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A Cinema Buff Is Uploading Old Singapore Films On YouTube – And You Should Catch Them

A film historian has uploaded several old Singapore films on YouTube, reminding us of our rich cinematic heritage

Kung fu flick Ring Of Fury (1973) is hailed by many as a significant title in Singapore’s cinematic oeuvre.

Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. But it’s proven to be a boon for film buffs. Major films festivals are putting out great new films online. Actors are coming together to read aloud famous scripts on social media. And here in Singapore, a film lover has been uploading on YouTube many old Singapore films from as early as the 1950s and 1960s.

A scene of the Esplanade from My Darling Love (Chinta Kaseh Sayang) (1965) which was directed by Hussain Haniff.

Since the circuit breaker started, experimental filmmaker and film historian Toh Hun Ping has been putting up a wide range of classic films online. They display not just the talents of the local film industry in its early days, but also various parts of Singapore long before they were turned into urban and suburban hubs.

Baby boomers will wax nostalgic over some locations, such as the Satay Club at the Esplanade, the old Cathay Cinema before it was gutted, and the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in its heyday. But some of these movies are artistic achievements in their own right, with strong plots, good acting and adroit direction. We review three of the best.

This article first appeared in The Business Times.

Ring Of Fury (1973), directed by James Sebastian and Tony Yeow
Singapore’s one and only kung fu film has a backstory that’s as entertaining as the film itself. Made in 1973, it was banned by the Singapore government for years because of its portrayal of gangsterism and vigilantism. Its lead actor Peter Chong, a real-life karate master, kept the only surviving print of the film in a refrigerator to prevent it from getting moldy.   Years later, the Asian Film Archives got hold of the print and carried out a massive restoration. When Ring Of Fury finally debuted in Capitol Theatre in September 2017, it was hailed by many as a significant title in Singapore’s cinematic oeuvre.   Inspired by Bruce Lee’s Fist Of Fury (1972), Ring Of Fury tells the story of a noodle seller (Chong) at the Satay Club in Esplanade who refuses to pay “protection money” to a gang of thugs. Angered by his audacity, they burn down his kampong house, killing his blind mother who could not find her way out. The noodle seller vows revenge at her deathbed. He masters the art of kung fu and eventually infiltrates the gang in order to take down its leader.   Despite being made on a shoestring budget, and having a plot largely derived from other martial arts films, Ring Of Fury boasts genuine thrills. There are compelling characters, hilarious moments and colourful fight sequences shot against gorgeous backdrops of Singapore in the 1970s. My Darling Love (Chinta Kaseh Sayang) (1965) Directed by Hussain Haniff
The 1950s and 1960s were the golden era of Malay cinema. Watching My Darling Love in 2020, one is struck by how intelligent and well-made this melodrama is, from its exploration of then-taboo themes to its fine lead performances. The luscious Latifah Omar, who was Malay cinema’s answer to Brigitte Bardot, plays a sexually emancipated young woman who is bored in her marriage to a workaholic artist.   Her good looks draw the attention of a married car salesman (Ghazali Sumantri) who decides to pursue her at all costs. The two embark on a torrid affair. But when the salesman’s wife finds out, she pleads with him to return to her, and he agrees to do so.   Latifah’s character, still bored, runs into the arms of another lover (Tony Kassim), a vain and callous man more concerned with having a good time. And though she finally returns to her husband, the final shot of the film is exquisitely ambiguous, suggesting that she might cheat on him again.   My Darling Love is the 10th film – and one of the last – of director Hussain Haniff, a Pakistan-born Singapore director who tragically died of cancer at the age of 33. Its deft direction and ambitious themes hint at how much greater his oeuvre could have been had he lived longer. Hang Tuah (1956) Directed by Phani Majumdar
The Singapore film industry once produced the kind of big-budget historical spectacles that drew large audiences and earned global acclaim. Hang Tuah was the first Malay film to be fully shot in Eastman colour. It was screened at the 7th Berlin International Film Festival in 1957 where it was nominated for the Golden Bear, and it also won the award for Best Musical Score at the 3rd Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong in 1956.   Directed by Phani Majumdar, a pioneering Indian filmmaker who briefly worked in Singapore, it stars a young P. Ramlee as the legendary 15th century admiral Hang Tuah of Malacca who becomes the Sultan’s most trusted protector after displaying superior fighting skills and diplomatic acumen. Hang Tuah’s jealous enemies, however, succeed in sabotaging him, which ultimately leads to a fight-to-the-death between him and his best friend, Hang Jebat.   Although the film was criticised by the cultural intelligentsia for its less-than-flattering portrayal of Malacca’s feudal rulers, it was nonetheless a huge hit with moviegoers and released in several countries.