Production Talk on 'Lang Tong' with Sam Loh

What does mean to be Singapore's first commercial R21 movie with sexual content? And what does it take to make it happen? Porn as a genre is a rather hazy concept here in Singapore as it's illegal to make porn here and due to its illegality, no talents are being groomed in this sector, be-it behind or in front of the camera. 'Lang Tong' (靓汤) a feature film by director Sam Loh, screened at the 25th Singapore International Film Festival, raises a spectre of thought about the normalising of this genre in Singapore. Or perhaps not this genre per se, but a hybrid genre consisting of soft porn fused with drama or comedy or thriller. Think 'Dangerous Liaisons' and 'Basic Instincts'.

Here's the synopsis:
A deliciously twisted tale of sex, betrayal, double crossing and murder.
Zack (William Lawandi), a remorseless serial womanizer and con-man meets his match in Li ling (Vivienne Tseng), an alluring and well-to-do woman who makes a wicked bowl of pork rib soup. Things take an unexpected turn when Zack begins an affair with Li ling's younger sister Li er. Soon, Li er convinces Zack to help her execute a heinous plot to murder her older sister, whom she blames for causing her mother's death. However, things are not as simple as they seem. 

This movie was shot over 2 weeks in 2014. Visionary Films under DP Chow Woon Seong and his team supported and shot this independently financed and produced feature with casts William Lawandi, Angeline Yap, Vivienne Tseng, Esther Goh and Alan Tan. Special mention to prosthetic make up artist Christina Koh for her wonderful work on the film. Post was finished at Thunk and the film was edited by Tay Hui Cheng. Colour grading and online by was also done by Ying Sien from Thunk. Sound design and audio mix was finished at Muse and Christine Sham scored the music for the film. 

We chat with director Sam Loh on the making of 'Lang Tong' (靓汤).

This is possibly the first movie in Singapore with explicit sex scenes, what prompted the decision to take on this challenge?

I am a big fan of genre films and I've always wanted to make one locally with local actors. And I also wanted to move away from what other filmmakers here are often making - heartland dramas and comedies. I decided to push the boundaries and prove that Singaporeans can make an entertaining genre film with an international appeal. Sex scenes are a norm in films from the West but just rare in local films, so why should we fear and not make them just because it's not common here? And if there is motivation in the doing them, we should write in those scenes and shoot them, regardless whether it is a sex scene, fight scene or murder scene. 

Were you afraid at the start that the potential restricted rating would limit the market reach of the film?

From the beginning, I've always wanted to make a film for an international audience but rooted in the Singaporean identity using a local cast and crew. So, I didn't really restricted myself in terms of adult themes and censorship. I wanted to make a film that can travel and sell overseas, not just for local consumption. 
Can you discuss some of the influences (films? Director?) that shaped the direction of Lang Tong?

The inspiration came from Takashi Miike's 'Audition' and Fruit Chan's 'Dumplings' - both films featuring femme fatales that takes revenge on man that takes advantage of them. I sort of combined the 2 elements of food and revenge and incorporated in my film. And I'm planning my own femme fatale trilogy starting with Lang Tong. I'm also a big fan of Korean cinema especially Kim Ki duk as he continues to make 'dangerous' films. I hope to emulate the success of Korean films  cause their films often combine dark subject matters and commercial viability very successfully. One good example is Park Chan Wook's 'Old Boy' and Na Hong-Jin's 'The Chaser'. I hope my films can achieve that kind of success. 

What were some of the initial reactions from viewers? Especially your ‘test’ audience? Or even friends?

The first reaction when I show the trailer to my test audience and even my cast was that it is nothing they have ever seen before in local films. And some commented and didn't believe that it is a Singaporean film. That, to me is a big compliment and boost as I have achieved what I intended to do right from the start - to make a film with a difference. 
Is it easy to get people to strip for the camera in Singapore? How did you find your cast?

It was tough. The script was written 7 years ago and through the years, I have talked and interviewed several actresses for the part of Li er and all have turned it down because of the explicit scenes. Everything fell into place early this year when my actor Alan Tan introduced me to Angeline Yap, who courageously took on the role. And when I secured the location for the film, it was a go. My casting process is slightly different as most of the actors in the film I've worked with them before and I know what they can deliver. And I usually casts by instinct instead of  asking the actor read from the script and performing for me. I usually talked casually over a coffee and find out what makes them tick, what are their inclinations and comfort level in doing scenes that are not the norm and even uncomfortable. From there, I can sort of gauge whether they are right for the part.

How were the sex scenes shot? Any interesting or funny moments to share?

I shot the sex scenes first on the first day of shoot and after that, everything else was much easier. I guess you can say the ice was broken and the actors threw away their inhibitions and everything went smoothly after. The funny thing in shooting these scenes is that it is actually very technical. Every body movement and gesture, including making moaning sounds need to be directed and rehearse for it to look tasteful and realistic. After a while, it's no different from directing talking or action scenes as the process are the same. 

Why was the lead actor’s voice dubbed instead using natural voice?

The decision to dub is to improve the performances of the actors as most of them spoke English and their Mandarin wasn't that perfect. In most Hollywood films, ADR is a common practice and that's the other reason why I dubbed the whole film - to make it professionally more polished as a finished film. 
What were the biggest challenges in making this film?

The limited budget and resources as well as a small team are some challenges.  I practically did everything on my film - from producing, art direction, wardrobe, location, casting and of course directing. But having said that, it was professionally very satisfying. 

Having done this, would you direct porn if given the opportunity?

(Laughs)Porn is a whole different ball game. It looks easy but I'm sure it's not. I will take up the challenge if the opportunity presents itself. 

What are the plans in terms of distributing this film in Singapore and regionally?

MM2 is distributing my film locally and internationally. 

Here's the trailer of 'Lang Tong'. Watch out for details of its commercial release soon!

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