Revisiting the Singapore of the Malay film industry’s golden age

7 02 2018

The Malay Film Productions (MFP) at Jalan Ampas was one of a pair of production houses that entertained a generation of Singaporeans and Malayans. Established by the Shaw Brothers’, the MFP is especially well known. It was where the legendary P. Ramlee made his name, excelling not just as an actor but also as a singer, songwriter and director. Lending his range of talents were to a series of films, his popularity has endured to this day, more than four decades after his sudden and premature passing in 1973.

Main gate to No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

The recent run of State of Motion 2018: Sejarah-ku, organised by the Asian Film Archive, renewed a consciousness for Jalan Ampas. P. Ramlee’s career there coincided with the golden age of Malay cinema – a time when the production of Malay movies was at its most prolific. Besides the screening of films of the genre, a guided tour also plotted a return to the MFP, albeit to its closed gates beyond which the buildings of the former studios stand quite forgotten. The tour, one of two – the other an offshore tour – with which locations where outdoor scenes in several MFP productions were visited, permitted a recall not only of the scenes, but of a Singapore forgotten if not for the movies. Site specific art installations were also presented at the sites, expressing the memories that also lay embedded in the locations .

Participants listening to CLOSURE / TUTUP by Wu Jun Han outside the gates of No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

Standing outside gates at Jalan Ampas, I found myself transported to the confrontational scenes that were enacted at that very gateway by Wu Jun Han’s recording, Tutup or Closure. The scenes, captured in the movie Mogok (Strike), although set in the Eveready  factory, were actually inspired by a strike that took place at the studios that same year involving 120 MFP employees.  The spot was also a location for another movie, the hit comedy Seniman Bujang Lapok,  which P. Ramlee directed and played a leading role in. This inspired a second installation along Jalan Ampas, Izzad Radzali Shah’s Wayang Terbiar (The Theatre that was Left Behind). A diorama of a mini threatre with scenes from the movie depicted, it seems almost altar-like in appearance.

Wayang Terbiar.

I was particularly drawn to Mintio’s Penghibur Hati-Lara (Solace for the Heart) installed just off Tanah Merah Besar Road. The work takes its title from a line in a lullaby “Kau penghibur hati-lara” (you are solace for my painful heart) sung in the film Darah Muda by the female protagonist to her baby in the seaside setting provided by the promenade at the end of Tanah Merah Besar Road. Anticipating separation, the line also suggests a sense of yearning that the artist also intends to evoke with her piece and its location between Changi Prison and the Airport – both sites of separation. The seaside promenade is now buried under a Changi Airport runway. Having been part of an area in which some of my most treasured memories of childhood were made, the artwork also evoked a sense of great longing and of loss in me.

Penghibur Hati-Lara at Tanah Merah Besar.

The former Kangkar Fishing Port, the location for scenes in the 1958 movie Sri Menanti, also provided a setting for Boedi Widjaja’s Path. 9, ))) ) ) )). The artwork, separated from the audience by the Serangoon River is bridged by the sounds of the flute, exploring the divide that the main characters in Sri Menanti faced in their attempts to bridge a cross-religious and cross-cultural gap in finding romance.

Once where a scene of Kangkar’s fishing colourful fishing fleet would have greeted the eye.

The mainland tour’s two other sites were at seaside (or former seaside) locations. At Punggol, the sea provided a backdrop for the scenes from Isi Neraka (Sinners to Hell) that inspired Salleh Japar’s Sulh-I-Kull (Universal Tolerance). The Shaws’ former seaside villa was used as a symbol of the individualism brought about by materialism and wealth in P. Ramlee’s Ibu Mertua Ku. P. Ramlee’s character in the movie violently blinds himself after he realises the circumstances in which he regained his sight after a previous spell of blindness. It is this loss of sight that the site’s installation, Tan Peiling’s 0.25 Seconds before an Image is Void, provides a response to.

The former seaside villa of the Shaws at which Liz Taylor was hosted on her visits here.

I was also able to join the offshore tour, which included a visit to Pulau Ubin – off which Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island lies. The rocky islet, a popular spot once for photo shoots, served as locations for Hang Tuah (1956) and Hang Jebat (1961). A central theme in the two movies is loyalty, betrayal and feudal authority. That is played out in the final fight scenes that both movies feature, which pitted 15th century pair of warriors – one-time close companions. The questions of the loyalty, betrayal, brotherly love, rage and desire expressed during the fight are what Akulah Bimbo Sakti’s Cinta Tuah Jebat examines. The artwork, a live performance accompanied by a recorded audio playback takes place on a beach on Ubin and within sight of Sekudu. More on State of Motion 2018: Sejarah-ku, which runs until 11 February 2018 can be found at https://stateofmotion.sg/2018/.

Pulau Sekudu, where the final fight scene in Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat was filmed.

Cinta Tuah Jebat (The Love of Tuah and Jebat).

 

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A paddle through the Jalan Gemala Nature Area

15 12 2014

The Jalan Gemala area at Lim Chu Kang is as remote and wild as it can possibly get on the island of Singapore. Set along the banks of the upper reaches of the Sungei Kranji, once a tidal river lined with rich mangrove forests up to the extent of the tidal influence,  it finds itself at the edge of a reservoir of freshwater, created by the damming of the mouth of the Kranji River.JeromeLim-0667 2

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The river itself had in the past been one that served as a communication link, bringing in settlement to an area where early gambler plantations had been established. An area of mangroves – the river was lined with the watery forests up to the limits of the tidal influence, it now supports an area of freshwater marshes, wet grasslands and secondary woodland that is teeming with bird, plant and insect life – it is thought to support a colony of fireflies.

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The area was one of two identified in the 2013 Land Use Plan and subsequently the URA Master Plan for conservation as Nature Areas – the other being Pulau Unum and Beting Bronok.  The Land Use Plan has this to say about the area:

Jalan Gemala at Lim Chu Kang has varied habitats such as wet grassland, freshwater marshes as well as tall secondary woodland and freshwater reservoir that are near the area. Its addition as a nature area is significant given its rich wet grassland, with two rare plants (Leea angulata and Cayratia trifolia) being sighted. The inclusion of Jalan Gemala will also help secure the sustainability of the existing Kranji Marshes site at Neo Tiew Lane. The Pink-necked Green Pigeons and Mallotus paniculatus, a quick growing shrub that provides food for small birds are some wildlife species that can be found here.

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Based on information provided by the Nature Society (Singapore) the Jalan Gemala Nature Area is spread along a length of 4 to 5 kilometres and includes secondary forest, grassland and wetland running along the Kangkar inlet into Kranji Reservoir and is adjacent to Kranji Marsh.

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A blue-tailed bee eater in flight

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A rare blue-eared kingfisher


Works being currently bing carried out by NParks

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A look at a dump

30 10 2013

Travelling down the Tampines Road of old back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was hard not to miss the convoys of trucks on their eastward journeys down the road.  The trucks, laden with much of what Singapore discarded, were headed to what then became Singapore’s last onshore dumping ground, occupying some 234 hectares of land on the right bank of Sungei Serangoon, which before the conversion to a rubbish dump site in 1970, was a large swamp (mangrove swamps lined much of Singapore’s original coastline, particularly along the northern coast) rich in bird life.

A very natural looking man made stream close to the area where a village, Kampong Beremban, once was.

A very natural looking man made stream close to the area where a village, Kampong Beremban, once was.

Taking a look around the former Lorong Halus dumping grounds these days, it is hard to imagine that it as a dump site for close to three decades (it was closed on 31 March 1999 and incinerated refuse has since been dumped offshore at Pulau Semakau). Part of the area today has been remade and is now a man-made wildlife sanctuary, the Lorong Halus Wetland. Despite the obvious signs of human intervention, the area (including that beyond the sanctuary) does have an aesthetic value from a natural environment (albeit man made) perspective, and offers that escape that can be hard to find in an island overgrown with too much concrete.

Another part of the former dump site.

Another part of the former dump site.

The wetland, is also linked to a bridge across what has since the mouth of the river was dammed, become Singapore’s 17th reservoir, the Serangoon Reservoir. The bridge provides access to what was the left bank of Sungei Serangoon, where the new public housing estate of Punggol has been developed, via the Punggol Promenade Riverside Walk.

Sungei Serangoon today.

Sungei Serangoon today.

For those familiar with the area, the area of Sungei Serangoon upstream from Lorong Halus at the end of Upper Serangoon Road was where old Kangkar Village was. Kangkar Village was a fishing port and once a base for fish traders and also Singapore’s fishing fleet, which numbered some ninety vessels in 1984 when it was closed to be moved to Punggol. The location of Kangkar today would be close to where Buangkok East Drive is.

Punggol Estate looming in the background on the left bank of Sungei Sernagoon.

Punggol and Sengkang public housing estates looming in the background on the left bank of Sungei Serangoon – Sengkang was the area where Kangkar Village was.

Interestingly, Lorong Halus was also where Singapore’s last night soil collection centre was located. The practice of collecting night soil (human waste) using buckets in both urban and rural areas, was carried out from the 1890s up to early 1987 when the last rural outhouses were used. Besides the rufuse that was generated by Singapore, also buried at Lorong Halus is the remains of a false killer whale which was stranded in shallow waters off Tuas in early 1994. The wetland was opened in 2011 and more information can be found at this link.

The bridge across the reservoir.

The bridge across the reservoir.

The view on the bridge.

The view on the bridge.

A resident of the wetland.

A resident of the wetland.

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