Risky sex in movies

Risky sex in movies

Just when it seemed as if every made-inSingapore movie was going to be cookie-cutter wholesome, a few film-makers have dared to step forward to spice up the scene.

As Sam Loh, 48, director of sexy thriller Lang Tong, puts it: "Audiences are bored of horror comedies, heartland comedies, HDB issues.

"What you see on television and in films - they are all the same," he says.

Opening in cinemas tomorrow is Rubbers, a Mandarin R21-rated sex comedy showing a man pleasuring himself to a porn video. In the English language M18-rated thriller Unlucky Plaza, now showing in cinemas, a woman offers oral gratification to a man in a car.

And in the Mandarin R21-rated horror-thriller work Lang Tong, which was released last month, there was female nudity aplenty.

Later this year, eminent film-maker Eric Khoo will release In The Room, which has been described as a "high-concept erotic movie".

Four movies might not sound like much, but in Singapore, this marks a major change on a movie menu dominated by youth- and family-friendly entertainment.

Till now, local features aimed at cinema release have tried to avoid ratings of NC16 or higher to maximise audience size. There is also a stigma attached to explicit films, where M18- and R21- rated pictures from South Korea and elsewhere have become associated with seediness and an audience composed mainly of older men who attend screenings alone.

At first glance, the four local movies seem to be a mixed bunch in content and financing.

What they do have in common is that none received financial assistance from the Government. Rubbers and Unlucky Plaza are largely privately funded. Singapore film-maker Han Yew Kwang, who is behind Rubbers, was also helped by an Internet crowdfunding campaign.

On the other hand, Lang Tong was co-produced by large Singapore player mm2 Entertainment (That Girl In Pinafore, 2013).

Khoo's In The Room will be made with financing from respected Hong Kong house Distribution Workshop.

The other trait the four films share is a desire by the directors to escape the run-of-the-mill.

Han, 38, thinks that veterans like him are reaching an age where they feel confident and experienced enough to take creative risks. For him, it meant making a film that poked fun at Singaporean attitudes towards sex.

For Loh, it was to do his own take on his favourite Hong Kong and Japanese horror-thrillers.

Han and Loh agree that these days, the label "local picture" is no longer as unique or interesting as it once was. Something extra has to grab the attention of the jaded filmgoer.

Han says: "This is the best time to make a different kind of film."

Add a dash of marketing hype and the result is a titillating movie poster.

The distributors of Lang Tong gave the film the tagline "Singapore's most controversial film", while Rubbers is billed as "Singapore's first sex comedy".

Unlucky Plaza's claim is "Sh** hits the fan in the world's safest city". Distribution Workshop's chief executive Jeffrey Chan, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year, promised that In The Room will be "controversial".

Whether controversy works is another matter. Lang Tong's three-week run in theatres, starting in March, earned $80,000, below the $300,000 or so needed for a local movie to be considered a modest success and far below the millions chalked up by one of Jack Neo's Ah Boys To Men action dramas.

Perhaps there is some truth to the belief that stricter classifications dampen ticket sales. After all, according to guidelines from the Media Development Authority, film advertisements cannot "depict any person in a sexually provocative manner" or "any lewd, obscene or offensive act, word or message".

Furthermore, posters for films rated R21 can be displayed only in the lobbies of cinemas cleared to screen such films.

These restrictions and the stigma attached to films with sexual themes seem to have stung Lang Tong. The king of Singapore movies, film-maker Neo, was not spared either when the sex farce he wrote, directed and acted in, That One No Enough (1999), made a paltry (by his standards) $1 million at the box office, despite being cleared with a PG.

This seems to bolster the belief that Singaporeans shy away from movies too awkward to watch with friends or family, or are simply not interested.

Khoo, 50, believes that audiences now are far more sophisticated than before and it takes much more than prurience to reel them in.

"With the Internet, they are exposed to a lot," he says.

But box-office figures show that for some films at least, sex sells.

Fifty Shades Of Grey, the movie based on the bestselling erotic novel, has just become the highest- earning R21 film in Singapore.

As of Sunday, the film, still showing in cinemas, has earned $2.42 million. This beats the returns of other R21 pictures featuring prolonged sex and nudity, such as Lust, Caution (2007, $1.6 million) and Gone Girl (2014, $1.78 million).

Fifty Shades' record stands against films from the 1990s that bore the then harshest classification of R(A) - for Restricted Artistic.

That success is not limited to Hollywood works. Khoo's first feature, Mee Pok Man (1995), was classified R(A), but the micro-budgeted horror work earned a solid $450,000 in theatres, more than enough to launch the career of one of Singapore's most celebrated film-makers.

It was classified R(A) not for nudity but for its theme of prostitution and use of coarse language. The success of Fifty Shades - passed uncut here - and Mee Pok Man show that Singaporeans will watch a provocative film if one gives them some reason to go besides luridness.

Ken Kwek, 35, writer-director of Unlucky Plaza, says that for him, story and character drive the scenes in Unlucky Plaza, in which characters have furtive, fumbling sex. "So far, sex in my films tends to be acts of emotional distress rather than erotic love," he says.


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