Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Revisiting the Golden Age of Singapore cinema

Old cinema seats, the nostalgic billboards thoughtfully painted by Singapore's last surviving billboard painter (CT Neo), recent polaroid photographs of buildings that used to house cinema theatres, and a collection of movie tickets from decades ago. These are possibly some of the objects that would stay in the mind of a visitor to the exhibition entitled Life of Imitation, now held at the Singapore Art Museum.

Yet, there are more that visitors can look forward to. In Life of Imitation, Ming Wong re-visits the context of the Golden Age of Singapore cinema in the 1950s and 60s. The exhibition venue has in some ways been revamped to remind visitors of the cinemas in the 1950s. There is an exhibition space dedicated to the collection of private collector Wong Han Min that lends visitors a glimpse of the local film history. Beyond the physical presentation, the visitors will be treated to works by Ming Wong that explores broadly on the theme of identity.

I have found it helpful to attend one of the guided tours to give myself a better appreciation of the techniques and methods that were used by Ming Wong to guide the viewers of his films to look beyond the superficial so as to question the embedded theme of identity.

For example, in Ming Wong's reinterpretation of a compendium of works by P. Ramlee, the artist reenacted the 16 characters from some of the famous scenes of P. Ramlee's movies, conversing in the Malay language. One thing that struck my mind was that the Malay language was supposedly our National language. However, I can't even hold a decent enough conversation in Malay even though I could attempt to pronouce Malay words by reading from a script with limited comprehension of the meaning of the words.

In one of the film installations, In Love for the Mood, Ming Wong reinterpreted Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) by casting a Caucasian actress trying to master the lines of the two roles that she was playing in Cantonese. There were three separate screens placed side by side showing how the actress progressively learnt to master the lines. I could see that it has not been an easy task for the Caucasian actress to speak in Cantonese. Yet practise does help makes things more perfect.

I have a better appreciation of the method of miscasting when I watched Life of Imitation. In this film whereby three male actors each from a local different race (Chinese, Indian and Malay) take turns to act in two female roles, I was told that the use of miscasting deliberately draws the audience away from the performance itself to the underlying theme of identity. I could only beg your pardon that the subject of identity is rather deep for me to find the right words to articulate my thoughts. Go see this for yourself and you may, like myself, think that it was thoughtfully thought out.

"This very exhibition was first presented at the Singapore Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale 2009. It won the Biennale’s Special Jury Mention award. Tang Fu Kuen is the guest curator of this exhibition."

It is overall a thoughtful and sincere exhibition with a tinge of nostalgia.

As a footnote, I had the honour to catch a glimpse of Ming Wong the artist himself when I visited the exhibition on 2 May 2010.

This exhibition, Life of Imitation, runs till 22 Aug 2010. More information can be found below:
Ming Wong, Life of Imitation

Other related articles:
Cinematic experience at Singapore Art Museum by Lavinna Kaur (Youth.Sg)
Special Mention for Ming Wong and Singapore Pavilion @ Venice Biennale 2009 by Sherman Ong

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