Lan Tong: 50 shades of a homegrown thriller

Sam Loh, the director of local erotic thriller, Lan Tong, says he was ready to face the censors over the content of his movie. BY DYLAN TAN

Forget 50 Shades of Grey. Local erotic thriller Lan Tong (which means "good soup" in Cantonese) is likely to leave its audience in 50 shades of pink with a laundry list of taboo sex acts - including public fornication, lesbian sex and sodomy, just to name a few - that will leave some blushing as they walk out of the cinema hall.

It's so raunchy that three minutes had to be snipped from the version that is playing now in cinemas; though an uncut one premiered at a sold-out midnight screening at last year's Singapore International Film Festival.

Lan Tong's writer-director Sam Loh says the sex scenes - which finds beauty queen Angeline Yap baring all for the camera - were shot early on to help the actors lose their inhibitions. "It made our work easier from there," he says.

The 46-year-old is no stranger to having his work censored; in fact, he pulled his debut feature, Outsiders, from the Singapore International Film Festival in 2004 after he refused to cut it. This time though, he was a little more prepared.

"I think that with the lesbian scene, you could see that coming," he says, referring to one of the snips he had to make in Lan Tong for it to qualify for the R21 rating, "But I've cut it properly and remixed the audio (to make it less noticeable)."

The censorship of a castration scene, however, came as a surprise to the veteran freelance television director as he felt it was necessary to show the character getting his comeuppance. "That should have been left in," he laments slightly.

Regardless, Loh adds that censorship wasn't on his mind while making Lan Tong because his original intention was to sell it overseas instead of screening it here locally.

Beyond its current general release, the saucy flick is unlikely to make it to the home video format here as the maximum rating is M18; but it could possibly be screened on cable TV under Video-on-Demand as R21 films are permitted.

But Loh is feeling optimistic about Lan Tong's reception given how well erotic drama 50 Shades of Grey is performing - despite mixed reviews, it set a new record for biggest four-day opening weekend for an R21 title, beating Ben Affleck's Gone Girl (2014) - by raking in over S$900,000 at the local box office.

"I think there has been a resurgence of (erotic films) on the big screen lately; there's another from Hong Kong starring Simon Yam that is coming," he says, referring to Sara, which also features former teen idol and pop star Charlene Choi playing the role of an underage prostitute.

Loh also jokes that Lan Tong's opening yesterday coincides with "Yuan Xiao Jie" (Lantern Festival), which marks the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations and is traditionally celebrated by eating sticky rice dumplings in sweet soup - in line with his film's culinary theme.

Incidentally, Lan Tong is also the first of a planned Femme Fatale trilogy, with the upcoming ones following in the vein of its predecessor with food-related titles as they will be called Siew Lup and Dim Sum. "There should be nudity as well," Loh adds.

He reveals the original concept for the film was actually to gather a few like-minded writer-director friends to develop an omnibus Grindhouse feature, with each filmmaker contributing a mini-feature.

But instead of waiting, he decided to go ahead and ended up making Lan Tong on his own. "I decided to sacrifice myself first," he laughs.

This article was first published on Mar 6, 2015.
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