston is not about to let it all go to the shelves after the Okto screening. He is looking at possibilities on screening it in public on a big screen with live orchestra. Royston was thinking a big indoor place like Esplanade theatre. I was thinking a bog outdoor place like the National Stadium. There begins our little sidetrack about the National Stadium... a place Old Places was forbidden to include because it is about to go. Perhaps someone reading this help write in to the authorities about putting up 'Old Places' as its final swansong.



While his last major outing '12 Lotus' left us a little fatigued from the getai fever, I am sure many of us are starting to Royston and want him to return. He shares he is indeed beginning to thaw from his state of hibernation. Not that he's been inactive, in fact, the 'bread and butter' side of a filmmaker's life in Singapore can be quite exhausting and even worse uninspiring. I daringly told Royston I heard a rumour about him wanting to do horror. His reply was the rumour is true. he is in fact working with Lim Yep, a writer on a script now. His eye for people and places is undeniably poetic and very grounded in 'kampong' sensibilities and sensitivities. My theory is that's why he can bring a different angle to an ordinary HDB setting. Therefore, I can only wait in great anticipation as he reaches deeper into his mental closet to bring out some truly creepy skeletons for us to behold.



Check out the Chuan Pictures facebook group for more news coverage in Old Places.

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