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[InC-terview] Director Green Zeng on His First Feature 'The Return'

By Freddy  /  01 Feb 2017 (Wednesday)

Image credit: Mirtillo Films

‘The Return’ is a film with a colourful journey. Despite being a Singaporean film, it premiered at Venice International Film Critics’ Week in September 2015 and has travelled around the world ever since, with screenings in Rome, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Kerala, and other parts of the world. It was screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2015, but has not seen a wider release in Singapore cinema until now.

Wen, a political detainee, is released after many years of imprisonment. Arrested for being an alleged communist, he returns, an old man, to an uneasy reunion with his children. Has his sacrifice come at too great a price? Wen also wanders through the city to see how his homeland has transformed into a shining metropolis. He is philosophical about his long detainment without trial and is ready to move on. But as the past collides with the present, unforeseen circumstances force his journey to take a tragic turn.

Ahead of the film’s release on 23 February, we talked to the director Green Zeng via email about the film’s release, his inspiration, and his expectations.

Image credit: Zinkie Aw

InCinemas: ‘The Return’ will finally screen to a wider Singapore audience on 23 February, the first time after it screens at SGIFF 2015. How do you feel about this?
Green: I am happy that ‘The Return’ is finally opening in Singapore on 23 Feb at Filmgarde Bugis+. It took us slightly more than a year but I am delighted that we finally managed to secure a cinema release for the film. Many thanks of course to Han Minli and Filmgarde Cineplex for supporting this film and us. It has been a long journey and despite the many challenges we faced, we did not give up as we truly believe that this small independent film can provide a thought-provoking experience to Singapore audiences.

Image credit: Mirtillo Films

InCinemas: What inspired you to make a film about the life of an ex-political detainee?
Green: The role of these political detainees is often portrayed in a narrow manner in our history books. I hope the film will act as a catalyst to open up other ways of understanding and discussing their role in history. By featuring a political detainee as the protagonist in a narrative film, I hope to explore what life could have been like for those like him after his release. How does one reconcile the past with the present?

On a personal level, the film is dedicated to my father and those of his generation. Like the protagonist of the film, my father is Chinese-educated, interested in politics and the student activism of that period. The film is a kind of homage to the passing of a generation.

The film's cast: Vincent Tee, Tan Beng Chiak, and Chen TianXiang. Image credit: Mirtillo Films

InCinemas: Would you consider this film as an effort to raise awareness about the hardships encountered by ex-political detainees after their release? Why?
Green: I am not a historian or journalist and I believe my role as an artist / filmmaker is always to interpret, invent and be creative. As I said, I hope the film will act as a catalyst to open up other ways of interpreting and understanding history.

InCinemas: ‘The Return’ has screened in many cities all over the world. Do you think Singaporeans appreciate the film differently from foreigners?
Green: After ‘The Return’ premiered at the 30th Venice International Critics' Week, the film was screened in several cities in Italy and various film festivals around world (Cairo, Vietnam, Laos, India, etc). These screenings were well attended and well received by the foreign audiences.

However, I most look forward to screening the film on home ground. I believe that the local audience will understand the film’s local nuances more than a foreign audience would as the film refers to specific places, people and events of Singapore. However, the local audience can sometimes be more critical as they might have a preconceived idea of what a local film should be like. I hope the audience will come with an open mind and be pleasantly surprised by the film.

Image credit: Mirtillo Films

InCinemas: What message would you hope the Singaporean audience can bring home after watching the film?
Green: The film follows the protagonist’s journey to reconnect with his family and the world around him. The film’s themes of sacrifice, change, separation and beliefs are universal and I'm sure Singaporeans will be able to relate to them.

(Find out more about the film on its website or Facebook page!)
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