STOP10 Jan 2017: 'Ring of Fury' (血指环) by Tony Yeow

Ring of Fury 血指环 (1973) by Tony Yeow, can be considered Singapore's first martial arts action film and you can watch it on either 7 January or 3 February, as part of the Asian Film Archive's 'State of Motion 2017' (SOM) screening series of old films that present a side of Singapore we may never see again.

Inspired by the Kung Fu craze sparked by Bruce Lee in the 70s, Ring of Fury is a stylish tale of a humble noodle-seller turned pugilist battling against gangsters led by a man in an iron mask. Ring of Fury was famously banned for decades for its portrayal of gangsterism at a time when Singapore was aggressively ‘cleaning up’.

Film and Screening Details 
Ring of Fury 血指环 (1973)
Director: Tony Yeow and James Sebastian 
Runtime: 78 minutes 
Language: Mandarin (with English and Chinese subtitles) 
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Screenings: 7 Jan, Sat, 9pm and 3 Feb, Fri, 8pm
Venue: NLB Plaza

Ring of Fury is one of 5 films featured in State of Motion 2017.

The event opens 6 Jan and will go on till 5 Feb 2017. This specially commissioned event, presented by the Asian Film Archive, will comprise an exhibition, film screenings, talks, workshops and day & night tours of the commissioned artworks around Singapore.

Participants in the upcoming State of Motion: Through Stranger Eyes will be brought on an art tour of film locations featured in these selected films where an artwork responding to both the film and its site awaits. There's more than meets the eye in the upcoming Singapore Art Week (11-22 Jan 2017). ART meets FILM - particularly those shot in post-independent Singapore.

We spoke to writer Ben Slater about Ring of Fury. Ben took an interest in the works of the late Tony Yeow and made a documentary called Tony's Long March about Tony. Ben himself has written extensively about Singapore cinema and is the author of 'Kinda Hot', a book on the making of Saint Jack (set in Singapore).

Ring of Fury is a homage to Bruce Lee martial arts films and follows many of the same conventions. Is its only claim to fame then that it was made in Singapore? Does the film have any value outside of simply being the only martial arts or kung fu film to be made in Singapore?

I think yes, it definitely has. It's kind of ridiculous that there hasn't been any film since then. In the last 10 or 20 years nobody's tried to make a martial arts film in Singapore. There have been a couple announced; at least 1 film was announced about 7 years ago I think. Once in a while, someone will say they’re gonna try and make one, but for me that's not really Ring of Fury’s claim to fame, as you say. That’s your really well made film.

The film that it often might be compared to is They Call Her Cleopatra Wong which was the Bobby Suarez, Filipino-Malaysia-Singapore co-production. Simply because they’re very commercial genre films, and they’re action films with heroes and they're kind of following it and ripping off previous templates of filmmaking. I remember thinking when I saw They Call Her Cleopatra Wong, it's sort of rough and clumsy and poorly paced and doesn't have the kind of zip and excitement you want it to have. It's not particularly well made. Whereas Ring of Fury is really stylish, kind of has style: really interesting shots and editing. It’s slightly outrageous and it's very funny. There’s a sense of humour behind it. It has a tongue-in-cheek aspect, it’s not pole faced. It’s not taking itself too seriously. And yet it's also got quite a watchable compelling story. So I think it has a lot to commend it, actually.

The whole fact that it’s Singapore's only martial arts film is just a pretty minor point, I think. It's more than that in the sense that it's an attempt in the early seventies to make a commercial genre film. It was kind of like other things happening in Hong Kong. And it didn’t work because it was banned, obviously didn't get a chance in Singapore. And I think, if let’s say in a parallel universe, the film had been released and it had been a huge commercial hit, there could have been 20 or 30 martial arts films that came out of Singapore. It could have, who knows, kickstarted a new studio or whole proliferation of other filmmaking that could have happened at that time. It's very very sad, in fact, in some ways a great tragedy that it didn’t.



Tony Yeow, writer and co-director of Ring of Fury had this to say on the “gangsterism” portrayed in the film: 'Filmmakers have a social conscience. When we see something happening, we have something to say.’ What is your opinion on this?

Tony, like any kind of film producer or filmmaker, was looking for things that were real, that the audiences would connect with. I knew Tony quite well and Tony was certainly very preoccupied by crime and very paranoid in some ways, when he was younger, about gangsters and crime in Singapore. There’s a story about him when he worked on Saint Jack some years later. It's 4 or 5 years after Ring of Fury that he was really paranoid about carrying the cash from the bank when they need to pay people. He really wanted to get out of that job. He did not want to be the guy that held the cash because he was so worried about getting robbed.

I think Tony was really aware about that being in an office in Geylang. He kind of knew what was going on, but I don't think you can take Ring of Fury seriously as a portrayal of gangsterism. The gangsters live in a night club and the boss has an iron mask. It's not realism. I think the idea of the protection racket and that being a threat to people was just something that Tony was tapping into, but I don’t think he had any great ambition to portray the reality of gangsterism.

What particularly struck you about the film the first time you watched it? Any memorable moments, characters or scenes?

What was memorable about it was the stylishness of it. The bit I always talk about is there’s a scene with a dog which I think is in this apartment with the villain. And there's a scene with the cameras at a very low angle. The dog sees the camera and it walks towards the camera, and it's absolutely hilarious. I remember watching that with a big audience, one of the first times the film was shown to an audience in Singapore in the early 2000s. And you know, it brought the house down. People just thought that was the most hilarious thing ever, and it's just amazing that Tony kept it in the film, it’s brilliant and so funny. It doesn't really take you out of the film. This a very cartoonish film in many ways, so it adds to the style of it.

The fight scenes are amazing because they are so raw, genuinely real fight scenes. Peter Chong (playing Fei Pao) is one of the most memorable aspects of the film. They found a guy who could do karate. He could have been a terrible actor, he could have had no presence whatsoever, and that has happened in other kinds of action movie projects where they’re looking for a new hero. But Peter is actually a really wonderful performer and very charismatic. You’re really drawn to him and it's a real shame that that’s it, that's Peter's only work on film ever.

Read our commentary article on the late Tony Yeow, following the Singapore International Film Festival's tribute talk on the filmmaker in 2015.



Talks

Join Ben Slater in his talk 'The World of Saint Jack' in which he shares more about the movie Saint Jack's fascinating depiction of Singapore and this world it has created for audiences. The talk takes place on 7 Jan, 3pm to 4.30pm at the Plaza, National Library Building.
Admission is free, simply register here: http://bit.ly/2i6Ogwf

Join Toh Hun Ping, founder of SG Film Locations, an online archive of all the films which feature Singapore locations, for a talk on Singapore in its various incarnations in films through the century. Titled 'A Thousand S'pores', the talk takes place on 10 Jan, 7.30pm to 9pm at the Plaza, National Library Building.
Admission is free, simply register here: http://bit.ly/2hnJpDb

Contests

We are giving away an copy of Ben Slater's book, Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2006), personally autographed by Ben Slater, as well as a pair of tickets to the SOM exhibition Bus Tour (worth $36)

Go to our Facebook page for more details on how to grab these giveaways.

Ticketing

SOM17 official website: stateofmotion.sg 
Follow AFA on Facebook for updates
Tour Tickets: som17tours.peatix.com
Film Screenings: som17screenings.peatix.com
#stateofmotionsg

Written by Jacqueline Lee

For the full list of January 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.

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