Production Talk - Triple Happiness by Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson is an Australian filmmaker based in Melbourne but his connection to Singapore is his previous Objectifs Filmmaking Residency and more importantly his upcoming film, Triple Happiness. This is a film spanning 3 different periods and tries to tie the collective memories of Australia and Singapore together. It is also a collaboration between Chuan Pictures and Finer Films.

21 year old Jim is an Australian airman lost in the jungles of northwest Singapore. It’s February 1942 and the Japanese have begun invading the island. His plane has been shot down. He is suspended from the jungle canopy in the harness of his parachute.

Night falls and he makes his way through the jungle. He intercepts a young Singapore-Chinese soldier, Seng, separated from the rest of his battalion. Unable to speak the same language but with a common foe and survival goal, a connection is formed in the intensity of the situation. They seek safety in the undergrowth, comforted knowing they have each other to ensure they remain alert – but when dawn arrives, loud voices wake them. Japanese soldiers grab Jim and quickly drag him away from a terrified Seng. A single shot echoes through the undergrowth. Jim looks back but can only see jungle. He stops struggling, prepared for his own fate, as the two soldiers drag him out of the jungle.

The story continues 28 years on (in 1970) as Jim’s war experience continues to haunt him. He is living alone on his farm in rural Australia after having not ever truly reconnected with his family upon his return. Following this, the film explores his dealing with the newer times and coming to terms with his memory of that fateful night. But the after effects of the war do not just affect Jim. There are others around in his life will continue to live with the legacy of the war.

Director's Bio
AARON was born in rural Australia in 1976 and has been writing and directing short films since 2003, with a passion for understated human drama that has proved successful on the international film festival circuit. His films include the award-winning RENDEZVOUS (‘03), TEN FEET TALL (‘05), FAUX PAS (‘07) and LEAP YEAR (‘08).

In 2006, Aaron took part in a filmmaker residency program with The Objectifs Centre for Filmmaking & Photography in Singapore. His short film FENG (WIND) was created as part of this residency and was awarded Best Short Film at the prestigious Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival in 2007. His most recent short film, AHMAD’S GARDEN (08) was produced in association with Screen Australia and premiered at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival. For further information, visit Aaron’s website.

Jeremy (J): So what’s it got to do with Singapore?

Aaron (A): I had a script idea at hand when I applied for the residency with Objectifs. They needed something with a Singapore link. My story is about this Australian soldier during WWII. In the opening of the script, there is an encounter with an Australian and a Singapore soldier. So Objectifs was interested to develop this script with me. And offered me the residency. At the same time, I also made a short that carried the themes of that feature film. (pause)

This script was really about me telling a story that connected Australia with its neighbours. We don’t often make films that connect us with our borders and definitely not our neighbours. So that was very important to me.

J: What I find interesting about is perhaps the Singapore soldier because whenever you film someone in the SAF uniform, it carries a lot of connotations, it conjures a lot of ‘feelings’ in young Singaporean men, mostly negative (laughs).

A: Actually these were the original soldiers, the Straits Volunteers Forces, not the modern day ones. They were men who grouped together at the 11th hour because the Japanese were heading south to Singapore soon. They were also Kuomingdang loyaliststs and wanted to fight the Japanese. Their uniforms were put together last minute. They used leftover shirts.

J: Where did you do your research?

A: Ah geez…I can’t remember. It just stuck in my mind as I researched more and more. My mother gave me this book which captured a lot of diary accounts of soldiers and there was one of a Singaporean soldier. So the these soldiers fought together with the Australian soldiers but could not cope with the Japanese forces. The group was disbanded and went into hiding from the Japanese who started hunting them down. They caught many of them within a few months and killed them in the Sook Ching massacre as a lesson to the Singaporeans.

J: So how many periods is this film set in?

A: It is set in 3 different periods. It starts out in 1942 when the opening third of the film is basically depicting the relationship between the Australian soldier and the Singapore soldier at the point of time when the forces had just been defeated by the Japanese and the men were lost from the battalion. So injured, they ran into each other and had only the night to figure out to survive as the Japanese were surrounding them. (pause)

We then jump to 1970 when they have aged and explore how the war has affected their lives.

J: I like the 1970s. (grins)

A: We’ve already the 70s bit in November already. Here now in Singapore, we are in the middle shooting their catching up and we’ve got 5 days to shoot.

J: So is this simply a reminiscence kind of movie or are there some new developments or twists to their friendship?

A: Well, it starts off with the encounter in 1942 where we see both characters. But the Singaporean Chinese character does not return to the story until later in the 3rd act. So in the 2nd act, the Australian character lives in reminiscence of that friendship. Then in the 3rd act, we explore more of the legacy of their friendship left for his family. We look at how it is impacting the life of the people in his family in the later generation. Like it affects his communication with his son and how his son communicates with his wife and so on. (Pause) Well, it is not saying that all these things are because of the war but exploring why this man does not talk and why he is like how he is. It really is exploring how war is having an effect on future generations.
J: Obviously this is not your first time shooting in Singapore. So I guess it is a big departure from the shooting your first short film ‘Wind’ in Singapore?

A: My first short film was very simple. We didn’t have any lights. Very low budget.

J: So how is it like now dealing with more things like ….. sandbags! I saw them outside the house.

A: Those are very low-budget. It’s all set in a jungle at night. We don’t actually see the war. We hear the war more around us. It is really follows the journey of these 2 men closely as they seek safety in the forest. The war is going on all around them and they can see and feel it. It is like having a big battle between nature and war going on around them and they are sort of stuck in the middle.

J: Have you ever served in the army?

A: Me? No no. I have done a short stint in the Australian Reserves but that’s it. That was for a scholarship.

J: How long were you there for?

A: It was just for 3 months. Not like the compulsory 2 years you have in Singapore. Interestingly, for the Australian soldiers in the 1940s, most of them were volunteers and were off to mission within 2-3 weeks of hearing the call for volunteers. Many of them had never held a gun before. And when Singapore fell, they were kept in camps.

J: Well, I guess it’s a different mood we are talking about in those days. Patriotism is rare these days and hard to find because life has become so comfortable. (pause) So, you guys shot in the jungle?

A: Yes.

J: So that’s quite close to getting a taste of what it’s like to be on a military exercise in Singapore. (beat) So how was it?

A: Well, we shot in Bukit Brown. It was a jungle surrounded by graves and the first we had to do every morning was to pray to them, just to make sure nothing bad happens to us and that we have a good shoot. We spent 5 days there and now we are going to spend 2 days in Sungei Buloh.

J: The swamp area?

A: Yes, the story starts in the swamp and moves deeper into the forest.

J: Anything interesting happened during the shoot?

A: Nothing bizarre. Just lots of little mishaps and rain rain and more rain.

J: How long were you here in Singapore during your residency?

A: I have been travelling back and forth many times.

J: Last question. I guess you must be quite familiar with Singaporeans films for the time that you were here. So what are your favourite Singapore movies?

A: I really liked ‘12 Storeys’ and ‘Mee Pok Man’. I guess they were very early Singaporea films. Those two stick with me. I also like 4:30 and 15. Those 2 directors travel to the Melbourne Film Festival quite a bit so we see them quite often.

J: But how about the more recent films, like from 3-4 years ago?

A: I like ‘Singapore Dreaming’, ‘The Days’.

J: There have been a lot of new directors coming up and working with low budgets.

A: Yeah, I do notice that there are many Singaporean directors making films on low budgets and that’s very inspiring. In Australia, not that we work with huge budgets but 5-6 million for a feature film is not unheard of. (beat) I didn’t want to make such a budget film because I wanted to get it out more quickly which would make it easier for me to get returns. It is also an arthouse film. The idea is to distribute it to wider box offices. This brings it back to my point about making a film that would connect Australia with the places around with a theme that has gripped us all in the past 60 years.

Check excerpts from our trip to Woodlands to interview Aaron and visit the production team.

People can actually help with fundraising if they buy a photo on their gallery at

Check out the rest of Aaron's films here.

Last but not least, here is the official website of Triple Happiness

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