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Afterimage: The Films of Singapore’s Royston Tan

March 17, 2013 - March 20, 2013



Royston Tan is a nuisance, a thorn in the side of the body politic. At the just-legal age of twenty-one, he began issuing forth a torrent of provocative short films, such as Sons (2000), 48 on AIDS (2002), Mother (2002), and 15 (2002), that inspired admiration from the critics and condemnation from the censors in his native Singapore. With the feature-length version of 15 (2003)—a raw and forbidden look at disaffected punks and their nihilistic exploits—Tan’s films seemed numbered. Tan’s unblinking outlook was new to the island republic and the Singapore Board of Film Censors responded with equal ferocity, requesting dozens of cuts, even objecting to the use of Hokkien, a Chinese dialect scorned by the government. The following year, Tan made his annoyance clear with the Bollywood-like barb, Cut, a caustic tribute to censorship. His follow-up film, the mildly muted 4:30 (2005), again approached urban angst, this time through the eyes of an eleven-year-old trapped in the isolation of a dreary high-rise. As if it were an antidote to contemporary torment, Tan took on a bit of cultural candy, getai, the gaudy Malaysian musical style in 881 (2007). The film is a profusion of dazzling and dizzy color and costume, draped around a story about the Papaya Sisters, two friends trying to win the national getai competition. Tan’s musical extravaganza is so cantankerously camp it’s subversive. But the “bad boy” is only part of the package: Tan’s most recent films, such as I Want to Remember (2011) and Old Romances (2012), are fond, almost nostalgic, embraces of the past, homages to memory and place that might serve as curatives for the disaffected. Royston Tan: when he’s good, he’s great; when he’s bad, he’s better.

We are pleased that Royston Tan will join us on Wednesday, March 20 for an Afterimage conversation with critic/artist Valerie Soe, following a screening of 15. Since 1986, Valerie Soe has produced a groundbreaking body of work that includes experimental media, installation, and documentaries that address issues of Asian American identity and culture. Soe is a faculty member of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University and bombards our tentative calm with her blog, beyondasiaphilia, which recently received a Creative Capital award.

Steve Seid, Video Curator

Sunday, March 17, 2013
6:00 p.m. Old Romances
Royston Tan (Singapore, 2012). Royston Tan in person. “Old places are like old lovers to me, you never forget them,” says director Royston Tan. In this sequel to the documentary Old Places, Tan takes us on a fond outing to experience Singapore through the recollections of everyday citizens. (77 mins)

Sunday, March 17, 2013
7:45 p.m. 881
Royston Tan (Singapore, 2007). Royston Tan in person. Singapore’s resident bad-boy Royston Tan pays tribute to his country’s kitschiest love—getai, stage musicals that are part small-time Vegas revues and full-time campy fun—in this delirious comedy involving the Papaya Sisters, who dream of winning a national contest. (105 mins)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
7:00 p.m. 15
Royston Tan (Singapore, 2003). Royston Tan and Valerie Soe in conversation. High-velocity angst in an artificial Eden, Royston Tan’s irreverent first feature dredges up an underworld of teen dropouts, druggies, and dead-enders. (93 mins)

Special admission prices apply:
General admission: $12; CAAM and BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students: $10 (limit 2 tickets per person per program); Non-UC Berkeley students, seniors, and disabled persons: $11 (limit 1 ticket per person per program). Please note that our second-feature discount does not apply to these programs. Tickets are nonrefundable, and may not be exchanged.

This presentation is part of our ongoing series Afterimage: Filmmakers and Critics in Conversation, which is made possible by generous funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association® and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees. With special thanks to Masashi Niwano, CAAM; the Consulate-General of the Republic of Singapore, San Francisco; Nicholas Chee, Sinema Productions; Gary Goh, Zhao Wei Films; Hui Hui, Mediacorp Raintree Pictures; Media Development Authority of Singapore; and Wahyuni A. Hadi, Objectifs Centre for Photography & Film / Objectifs Films.