Eric Khoo's erotic film pushes limits

Next year will see the release of a movie that will test the limits of the Government's stand on sex and nudity in a local film.

In The Room, a drama anthology directed by celebrated Singapore film-maker Eric Khoo, will explore themes of love and sensuality, say its makers.

Photography starts this week at the soundstages of Infinite Studios at Mediapolis.

Co-writer Jonathan Lim, who also runs the popular comedy sketch show Chestnuts, says that "all the stories are to do with lust and obsession and desire in one way or another".

But not all the stories are explicit, he says. Some characters deal with their passion in a "hidden and repressed way", he adds.

The title of the film comes from how all its stories play out in the same room in a hotel, the fictional Singapura Hotel, over the decades, starting from the 1940s.

Lim and Singapore-based screenwriter and advertising executive Andrew Hook turned out the screenplay based on story ideas worked out with Khoo.

The project's executive producer is regional film veteran Shi Nansun, who worked on classics such as the Tsui Hark-helmed drama Shanghai Blues (1984), the Aces Go Places series (1982-1986) and the cop drama Infernal Affairs (2002).

This is Hong Kong-based Shi's first Singapore- based project.

She says that she had admired Khoo's films. They got to know each other on the festival circuit and over the years, had talked about working on a film together.

She tells Life!: "I have always wanted to work on an erotic film. I thought Eric had that sensibility to make a film like that."

She says In The Room should reside in the same aesthetic zone as erotic dramas such as Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Lover (1992) or Adrian Lyne's 9½ Weeks (1986).

The film will work with a budget of about $1 million, part of which the team hopes will come from the Media Development Authority's production assistance grant, which sees producers getting back 40 per cent for every dollar spent in Singapore.

She is confident of receiving the grant, adding that Singapore these days is far more accepting of serious, boundary-pushing works compared with 30 years ago, when she first visited.

Mr Jeffrey Chan, chief executive of film distributor Distribution Workshop (which he co-founded with Ms Shi), is an investor in the project and thinks that it remains to be seen how the film will be edited for release in countries with stricter censorship, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

"There shouldn't be problems releasing it in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea or Japan," he says.

Pioneering film-maker Khoo built his resume on award-winning works such as Mee Pok Man (1995), 12 Storeys (1997) and Be With Me (2005).

All were shot on location around Singapore. In The Room will be his first movie shot entirely on a soundstage, which he says he relishes because "it's air-conditioned and there are no mosquitoes", he says with a laugh.

The stories in his new movie are set in one room in a hotel, a premise which stems from his fascination with the famed The New 7th Storey Hotel in Rochor Road. It was evacuated in 2008 and later demolished to make way for the Downtown Line.

He says: "It was such a landmark over the years, even though it gradually lost its sheen. It was iconic."

The film partly expresses nostalgia for decades of the hotel's heyday.

For example, the 1950s story in the film revolves around a stripper character named Orchid, who is an homage to real-life stripper Rose Chan, the subject of a biopic still being developed by Khoo.

In Room 27, Orchid, played by Hong Kong actress Josie Ho, demonstrates how, in a repressed time, a woman's sexuality can be parlayed into real power.

In another story set in the 1980s, a lonely Japanese housewife, played by Japanese adult-film actress Shou Nishino, has trysts with a lover in Room 27.

The rest of the cast includes Singapore-based actors Koh Boon Pin, George Young and Daniel Jenkins. Local singer Vernon Cornelius has a guest role.

Other cast members include South Korea's Choi Woo Shik (television romance Rooftop Prince) and Kim Kkob Bi, and Thailand's Aeaw.

This article was first published on September 04, 2014.
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