YIDFF 2005 New Asian Currents
An Interview with Gek Li San, Ho Choon Hiong (Directors)

Singaporean Society That I Saw through Making This Work

Q: I noticed that the people in this film talk very dryly.

Gek Li San (GL): A lot of people have told us the same thing. For me, it was really strange that her daughters talked as if she were a complete stranger. Her daughters are my cousins, and we only saw each other once a year on Chinese New Year’s Day, so usually I didn’t have a lot of contact with them. But, I got to know them well through making this film. I could understand why the other relatives and my aunt’s husband’s relatives spoke so dryly, as if in the third-person, since they didn’t have much contact with me. But at first I couldn’t understand why even her daughters were speaking so dryly. As I spoke with them, I started to think that maybe that was how they were raised by their mother. My aunt herself didn’t display much emotion, and in particular she didn’t talk about sad things or unpleasant things with other people. I thought that maybe her daughters inherited that.

Q: What made you want to create this work, and also why did you two work together?

GL: My uncle wanted to tell other people about this incident and announce it to the media, and he asked me for advice since I work in film. I told him that it was a bad idea, because if he announced it to the press everyone in Singapore would find out, and the children might get harassed at school. Then I said, why don’t we make a film about it, and he was really pleased and agreed. Also, even if it wasn’t completed as a film, I thought that just being able to talk would serve as a kind of healing therapy for him.

Ho Choon Hiong (HC): We’re friends, and when her aunt passed away initially I went to the funeral to help out, totally unrelated to making a film. I am a really curious person and asked about the cause of death. I learned that it was suicide, and when I asked why she killed herself, I found out that she was caught up in a police incident and that the relatives were insisting on her innocence. The story developed from there.

Q: As you continued filming, did you get any sense about the cause of the suicide?

GL: We’d heard that she committed suicide after being interrogated for a police incident, so originally we thought something unfair had happened, and we started filming from that perspective. I don’t think my aunt did any harm to the boy, but we started thinking that perhaps the police officer wasn’t completely in the wrong. This was because while the police might have had a biased perspective, I also thought my aunt was at fault for not voicing her own opinion to the police. This work is structured in two parts. The first is strictly shooting what actually happened in chronological order. At the same time, we focused on her personality, and since that’s the kind of person she was, we thought in the end that perhaps it did come to suicide.

HC: I thought that her aunt’s family wasn’t really completely functional. In particular the husband was rather dictatorial, and I think that he loved his wife, but he didn’t really give her emotional support. So she was intimidated by him and couldn’t talk about what had happened to her, and in that sense I think maybe there was some miscommunication within the family.

Q: Did anything change within you through making this piece?

GL: I had previously been interested in the society in which I live, but through filming my relatives like this I realized that there are also people like this, who are ignorant and have relatively little education, and who in addition have issues that they are dealing with. It made me realize for the first time there are people like this, not only among my relatives, but also within Singapore. So for myself, I’ve come to realize that I need to look more closely at the society in which I live. I think that is the lesson I learned from making this film.

HC: In a few years I would like to make a new documentary about how the husband and daughters have changed, and whether there was any impact through participating in film festivals like this, whether there were changes in our lives, and if our understanding of her aunt has deepened.

(Compiled by Tanno Emi)

Interviewers: Tanno Emi, Kusunose Kaori / Interpreter: Kawaguchi Yoko
Photography: Kusunose Kaori / Video: Otani Shizu / 2005-10-12