5 films you didn't know were shot in Singapore

5 films you didn't know were shot in Singapore

Reel talk

Text: Adibah Isa

See Singapore through the eyes of David Bowie and Paul Theroux

You've probably seen the bleak, sterile scenes of Henderson Waves, Marina Barrage and Reflections at Keppel Bay being used as the locations for sci-fi flick Equals starring Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. You've also seen the reel destruction of the Singapore skyline's darling, Marina Bay Sands, in the trailer for Independence Day. Hollywood's attraction to Singapore isn't recent - apart from a tendency to use our grounds for filmmakers' dystopian-like realities, Singapore's first brush with La La Land was back in 1979 with Saint Jack. Peter Bogdanovich's film presents a Singapore some wouldn't remember — from the director's eyes, this city state was a hedonist's playground, "kind of like the United States of Asia, two and a half million on an island not much bigger than Manhattan".

Keen to explore representations of Singapore through the eyes of outsiders, Asian Film Archive returns with State of Motion, bringing yesterday's films to life through screenings, talks and a guided tour of the film locations. One of Singapore Art Week 2017's highlights, you'll also see newly commissioned works by artists, musicians and writers Hilmi Johandi, Randy Chan, Godwin Koay, Joo Choon Lin, Ujikaji Records, The Observatory, Jeremy Sharma and Amanda Lee Koe that relate to each site. Locations include heritage sites such as Haw Par Villa, Goodwood Park Hotel, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Raffles Hotel and Golden Mile Tower. While last year's focus was limited to Cathay-Keris flicks, this year's edition sees reel time from countries such as Japan and Italy. See the list below.

1. The Wild Eye (1967)
"He used a camera like most men use a woman — and a woman like something you'd keep in a cage!" screams the poster for The Wild Eye, signaling a critique of the mondo films that were popular in the '60s. A man on a mission to present living conditions in the most raw and sensational way possible and at any price, the film makes a mockery of the exploitative nature of such documentary makers. As the main character heads to Singapore, he attempts to capture a woman who's "succumbing to the so-called lure of the orient". 

A still from The Wild Eye showing North Canal Road Office

2. In Search of the Unreturned Soldiers of Malaysia (1971)
This documentary sees Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura painstakingly follow one lead to another, taking him through various locations in Singapore such as Bussorah Street, War Memorial Park, Beach Road and Changi Prison to track down former Japanese World War II soldiers who didn't return to Japan. He finally meets A-Kim, who has converted to Islam and fully integrated himself into a community in a Malaysian village.

A still from the film showing the Civilian War Memorial

3. Ring of Fury (1973)
Initially banned in Singapore, Ring of Fury stars karate master Peter Chong in a story of a hawker who's facing extortion from a gang. Driven by the Bruce Lee craze that had hit Asia at the time, Singapore's first martial arts film was directed by Tony Yeow and James Sebastian. Shot entirely in Singapore on a small budget, it featured locations such as the underground tunnels in Labrador Park, a granite quarry in Bukit Timah, Clementi Hill and a fish farm in Punggol, most of them now inaccessible or defunct.

A still from Ring of Fury showing the Singapore river

 4. Saint Jack (1979)
The first Hollywood film shot entirely in Singapore, it centres on novelist Paul Theroux's story of an American pimp, Jack Flowers, who tries to make a fortune by setting up a brothel. You'll see scenes in Bugis street with the ladies of the night and foreign soldiers on a yellow fever spree.

A film still in Saint Jack showing a scene shot at Bugis Street

5. Ricochet (1984)
While we were sad to see David Bowie pass early last year, we were pleased to note that the legendary star spent some time in Singapore — notably in a film as proof. In Ricochet, Bowie can be spotted exploring the likes of Far East Plaza as part of a documentary on the musician's experiences in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore on his Asian leg of his Serious Moonlight tour in 1983.

A still from Ricochet showing David Bowie ascending the escalator beside Far East Plaza