Welcome to Xperimental Pathways – where we showcase Xclusive interviews with distinct individuals on controversial, or alternative topics which may not always be aligned to the ideals and structures of mainstream society.
(Taken from: SCAPE)
On the 3th of May 2015 – prior the sneak preview screening of the Singapore independent film Faeryville @ SCAPE, we were lucky to have about an hour’s time to do an impromptu interview with the director of the film – Tzang Merwyn Tong.
We walked into the room and saw the back view and hairstyle of the director and straightaway, I knew it was him. We had come early before the film screening and I was feeling very nervous as it was my first time approaching a person in the film industry impromptu (although I came prepared and well-researched ) to carry out an audio interview. I did not even know if the cast and crew would be open to answer the questions coming from a 19-year-old student just to appease her curious mind. Surprisingly, they were all very welcoming, friendly and expressive…
|On Breaking Boundaries, Censorship, and Ideology|
What impact do you want the film to have on Singaporeans in general?
I want Singaporeans to see that a different kind of Singapore film is possible. I want Singaporeans to be able to move beyond the predictable, and stop working with formulas just so that they can be “successful”. A film needs to be more than just a box office number. Films need to break new grounds, expand possibilities and imagination.
In an interview with Timeout, you mentioned gatekeepers have told you Singaporeans may not be “ready” for Faeryville because they don’t want to think. What’s your take on this?
More like gatekeepers feel Singaporeans don’t like to think. I disagree. I think Singaporeans need to be given a chance. I think its unfair for gatekeepers to say that because Singaporeans haven’t been presented different things. We have been given the same kind of things. Singaporeans have been presented different things but they exist in the underground, in downloads, not on commercial mainstream.
Were there any major scenes you had to cut out for censorship purposes?
No, not in my case. There were lots of recommendations on what to take out but I’m very happy that this film is true to what I wanted it to be, the good, and the bad and everything.
Was M18 the ideal rating you had hoped for, given that a lower rating would allow more Singaporean teenagers to appreciate this film that encompasses many relatable youth issues?
Definitely. My preferred rating would have been an NC16 rating.
Do you feel sad?
A little bit, but I will just focus on what I have.
Is it fair for me to say that the concept of this film can also be interpreted as a political analogy, with reference to the system/structure in that kind of setting?
I think the word ‘political’ is a dangerous word. It’s not that I’m afraid to get there. I have no need to get there. That’s not what I set out to do. It’s more a critique on the understanding of ideology, rebellion, regimes and a harsh look at both sides from the system, establishment to resistance. Some people can say this is political but it will dilute or cheapen what I want to say. It’s more than just political.
So, were there any political undertones? Or just ideology and rebellion?
I’ll leave that to the audience. If you ask me, I’ll say no.
In your interview with Scape, you responded that the Dystopian setting of the film allows you to freely explore idealism and consequence without any restraints. So may I know what were the “restraints” that you were referring to?
I think in the interview I said it very clearly its very much because of errr… I want to express things without anybody or any establishment thinking that I’m talking about them. I want to express things as honestly as I can. And setting it in an imaginary fictitious setting where I can dictate my own rules on what a system is, it just frees me to do whatever I want with my characters and story.
| On Freedom of Expression |
Your film tagline – “Be afraid for what you fight for”, do you think it somewhat symbolizes what Amos Yee is going through? What is your take on him? Because coincidentally, this is a film on youth issues, and the Amos Yee’s incident also happened around this time, and he is also a youth.
I think the Straits Times asked me the same question as well and I said that what I feel is not important. There’s an issue that we all need to be socially conscious of how people would express, and there are people who are afraid to express, and there are people who’ll be careful not to let the bullied become the bully.
I know I sound fragmented but this is how I feel about certain situations right now… I’m thinking a lot how very often nowadays, you see the bully becoming the bullied, and the bully become an unexpected, unfair victim where sometimes because the world has turn against someone or public opinion has turn against someone, and it has now felt right to become a monster and hurt someone with no consequence.
There’s lots of mock mentality and that is one of the reason I don’t want to partake in taking a side. I don’t want to feed anymore.
But you do see an importance of limited (he may have misheard it as “unlimited”) censorship and freedom of speech in Singapore?
Yes, I’m all for free expression and I understand that it comes with consequence, and we still have to not be afraid to express in spite of the consequences. I think my film explains my thoughts about this. There’s things to be afraid about and why then do we still do it? Why then do we fight? Why then do we still be who we are? I think people who watch the film all the way till the end and truly understand what I’m trying to say will understand my stand of this.
| Alternative as the New Mainstream |
With social media being a very accessible platform nowadays, how do you want the film to impact Singaporean youths?
I want young people to see that films can be different. We can be different. We can think differently. We can walk out, challenge the status quo and not be afraid to be imaginative in whatever forms of expression. It may not be even film, it could be dance, it could be writing, literature, but for us to just go out there and not be over limited by what we think we are culturally, or what we are told what it should be, or what is a good film or good writing.
Pick it up from there and just do it which has been my foundation of all my film before that. Just go out there and do your thing and not be restricted that I must go to a film school to become a filmmaker, or I must learn music and be trained in musician to call myself a musician in Singapore. Go out there and kick ass and get something done.
Just like how your characters fought for their own cause in the film, do you think it’s worth it fighting for an ideology, or for your own independent beliefs/rights in a real-life context?
Very good question. Watch the movie, because I made the movie, so I don’t have to answer the question.
| On Fitting in and Bullying |
Do you see yourself as a misfit in real-life, like the characters in the film?
Yes in a way, as I still find I have difficulty fitting in. I have assimilated a lot better than I was a teenager. I’m less socially awkward then I was when I was a teenager but I still feel sometimes, a lot of times, still out-of-place here…it’s not my thing. But I’m not as bothered as much now.
But do you still feel the need to fit into the community or are you just happy being who you are?
I’m happy with who I am, but to be socially accepted does require some form of conformity which I now comfortably partake in as well.
So, you are aware of the need to conform but you do not blindly conform?
No, maybe I do blindly conform. We just do what we have to do to fit in when we have to.
| On the Direction of Faeryville |
This film took 8 years to make. Did it change your perspective about how you view yourself, society, and structured system throughout these 8 years?
You have very good questions, how old are you?
You have very good questions for a 19-year-old. Yes, the duration of this film have seen me through a range of questioning. I reviewed myself many times during the last 8 years. I rethink what my own film was trying to say, and what I was trying to say with the film. I have my characters, I use my story to debate with myself on the things I feel, and it comes back to something quite similar with what I started even though I went a big round to try and understand it. I had a feeling or side that I wanted to express, and I critiqued it, and I realized I was wrong.
Would you like to share about that?
It doesn’t need to be specific but there are certain things I want to share with the film, like I questioned it with, I still believe in it midway. I question if to begin with, do this views even matter? 8 years is a long time and I’ve come to realize, and with many things happening in the world during this 8 years, from more shootings in American high school, to the Occupy movement, to the rise of Anonymous. And all these things existed in my script before all these things happened. Almost prophetic but in a way…
What is prophetic?
It’s as if I saw it coming. I wrote it 8 years ago but that was before the occupying movement, before a lot of things, and I questioned if I’m insensitive in putting things up. Is it too much? But I’ll stick with this thing I set out to do and just do it.
| Personal Causes and Actions to undertake |
Do you have any personal cause you want to advocate for in Singapore?
I’m quite passionate about anti-bullying awareness in youth and unlike certain things I find that bullying is irreversible. I mean, if taken to the extremes, it can be irreversible. People who are being bullied can eventually turn out to be bullies themselves. And people who are bullies themselves do not even know they are bullies, and more can be done to raise awareness about this. And if I were to say something to advocate or to stand up for, I feel I’m quite close, I can relate close to this, talk about it.
What do you think can be done to tackle the issue of bullying?
When it comes to things like consequences or punishment and all that, that’s where I don’t know if I like that. Because now it’s not about really understanding about what’s wrong.. and once you have a law, or rule or a punishment, there’s a way to get around it as well and you can still do the same thing and that doesn’t solve the problem. The real solution must come from mindfulness and awareness.
| On Cinemas and Local Support |
This film took 14 rewrites and 8 years to make, and as quoted from an interview done with S-Indie, you expressed that “society needs an independent cinema for alternative issues to be explored or heard” and that “it’s never about being indie so that we can be obscure”. If that is so, why are you limiting yourself to a 2-weeks run when the big screen is a good platform to promote alternative films and issues to the mainstream audience? Why not a longer run?
That’s not up to me. The cinema venue would more likely prefer to play a Hollywood film. Yes, its difficult to get a screen and I’m happy that I got it. The cinemas would still run something that earns them money first unless I have the advertising dollar to market the hell out of my film. The cinema will think twice because they will have to take a risk when taking up a non-blockbuster film.
Do you think a 2-weeks’ run is a bit short for the 14 rewrite and 8 years of making the film?
It is (laughter). But once it’s out there, once its in the cinema, DVD, online; there will be people that would discover it and it can take a life and we just need a good start. I think the cinema release is a very good opening platform already. Let’s just say I’ve learnt through this whole thing and the last many many years that there are many many opportunities that I had to pitch my idea to the cinema before the film was made during the making of the film, and even after making of the film.
And lets just say that cinema venues are a business and yes, they can empathize with us and 14 rewrites and this person is very passionate, but they would still run something that earns them money first.
After the 2-weeks’ run, where is the direction of the film heading towards?
We will work towards a North America release. We’re on the way. We are opening some doors already.
But will there be funding issues?
We can do it. We believe we can. We believe we can. We have some help. Some people who believe in us and it’s possible. I intentionally want to have a Singapore release before my US release. I intentionally want to have it. I do not want to give Singaporean last priority. I believe in Singaporeans. I do not need everyone to love it for me to say I believe in Singaporeans.
I believe in a first group of people who will be brave enough to support or champion this film before anybody does. And that’s the whole thing I’m saying about. You need to believe and you need to do it before anybody else. Right now, yes, maybe, the venues don’t believe as much, maybe the investor’s don’t believe as much but you got to believe it first before anyone does.
| On whether Fable might become Reality |
The cast has a diverse range of races. Was it intentional or it just happened to?
This is the look I imagined for Faeryville. This is not Singapore. This is Faeryville. It’s made by a Singaporean. It’s from the imagination of a Singaporean, and it is made with Singaporeans, and this is the look I have for Singaporeans. It’s beyond just race and nationality, and it’s also about wardrobe and styling and how people speak; so to only see the race is to not see enough.
When you call Faeryville a modern myth, do you mean that it is fictitious or do you think it will happen in the future?
That’s why its scary.
So, you’re afraid that it might happen in the future? You’re foreseeing what it could become?
That is the truth.
What would you say to misfits of the world who are struggling in the teenage phase?
It’s OK to be a nobody. That’s it. It’s OK. I won’t say its cool, its right. It’s OK.
But everyone would have a basic need to want to feel loved and belonged to a community?
Ya, and it’s totally OK to want to feel loved but if you don’t get it, it’s OK to be, it’s alright you know? It doesn’t mean nobody loves you, and I hope after watching the film like that, it will make people feel they are not alone. Ya, the happy person out there who is all nice and cool might not be as happy as it seems either. So it’s OK to just be, I won’t say be yourself, whatever you think you are, it’s OK. It’s not right, wrong, it’s OK.
Do you think humans are nice?
Ya, they can be. Or they can not be? They can be really cruel and they can be really nice. There are no good people and bad people. I said that before, just good actions and bad actions. The value of the action is not the labeling we all love so much to throw.
If you want to check out Faeryville’s 100% local soundtrack, as well as our theme analysis, observations, and film review of Faeryville, click HERE
Once again, many thanks to Mr. Tzang for his time and willingness to do the interview with us! Check out Faeryville in the theatres (only at Filmgarde) from 26 May 2015 onwards!
**UPDATES on the film since Offbeat Perspective’s interview**
- Tzang did a radio interview with 98.7 FM, and Kiss92 FM
- Faeryville mentioned in print – Straits Time, The New Paper, The Business Time, F*** Magazine
- Faeryville mentioned in online sites – Power of Pop, Five Stars And A Moon, Sinema Review, The Lounge Chair, Twitch, Mothership.sg, Here Be Geeks, The UrbanWire, SCAPE, Themovieandme etc.
- 8+ 1 Extended screening at local cinema Filmgarde from 26 May to 13 June 2015
- Australia Premiere at Brisbane Festival on 25 September 2015
- WINNER – best original story at Flixx Fest Jefferson State 2015
[Offbeat Perspective’s Interviews]
Category: “Unique Passions”
Category: “Unheard Voices”
Category: “Public Interviews”
Category: “Amos Yee Saga – Citizen Journalism”
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