Production Talk - Old Romances by Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng


In this sequel to the documentary Old Places, Old Romances takes us on a journey to experience Singapore through the collective voices of ordinary Singaporeans. Through their voices, we hear personal stories from members of the public who shared their anecdotes on radio. Everyday spaces come alive with these special memories, which are bonded forever with these places. Old Romances is a journal of love letters to places that we grew up with.

We caught up with the filmmakers to find out how they regard Singapore's identity.
What was the inspiration behind this sequel to "Old Places"? How musch did you know about the places featured in the film?

Eva Tang (ET): After making "Old Places", we always kept an extra eye and ear out looking for places that have historical significance or are disappearing. Thanks to our many friends, fans and crew who tipped us off, we found many valuable contacts. Actually we didn't even have budget for a researcher, so we would shoot the locations first, then try to source for stories related to the places. 

Royston Tan (RT): I believe that in every old place, there is always a story waiting to be told. How great it is to have this story told by ordinary Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Victric Thng (VT): It wasn't so much a case of inspiration, but motivation. After completing 'Old Places', we felt we could still do a little more, especially since there were still many places not covered in 'Old Places' and yet to be documented by us. So that's how the sequel came about.

There is this sense of urgency and purpose closely shared by the 3 of us to do these 2 films and we are thankful that so many supporters and collaborators came on board to help us in so many ways. We couldn't have achieved these 2 films without this shared passion and vision.
What were the easiest and most challenging aspects of making this film? Were there any memorable experiences that you’d like to share?

RT: One of the most moving stories we uncovered in the making of the film was  that of an old man who was quarantined on St John island. He probably belonged to the last wave of migrants who came to Singapore and he spoke of the longing of home, which really touched me.

VT: I used to play 'Hide & Seek' and 'Catching' with my childhood friends at Silat Walk Estate. Returning back there after 30 years to shoot this film brings back many fond memories.

ET: The difficult part is how to deal with the locations and the old people emotionally. Other people are looking at the monetary value, yet we are looking at the sentimental value of the places. It’s sad to see these places and old trades disappearing. The best experience is seeing the happy smiles of the interviewees after they watched the documentary. At first some of them were hesitant and skeptical, so it felt great to have their trust, that they thank you for capturing something beautifully and meaningfully.
Do you regard Singapore's identity differently after the completion of the film? How so?

ET: I don’t know how to answer this question. But after the two sold-out premiere screenings at the National Museum, I am overwhelmed and touched by the audience. It’s good to watch the film on big screen with audiences who laugh and tear with you - you feel like part of a community. 99% of the audience stayed back for Q&A on both days. One audience member wrote on his facebook that “Old Romances” made him feel like falling in love with Singapore again, like an old lover. That was how most of us felt. Memory is very powerful, it is more powerful than any filmmaking skills or crafts. Memory binds us together, helps us to understand our older generation, and it is in these memories that we find a certain identity. It reminds us that our past is so linguistically rich, our people have so much heart, and they love the places around them.

After I left the cinema, I felt the present Singapore is a totally different world. I realize we have lost so much. There’s a sense of helplessness. That’s why I am moved by the audience who brought their parents to see the documentary, audience who bought the DVD to share the memories with their grandchildren, audience who started to record their family stories, audience who began to cherish our heritage, etc. We are so scared that our identity will be washed away, that’s why we need to do something.
VT: It is always scary when one asks you what's Singapore Identity? Seriously, can one gives one good definite answer to that question without wavering? Personally, I feel this has been a difficult question since I was young and I can never confidently answer or have an answer to that question myself. 

So, you can say I am perpetually suffering from a national identity crisis and I secretly think that many others are suffering from this same syndrome as well but we just never really talk about it. Is there a cure?

To me, making 'Old Places' & 'Old Romances' is somewhat of a cure and remedy to me and we hope, it will be the same for our audience. We hope these 2 films brings them some sort of remembrance and comfort. We hope the films rekindle and awaken those senses that have been left in a coma for so long. It will be even better if these 2 films touch the heart, bringing joy and healing to those inner wounds that have been left untreated and forgotten.

If one's identity is formed by his environment, what happens when our landscape is ever-changing in such a rapid manner?
What do you hope viewers take away after the end credits roll? Why do you think this film is worthy of more people’s attention?

RT: If old places are like old lovers, it's time to revisit and rekindle our forgotten memories! It's also the perfect film to bring the older and younger generations together and explore the beauty of our roots.

VT: I do not know what or how much they can take away when they have already lost so much. I hope people realise how quickly things are changing in Singapore. Go capture them before they are gone! You never know!

ET: On one hand we provide a dose of nostalgia, on the other hand we hope there’s a dose of reflection for everyone. The main reasons why these old places and old crafts are disappearing are because our land prices are increasing and we, the younger generation, are less capable of enduring hardship. I hope we will appreciate more these ordinary but real people around us.
What’s next in your filmmaking journey?

ET: I hope it’ll continue to surprise me!

VT: Wherever it leads me!

Read our review of Old Romances! What is your take on the Singapore identity? Share your views with us!

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