25 May 2005

Party Political Films - Leong Ching Just Doesn't Get It.

ST journalist Leong Ching's article on 22 May annoys me. She is simply missing the point. Deliberately or not, I do not know.

Let's recap. Film-maker Martyn See made a film about opposition figure Chee Soon Juan and landed himself in hot soup. Currently he is under police investigation for making a "party political film", a criminal offence under the Films Act. A group of film-makers then wrote to the ST Forum saying that the legal definition of "party political films" was too vague and requesting that the authorities clarify its scope.

Our dear Leong Ching starts making snide remarks about these film-makers. She suggests that they are either stupid, or trying to act stupid, and in any case, are simply not "savvy film-makers". After all, Leong Ching sniffs:

"When it comes to guidelines, there will always be room for
interpretation and manoeuvre by film-makers."

To prove the "cleverness" of her own point, she refers to two local films. "Tak Giu" and "I Not Stupid", she notes, poked fun at the Singapore authorities but escaped punishment:

The film, called Tak Giu (to 'kick ball' in Hokkien), records his attempts to find a public field where he and his friends can play football for free.

Many establishment figures, from town council officials to officious policemen, came in for a roasting.

The 22-minute film has achieved a cult following on the Internet. It was downloaded 1,500 times a day for three weeks.

Some people would say that this is a different kettle of fish, since Mr Tan's film is not about a political party or a politician.

But think of Jack Neo's film, I Not Stupid. Most people would agree it is 'political' because of the pointed comments it makes about the education system here. Like Mr Neo, Mr Tan also uses humour to make his points.

These two films show that savvy film-makers know how to work around the Films Act to make their point.
As I said earlier, Leong Ching simply misses the point. Tak Giu might very well have gotten into trouble for being a party political film. I Not Stupid might very well also have gotten into trouble too. Both film-makers took the chance and as it turned out, the gods were kind and luck was on their side. What Leong conveniently forgot is that when I Not Stupid was first released, Jack Neo himself said that he feared that he was going to run into serious trouble with the Singapore government.

Like Tan and Jack Neo, Martyn See also took a chance. Luck, however, was not on Martyn's side. Right now the police are on his case (see here for the definitive story, and NO, this is not a link to the insipid Straits Times). This is the problem with the Films Act. It is too vague. The environment is impossible for film-makers if they have to be perpetually making guesses as to the authorities will or will not tolerate.

To her credit, Leong Ching does make one salient observation about permissible local films. On the makers of Tak Giu and I Not Stupid, Leong Ching notes:

"Like Mr Neo, Mr Tan also uses humour to make his points.

These two films show that savvy film-makers know how to work around the Films Act to make their point."

I feel that this is a pertinent observation. And I also feel that it is a very sad point. Leong Ching suggests that as long as your film stays comedic, cute and funny, you'll probably be permitted to comment on politics. However, the moment you try to make a serious film about politics - you've drastically increased your chances of being thrown into jail.

And that is sad. Even if Leong Ching still doesn't get it.


Arnold Schwarzenneger, US Politician and Governor of California.
"What do you mean, my film is banned in Singapore?"


xenoboysg said...

What Leong Ching is missing is also the fact that her two "good" examples of political films disguised as mainstream films happen to be made by someone not affiliated to the SDP.

As implied in my entry, the attack on Martyn is an attack on the SDP. Very simple. Martyn and co. have to awaken to this idea and turn it to his advantage rather than play the "innocent" film-maker card as I suspect the latter approach will flop miserably.

As an aside, what Leong Ching fails SERIOUSLY to appreciate when she syas this " "When it comes to guide- lines, there will always be room for interpretation and manoeuvre by film-makers." is that the guidelines ALSO leaves room for the authorities to intepret and manoeuvre. Vagueness is a double edged sword, she exhibits the common journalistic myopia to think that the authorities are not exercising in Martyn's case, the vagueness to their own advantage.

Journalists believe authorities play it straight. It is a stupid and unfounded belief.

akikonomu said...

Jack Neo doesn't make political films. Jack Neo represents Singapore's cinema of angst, a close cousin to Singapore's theatre of angst and reheated whinings from inebriated coffeeshop ah-cheks.

The tedious familiarity of the complaints from Neo's characters make all his movies topical (and Leong Ching confuses topical with political) and safe as porridge.

tausarpiah said...

What is the difference between "topical" and "political"? I think all comment on/critique of policy matters can be reasonably construed as being "political". Jack Neo's film is "political" in that sense. Martyn See's problem was either that he was being overtly political or (more likely) that he was commenting on a policy that the powers-that-be do not want people to be commenting on. That to me is the vagueness of the Films Act.

Anonymous said...

Dear all,

I had brushes with Leong Ching in grassroot activities. If i am not wrong, she is working with MP David LIM in Cashew branch. She is a PAP member and is a SPH scholar. Correct me if i am wrong.

In my experience with her, she may belong to the type that always say yes as long the subjects/ideals comes from the MP and CCC chairman, during the grassroot meetings. As usual, our CCC chairman is also PAP man and well-liked by MP david Lim, to an extend that you suspect unfair advantage is at play. She will always praise any comments and decision by MP and CCC chairman. This is even done when they decide to hire a service provided by a known person, known to CCC chairman, even though the qualification and price are not to standard ,as compared to other competitors.

As such, i really have to take her article with double pinch of salt.

Sad to see strong link to PAP for a journalist even when there is a rule that disallowed journalist to be linked politically, be it opposition or not.

Monkey said...

yesterday a rather distinguished friend - ok acquaintance, i don't think im in the league to be his friend yet - of mine told me that he had a friend (all angmohs btw) who wrote for the far eastern review who was arrested in singapore for just collecting info to write about singapore. no primary research. no idea what topic. but then as he puts it, "everything is political in singapore"

first thing i thought of was this post of yours. need i say more?

Anonymous said...

It's a long time since...and still nothing from the government over the Act. We can safely dismiss comments from people like Leong Ching. Is she making sense? Sure she is not. And I think she knows it.

Journalists like Leong Chin aren't really interested in archiving Singapore as she really is, rather than presenting her as the candied Wonderland as presented by our government. Does she care about our local films? I daresay not.

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