Singapore's first interactive film aims to spark conversation on meth abuse among youth

Mr He Shuming (left) scriptwriter and director Royston Tan.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) is officially launching its anti-drug campaign by showcasing Singapore's first interactive short film.

Titled, HIGH, the film by award-winning director Royston Tan, will not be a "preachy" movie. It will allow the audience to make choices via an application and decide on the outcome for "Nick", the main protagonist played by Shawn Thia.

Unlike past anti-drug messaging, HIGH has fourĀ endings, said Mr He Shuming, the film's scriptwriter.

But Mr He, 34, said making the movie was an emotional journey as the characters were based on real life examples of people that he and Mr Tan knew.

When the pair were approached to produce the film in the middle of last year by Dentsu Aegis Network, which promotes the anti-drug campaign in partnership with NCADA, they agreed because both had friends who were addicted to meth.

Said Mr Tan, 43: "I'm not going to stand on the moral high ground but I do not want to lose another friend. I have already lost one. I don't know if he's alive or dead, or just totally disappeared (because of his meth addiction)."

The portrayal of the drug culture in HIGH begins with an innocent text received by Nick who eventually attends a party as a guest of "Sienna", played by Naomi Yeo. Soon, things get out of hand when Nick tries his first puff of ICE, a street name for crystal meth.

He coughs after taking his first puff and later scratches uncontrollably, thinking there are ants under his skin.

The decision to feature an interactive film was considered by the authorities as something bold that would be more effective in engaging youth who may be susceptible to meth abuse, said Mr Firdaus Daud, council member of NCADA.

"For the youth, it (anti-drug messaging) really has to be online - it has to be a bit viral," Mr Firdaus said. "It can't be about the message that you want first and foremost."

Figures showed meth users accounted for 73 per cent of new drug abusers arrested by the Central Narcotics Bureau in 2019. About 61 per cent of them were under 30 years old. In total, 3,524 abusers were arrested - the highest number in six years.

Referring to the pre-launch screening of HIGH at ITE College East, ITE College Central and Singapore Polytechnic in January, Mr Firdaus said: "It has to draw their attention, engage them with a story, and through that the natural conversations will flow. That's what we found out when we went to the schools."

After the screening, the 5,162 students participated in a Safe Zone Discussion (SZD) where students shared freely their concerns about drug abuse.

At SZDs, facts about drugs are presented - separating fact from fiction, said Mr Firdaus.

At one session, Mr Firdaus said he was struck by one student's experience. He shared that his failure to help a drug abuser friend resulted in the friend dying from a drug overdose.

Netizens will be able to ask questions anonymously about the short film or drug abuse through the high.sg micro site.

Like everything in life, decisions must be made, said Mr He.

"It's about 'yes' or 'no'," said Mr He. "Every choice has a consequence. Ultimately you have nobody else to blame but yourself (if you make the wrong decisions)."

The NCADA's anti-drug campaign kicks off on Thursday (March 19).

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.