Where is the Sex?

by Farah Azalea

Up until my last day in Singapore, I was still preoccupied with the idea of the films which had been banned. I wanted to see for myself how offensive a sex scene could be for a film to be taken out of a festival filled with sexual themes. I was trying to see if I could spot any double standards in regard to homosexuality, race and religion. From viewing Melancholia, Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly and Boy, I felt the reasons for banning could be justified given their over-the-top sex scenes.

But Female Games was an exception. I was so grateful that I decided to persist in viewing this film, since it was totally booked out at the festival lounge the day before. It’s easily the best film I saw at this festival and it totally changed my perception of Singaporean films, which I found mediocre up to now. Not only did I fail to understand the reasons for the ban, I felt sorry for SIFF audiences who were denied such a pleasure.

As was the case with the other withdrawn films, this film is said to have prolonged and explicit homosexual scenes. However, the only lesbian scene in this film didn’t happen until the last ten minutes or so, and it showed two women in a candle-lit room dancing romantically and making out semi-naked with Mozart in the background. It barely lasted two minutes, and was supposed to depict a romantic loving relationship. The very few other “sex” scenes were merely suggestive (as was the case with the short films I saw at SIFF) and hardly had a lasting impact, unlike the ones in the other banned films.

What left an impact was how incredibly brilliant the entire film was, from start to finish. The plot wasn’t uncommon but incredibly realistic. What stood out for me was the style. The locations were outdoors, with dialogue drowned out by the ambient noise, as though we were witnessing a real life conversation. The shot compositions were carefully choreographed and each one carried a specific message. When a character revealed a secret to the protagonist, his figure was in half frame and his face could not be seen although his words were loud and clear. The protagonist then looked sideways towards the camera, as if responding to us watching from the other side.

Director Kan Lume breaks many Hollywood codes. Often the camera was placed on a tripod and the subject would move in and out of frame. The pace was slow but not painful, every step filmed without seeming redundant. The dialogue sounded free-flowing and natural – it was hard to imagine it being scripted.

Often the scenes were interspersed with a video interview of the protagonist, but this wasn’t cheesy or predictable. If anything, this technique threw the film off-balance a little, making it more intriguing. At the very end of the film, I was so taken aback by the progression of the plot that some minor details escaped me; I had to re-watch it to satisfy my doubts. Many plot points listed in the blurb never occurred – the director later told me to disregard the blurb, as he had no say in its wording. The film leaves you intrigued, hungry for more but at the same time completely satisfied. It was the best way to conclude the festival.

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7 Responses to “Where is the Sex?”

  1. Dina Iordanova Says:

    Has this film been at other festivals yet, or it is just starting its ‘life cycle’ at festivals, so to speak? Your notes on it are truly intriguing.

  2. Felicia Chan Says:

    The SIFF, in the past, has had one-off permission from the film censors to screen films with ‘objectionable’ content for the festival only. These used to sell out almost as soon as the tickets became available.

    This is by no mean empirical, and I haven’t been to the SIFF in a few years so it’s just speculation, but the change in festival organisers together with the change of the institutional structure at the Board of Film Censors may have something to do with the apparent lack of flexibility this year.

  3. apmartin Says:

    Hi Dina and Felicia,

    Given that this film was only completed in March this year, it was supposed to have it’s World Premiere at SIFF in April, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. But judging from Kan Lume’s impressive record at foreign film festivals, I’m pretty sure he would be submitting Female Games to festivals internationally.

    This film was passed with edits and was rated R21. But given that SIFF stands by it’s no-cut screening policy, this film was withdrawn.
    However, in relation to what you said Felicia, one of the withdrawn films had a closed-door jury screening and was still in the running for the Silver Screen Awards. At the end, the film got a special mention at the awards ceremony.

    The same thing happened to Kan Lume at SIFF 2007 when his film Solos was passed with edits and therefore withdrawn, but could still compete for the award. But the only people allowed to screened the film were the juries. I can imagine that these films would sell out quick as you’ve mentioned, as I saw the eagerness to view the banned films in the festival lounge this year.

    However, SIFF did make a concession in 1997 when they screened Saint Jack after cutting some scenes. So it is possible that the change of the institutional structure at the Board of Film Censors, MDA of Singapore may be the reason for the lack of flexibility for the past few years now it seems.

    Farah Azalea

  4. CBryne Says:

    Just wanted to point out:
    Saint Jack was screened UNCUT at SIFF in 1997.

  5. apmartin Says:

    My apologies, CBryne and thanks for pointing that out. I misread the information. Just to correct the statement, SIFF 1997 made a concession for Saint Jack and screened it uncut despite the fact that the film was banned in Singapore since 1980. If I’m not mistaken, the ban occurred as there were concerns that there would be excessive edits on scenes containing nudity and coarse language.


  6. Ruby Cheung Says:

    Hi Farah, talking about the censorship in film festival, it indeed often creates frustration among festival-goers who are prepared to see certain films but are later told that they can’t see them because the films are withdrawn or banned. Yet it may be surprising to see that years after the censorship was done, it is often the programmers who are still airing their grievances of not being able to screen certain films. One good example is the withdrawal of films by Mainland Chinese directors Tian Zhuangzhuang (‘The Blue Kite’) and Zhang Yuan (‘Beijing Bastards’) from the 1994 edition of the Hong Kong IFF requested by the Chinese government, obviously for political reasons before the 1997 Handover. I wasn’t in Hong Kong that year and haven’t followed the story very closely, but I am still hearing/reading about the grumbles of the festival programmers over that particular incident years later.

  7. f_chan Says:

    Re: Saint Jack. I believe it was banned on account of the negative image it presented of Singapore (hotbed of prostitution and so on) but I couldn’t point you to the empirical evidence at this time.

    I believe it may have been unbanned by now, as I bought the DVD some years ago at the local HMV…

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