In the future, 2015 will be known as simply as SG50 and rightfully so. The amount of events, festivals and celebrations has been immense in both scale and diversity. As 2015 comes to an end, so too will the celebrations but not without SG Heart Map Festival. SG Heart Map has been an ongoing cumulative effort to record and to share places in Singapore that is especially meaningful to various Singaporeans. As we dabble into nostalgia and sentiments, there is no better master than Royston Tan, an acclaimed local film director. For SG Heart Map and SG50 celebrations, he has contributed to the recording of these places through film and more specifically, places that hold precious memories because of people’s first kiss. We talk to him about his project as well as the use of Singapore and its many places as topics in his film.
To be honest, I love the idea of doing a film about people’s first kiss. Why you may ask. Simply consider this. Do you remember your first kiss? Do you remember where you had your first kiss? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions, well you’re probably not alone which is testament to just how importance one’s first kiss is. Just like a first love, you’ll never forget it. It started with a desire of “documenting some of the amazing personal stories contributed by the public for SG Heart Map on film, as one of the lead artists. We tried to find a common theme running across different parts of Singapore and we thought a first kiss may be suitable.” With that, 50 First Kisses was born, 50 different kisses in Singapore will be recreated exactly where it had happened. “Set against the backdrop of iconic landmarks in Singapore, 50 First Kisses explores stories of Singaporeans from all walks of life… 50 pairs of Singaporeans revisited a significant place in their relationships and shared about this special place in their hearts. It brings back memories of sentimental moments in the past, while celebrating the success and modernity of Singapore today.”
Since we were on the topic of first kisses, I was of course curious as to the first kiss of the man behind a film about 50 first kisses. His response was a little different from what I was looking for though. “I remember the kiss with my grandmother at the provision shop which we managed at Lorong Chuan when I was three or four years old. It was flooding then and I was scared. My grandmother kissed me to assure me then.” But then it’ll do.
Royston’s films (both shorts and features) serve as words on paper while he the scribe in order to document and record the beauty of the present before time inevitably changes it. However, do not mistake it for a love of nostalgia, “I do not think that my films are about nostalgia. I’m documenting the present so that people can appreciate what we have now and enjoy the ongoing progression.” Unlike Gil Pender from Midnight in Paris who wanted to live in a different era and epoch, Royston merely wants to be its scribe. Just as Gil Pender loved Paris in the 1920s, Royston’s has a favourite spot in Singapore. “I like the old-school coffee shops such as Hiap Seng Coffee Shop where I can sit, look at passers-by and read newspapers.”
Royston’s latest feature, 3688, has only recently hit the big screen in Singapore but take a look back at the list of his films and you’ll notice a certain trend. 15, 4:30, 881, 12 Lotus and finally 3688. Notice anything yet? Yes, just like you, I too have noticed the uncanny trend of numbers as titles so like a true detective, I have found the answer. According to Royston himself, “these are all coincidences and also, it has become somewhat of a tradition. I prefer numbers it is open to possibilities. This leads the audience to think harder about why these numbers are used.” Well he has certainly succeeded in that regard.
Something that you may not know about Royston is that he was one of the directors for one of the shorts in 7 Letters and he was actually the spark that got this whole project rolling. It has been also been selected as Singapore’s entry to the Academy Awards and while we may have had favourites (mine was Neo’s That Girl, Royston’s Bunga Sayang and Kelvin’s Grandma Positioning System), here’s a little inside story to it. “Amid the revelry across the country celebrating our Jubilee year, the seven of us (Royston, Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Boo Junfeng, Tan Pin Pin and Kelvin Tong) decided on an introspective examination of our notion of home, family and the Singapore identity. All of us have a special connection to Singapore and each of the seven ‘letters’ is intricately interwoven with our memories, experiences and personal stories. While we each have our own distinct cinematic style, the film came together to give a coherent and honest multi-faceted expression of what our country means to us.” As for other Singaporean directors whose films he enjoys, he lists Anthony Chen, “I also admire the works by Anthony Chen. He brings out a fresh breath of life for Singapore cinema and I am proud of his ambitions as a young filmmaker.”
SG Heart Map is a symbolic mark to the end of 2015 as well as SG50 celebrations which means that we will be returning to a more normal 2016. However, normal does not mean less exciting, especially for Royston. “We are currently preparing for the script development of a new film – 1998 – for Golden Horse Awards. If all goes well, it will be my first film to be filmed outside Singapore – entirely in Taipei.” We of course wish him all the best and perhaps like Anthony, will return with a couple of Golden Horse Awards!