At its time of release in 2003, filmmaker Royston Tan’s feature-length debut 15 was a controversial cult hit in the making. Its raw, gritty and unvarnished portrayal of Singaporean gang culture – through loose character portraits of three 15-year-old boys – was hard to swallow.
Western reviewers, with perhaps a narrower view of cinema than is standard today, largely missed the point of the film and its cultural observations.
At home, concerns by authorities about the use of real gang names and secret society chants – the worry was that real fights would be incited – caused the film to be re-cut 27 times.
Today, 18 years after its release, 15 is a cult classic. The film, in hindsight, feels like a prescient prelude to Tan’s filmmaking career – an auteur-like perspective on Singaporean culture. 15, in particular, feels like a quasi-realistic documentation of a youth subculture that is much less visible or present today than it was in 2003.
Poster graphic showcasing pieces from the ‘Bond of Bandits’ collection. Key prints in the collection include stills from 15, in particular a scene where a protagonist gets his lip pierced.
That’s perhaps why the label Youths In Balaclava (YIB), a collective and brand synonymous with Singaporean youth and verve, turned to the film for its latest collaboration.
The collection, called ‘Bond of Bandits’ is part of YIB’s more accessible sub-label YIB Bandits. Interestingly, the brand decided to hone in on one of the original film’s more interesting threads: the homoerotic bond between the gangster ‘brothers’.
YIB Bandits’ take on this is, according to a press statement, “an exploration of intimacy between brothers not bonded by blood – but by experience instead.”
That thought extends to the contemporary discussion of the zeitgeist about masculinity (toxic and otherwise). In the film, these characters – whom Royston Tan has himself said are not homosexual (though that fact is less important than what the film suggests and explores on-screen) – are alienated, lost and looking for connection.
The ‘Bond of Bandits’ collection thus poses a question: does the male ego help or hinder the forging of genuine relationships and connections? It’s an interesting thought, wrought over a range of graphic T-shirts, hoodies, tote bags and even a novelty desk mat – all available now on the brand’s web store.