STOP10 Jun 2017: 'Outsiders' by Sam Loh

With a delayed showing of 13 years, director Sam Loh’s debut independent feature Outsiders will finally be showing in Singapore. As part of *SCAPEmedia SCREEN, the film will be screened with a dialogue session with the director himself.

Besides the sex and violence streak he has taken with more recent films such as Lang Tong and Siew Lup, Outsiders follows the story of two detectives tracking down a necrophiliac serial killer. The premise is certainly interesting, and coupled together with an air of mystery over the censorship issue back in 2004, this film is one to catch.

SINdie catches up with Sam Loh to ask more about the issue of local censorship and how the entire filming process was like.

Were you surprised by MDA insisting on cuts for your film to be shown as part of SIFF 2004?

I was more disappointed than surprised back then because I was looking forward to share the fruits of our labour of love with my cast and crew who went on a crazy and meaningful journey with me to realize the film. I thought I could finally see it on the big screen with them and that was the only payback I can give them at that point in time as we all work so hard and passionately to make the film with no budget at all. Thus, the withdrawal of the film in 2004 was a big disappointment not only for me, it was also a step back for censorship and how open we are as a country in Singapore back then.

What's your take on local censorship boards and do you think censorship weakens creativity?

That year 2004 was a watershed year for censorship. My film Outsiders, Toh Hai Leong's Zombie Dogs and Jin's Perth were all selected for the Singapore International Film Festival and eventually, my film was the only one that was withdrawn due to censorship board wanting 3 cuts to the film and still gave me a R21 rating. If I remembered correctly, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was showing in cinemas and it was rated M18. Personally, I felt that that was a double standard when it comes to censorship of a local film and a foreign film. I couldn't understand why the censorship board wanted to censor my film which was meant for a festival crowd and not the masses whereas they gave a more lenient M18 rating for a commercial film showing to the masses. What gives?

In regards to censorship hampering creativity, I think it's not so much creativity but censorship certainly dampens a film's chance of finding a audience and letting them decide for themselves what they want to see. In other words, censorship takes away that adult's freedom of choice to watch a film. It's just frustrating that our 18 year olds are enlisted into National Service to learn how to defend themselves and handle weapons but are unable to watch a R21 film because it has what the censorship board deemed undesirable and unsuitable viewing content.

The parts in Outsiders where the censorship board found objectionable are scenes of the serial killer committing necrophilia after killing his victims. However, I was not glorifying the act but depicting the character's motivations for such acts. His character's motivation for committing those despicable acts were mainly due to his impotency, he was physically and emotionally scarred by her maniacal sister and he also has an Oedipus complex. When I shot the sequences, there were also no gratuitous close up shots and the scenes were shot almost documentary-like with long lenses from a far away angle. And if I made the cuts stipulated by the censorship board, the whole act of killing would have been made worst because the necrophilia acts in the scenes would become more meaningless and senseless.

Talk us through the filming process for Outsiders.

I took more than a year making the film because firstly, there was no budget and secondly, it was an experimental film where I wanted to work with a bunch of passionate independent actors and make a film unlike no other Singaporean film at that time. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the process of making the film more than finishing up the film eventually because the entire filmmaking process was so memorable and significant for me and everyone involved.

Three things and events happened that made me decide to make my film:

The DV revolution has just started in the US and spread worldwide then. The Danish DV film The Celebration just won an Oscar and Lars Von Trier's The Idiots was also making waves. And when I went to see these films, I was blown away by how easy and mobile it was to make a film without hassles and constraints.

It was total freedom, just like how Godard made his French New Wave films with his bunch of minimal crew and dedicated actors. I was studying filmmaking at NYU then in 1998 and I tell myself that when I get back to Singapore, I also wanted to make a DV film with that kind of aesthetics and freedom.

It was also around that time that I met one of the lead actress in Outsiders - Corinne Adrienne, whom I was working with on a TV drama then, that my idea for 'Outsiders' started. She was staying with a bunch of actors - namely Keagan Kang, Christian Lee and Garret Hoo, under one roof at the 'Mutiara House' (so called because it was on Jalan Mutiara Road off River Valley Road) I told myself - how rare an opportunity was that? And wouldn't it be wonderful to have all of them act in my film?

I also remembered reading the book 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' and it was written that the Hollywood actress Margot Kidder also used to stay in an apartment with fellow actors Robert De-niro, Harvey Keitel, etc and they all eventually acted in Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma movies and was the 'Brat Pack' of the 70's American filmmaking.

I told myself that I could actually replicate that here to make my film.

So I started conceptualising the film idea and I made up a few rules for the film.

Firstly, I wanted to shoot the film handheld with no lighting but with good cinematography and good location sound. Secondly, I only wrote the description and motivation of the scene and its objective and the actors are to improvise, act and move freely to reach that objective of each scene. Basically, there was no script and each take the actors did was spontaneous, unrehearsed and fresh. It was totally invigorating for the actors, myself and the crew as we were constantly on our toes trying out different takes and things on each take. I ended up with lots of video rushes and in editing, I pieced and edited the film with jump cuts to get around the continuity of the film.

I only shot once or twice a month and I would gather a 2 men crew - DP and soundman and we would shoot the film in all kinds of conditions, day and night, under existing practical lights. The shoot went smoothly and the only difficult part in making the film was maintaining continuity of the actors' looks and imaging because as mentioned earlier, I only shoot once or twice a month when everyone is free to shoot. Fortunately, all the actors were so passionate and professional that I managed to finish the film without much hiccups. Special mention to Christian Lee who played the serial killer lead role for his transformation and dedication to his role. I remembered he would be in character and turned up on set every time with his signature clothing and spectacles and walked with a limp required of him in the film. And I was so glad that he eventually won the Best Actor role for my film at the Asian Film Festival in Rome. Special mention also to Keagan Kang, who managed to spread the word about the making of my film during production that eventually I ended up with other notable actors like Steph Song, Janice Koh, Craig Fong and Cheryl Chin. I also managed to rope in the fashion model Rachel S, theatre actress Pat Toh, and discovered Jade Seah in her debut role.

Why did you choose to take on such a controversial topic for your debut? Do you have a personal opinion about necrophilia?

I was inspired by John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and the Belgium film Man Bites Dog and I wanted to make a local film like that. And I've always been a big genre fan and my movie diet is also very wide and varied. For the record, the film was never about necrophilia and I don't have a personal opinion on it. I wanted to explore the subject of loneliness and uncertainty experienced by a group of misfits of society. And I still feel that this subject is still relevant today especially in these uncertain and dangerous times. I always have a thing for the outsiders of society. Maybe that comes from me being an outsider, a free lancer working in the system. And that's why I named my company 'Outsider Pictures' as well.

Now you are known as a prolific filmmaker that takes on provocative and challenging topics for films. Is that how you envisioned your career to be and how would you move forward?

I'm just glad and fortunate that I'm able to do what I like to do, continue to make a living as a director and make my personal films with support from those who believed in my films and capability. I would like to continue to push boundaries and make different kinds of genre films - namely horror, action, thriller, crime and mystery type films. And hopefully these films are entertaining to the audience and commercial enough to be successful at the box office, because without an appreciative audience and healthy box office, I would not be able to continue to do what I love - making films.


Here are details of the screening event, jointly organised by *SCAPE and The Filmic Eye.
Date: 17 June 2017, Saturday
Time: 7.30pm to 9.30pm
Venue: SCAPE Gallery
Admission Fee: $8 (Free seating)
Rating: R21 (Please note that organisers have the right to check your identification upon entry)
Please get your tickets from Peatix at this link.

The screening is followed by a dialogue with Sam Loh in person. Tap into Sam’s memories of his journey as a filmmaker. Sam built his career from years of television directing. His works display a formidable genre range. They include Channel 5 dramas like Lions Mums and In Cold Blood, Channel 8 dramas like C.L.I.F 4 and Dream Coders, 9 Lives on Suria and even Kids Central! Currently, he is a freelance film director who works regularly with prominent production houses that produced dramas and programs for MediaCorp. He started Outsider Pictures to make independent and original movie content for the local and international market. Lang Tong 靓汤 – his R21 Chinese independent movie was well received and had a sold out screening at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival. It was also screened commercially at all local cinemas in March 2015. Siew Lup 烧腊 – his follow up to Lang Tong and part of his femme fatale trilogy was also the first film to sold out at the 2016 Singapore International Film Festival.

Interview by Dawn Teo

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