Sunday 6 December 2015

Can't go into the Room: Please don't say MDA banned Eric Khoo's new movie

I have never seen any Eric Khoo film — even though I’m in one.

Or at least I have been told that I’m in Mee Pok Man, which celebrated its 20th anniversary with a screening last Sunday at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).

I mean, I know I went to Goodwood Park Hotel in 1994 to act in a scene for the acclaimed director’s first feature film, for which I was paid with fish and chips.

But whether my scene actually ended up in the movie, I don’t know for certain since, like many people, I have never seen Mee Pok Man.

I mean, I have seen many mee pok men in real life, but not Mee Pok Man the movie.

Yes, it has been 20 years and I’ve yet to see my own movie debut.

Not that I have anything against Khoo’s oeuvre per se. I have never seen any of director Jack Neo’s movies too.

Unlike many people, I have managed to avoid all three of Neo’s phenomenally profitable Ah Boys To Men movies, and I expect to keep the streak alive when he releases the fourth and fifth, which he announced last week.

Is it because of a bias against local films that I avoid them, even those I was involved in like Mee Pok Man and Phua Chu Kang The Movie?

As PCK would say, “Abuden?”

But now it seems that even if I want to, I can’t see Khoo’s latest film, In The Room.

A commercial release of the movie in Singapore appears unlikely as the Media Development Authority (MDA) has deemed two scenes in the movie “to have exceeded our classification guidelines for sexual content”.

MDA said it “informally advised the distributor that the film could be classified R21 with edits for commercial release”.

But Khoo, a Cultural Medallion recipient, doesn’t want to make the cuts, saying: “If I were to censor it, it would go against my principles as a film-maker.”

So without the edits, MDA won’t give the movie a classification. Without the classification, the movie can’t be shown in cinemas here.

Just don’t say MDA is banning the movie. It’s Khoo who is banning his own movie by refusing to edit it according to MDA’s “advice”.

What’s In The Room about anyway?

The synopsis on the SGIFF website says:
“One of the most transitory lived spaces, the hotel room becomes the vehicle that transposes a sprawling tapestry of stories in Eric Khoo’s vision of the history of Singapore…

“Starting off from the advent of Singapore’s occupation in 1942, two men meet for the last time in the hotel room before the Japanese arrive.

“In the 70s, a band celebrates New Year’s Eve fiercely in an orgiastic drug-fuelled party.

“Decades pass as stories unfold within the same hotel room. Reflecting Singapore’s history as an entrepôt, characters of diverse backgrounds and nationalities find themselves in the hotel room, as a spirit watches on, drawn to the suffering and tragedies expressed within it.”
That’s it? One “orgiastic drug-fuelled party”?

Where’s all the “sexual content” that MDA has problems with?

Then I found a somewhat different write-up of the movie on the Toronto International Film Festival website:
“The sensitive and sensual new film from Singaporean director Eric Khoo draws together several narratives spanning several decades, all of them transpiring in the same room of the same Singaporean hotel — and all of them involving sex.”
There you go.

So there’s no mention of the word “sex” in the Singapore synopsis, but in the Toronto write-up, the movie is all about sex.

Three years ago, Khoo asked me to write a movie about sexual perverts as he said I was practically one myself, but I failed to deliver a script.

In The Room is a totally different movie written by Jonathan Lim and Andrew Hook, but it’s still about sex despite what the SGIFF website says (or doesn’t say).

So this could have been a movie written by me that’s not getting a commercial release in Singapore.

But In The Room was allowed by MDA to be screened uncut with an R21 classification at SGIFF on Tuesday night because “more leeway is given to film festivals as they play to a niche audience and have limited screenings”.

To promote the movie, the SGIFF website called it “the perfect bookend to a year of jubilee celebrations”.

Oh, sure. If a flamboyantly gay singer like Adam Lambert can perform in the New Year’s Eve show, why not a local movie inspired by 70s European softcore porn (according to Khoo) to finish the year?

Talk about ending SG50 with a bang.

I can’t wait for SG60 and the 30th anniversary screening of Mee Pok Man in 2025.

I must remember to miss it again.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 December 2015


How I ended up in Mee Pok Man

The last time I met Eric Khoo