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[InC-terview] In The Room with Eric Khoo

By Flora  /  25 Nov 2015 (Wednesday)

Singapore’s auteur Eric Khoo’s latest erotic love feature, ‘In The Room’ will be making its local premiere at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival. Touted as one of the raciest and most erotic feature film from a local director, Khoo shares with InCinemas on the 10-day racy but very fun shoot, getting actors to disrobe, and having a theatrical release. 

In The Room is an omnibus film about six love stories that span several decades, all set in a hotel room, Room 27. The international cast includes Singapore’s Koh Boon Pin and George Young, Malaysia’s Lawrence Wong, Hong Kong’s Josie Ho, Japan’s Show Nishino and Korea’s Choi Woo-Shik. 

Khoo will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his first feature film, Mee Pok Man, at the film festival. 

InCinemas: Where did the inspirations for In The Room came about?

It all started when I was at a dinner party with a friend when he asked me about my next film. I told him I didn’t have anything in mind at that moment, then he goes ‘you know what, maybe you should do a film about a love motel - a lot of stories are there!’ So that was the first seed that was planted in my mind.

I hooked up with Jonathan Lim and told him I wanted to do a film with just one physical space. Jonathan came up with these very interesting ideas and stories about love motels, so together with my producer, we discussed and thought it’ll be nice to feature a hotel that is very grand when it first started, and slowly goes downhill… like a human being.

InCinemas: Was there a specific hotel that set the tone for your story? 

Yes, there was a hotel in Singapore that I drew inspiration from - called the New 7th Storey Hotel at Rochor Road. In the 1950s, it was the tallest building in the Beach Road area and then towards the twilight years, it died, and unfortunately by 2008, it got demolished to become an MRT station. 

I also met up with the former manager of the hotel and spoke to her about the people who came in. If my room is the central character, it would have to have a soul. When I was conceiving this project, I discovered that a friend of mine, Damien Sin (who wrote Mee Pok Man) died of a heroin overdose. I started to think if my first feature film was not Mee Pok Man and some other story, it may have flopped and died and I won’t be doing films anymore. I thought I had to pay tribute to this guy, and it is about his story!

InCinemas: How did you decide to match which couple to which decade? 

The film starts off with the 1940s and at that period of time, Singapore was with the British, so I had the idea to start from there. In the 50s segment, it’s my tribute to real-life stripper Rose Chan. I wanted this form, in the way, to arrest the audience. I started the film in a very film-noir style, to the point it feels rather theatrical. So in the 50s, it throws you off-guard. 

Then it comes to the 60s, the 60s is sort-of bittersweet. We had a great music movement during that period of time. There were a lot bands that were getting there but unfortunately didn’t make it. The 70s is my tribute to the late Dr S. S. Ratnam, Singapore’s pioneer sex-change surgeon.  When we get to the 80s, Japan then was such an economic power - so rich and we had like 30 to 40 thousand Japanese in Singapore. And also because I made the movie Tatsumi with this cartoonist that I love a lot… I wanted to pay a bit of homage to him as well. 
When you get to the 90s, you get these two Koreans on a vacation. Initially the story was intended for a Taiwanese couple, but I love Korean cinema a lot, so I wanted to put in some Korean stars. I feel the strong connection and synergy with Korea and I am a big fan of their TV series. I watched Rooftop Prince (Korean drama) and loved Woo-Shik in it.

If you managed to spot the little visual cues that Khoo deliberately litters in his film, you will be able to roughly give an estimation as to which generation the film is in. 

InCinemas: Were there concerns or any considerations on the ratings when you submitted your film to the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)?

I owe everything to the SGIFF. I started out making short films, and so do many of the other film-makers today. In its first year of the festival, there were only 17 entries, and 10 years down the road, your have over 200 entries!

I took it to film festival and said, ‘Look, I really want my film to premiere (at SGIFF) and I really don’t want this film to be censored’. We know that maybe because it’s a film festival, the censors will be at least be a bit more lenient. I was very happy that there were no cuts for the festival! 

InCinemas: Any plans of having a theatrical release as well? 

For a general release, I will be very upset if the board of censors want to censor the film. We are the only country on earth that you have to be 21 to watch a film. I am not making the film religious, not political, not vulgar or twisted. 

Hopefully, if I am able to get an R21 with no cuts, I’ll be very happy to release the film. 

InCinemas: ...And if you have to make cuts to the film? 

Deep down as a filmmaker, I wouldn’t want to cut my film, but then, I am also not the investor of the film. I don’t own the film.

InCinemas: In The Room screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival, what were some of the reactions from the audiences? 

They were great! Fantastic reactions from the audiences! People were happy and I am really happy to hear it. I am a true Singaporean boy - just really happy to bring Singaporean films somewhere. I was there for 7 Letters as well, and you feel really good when someone comes up to you telling you they loved it film.

InCinemas: Was it difficult to cast actors because of the nudity? 

For the Japanese lady, I needed someone to be very comfortable and very willing to disrobe and when you look at japan, the AV industry is so huge and you have a lot of girls who go in but they don’t succeed. 

Show Nishino is like the big lady and she has been in the industry for 10 years! My Japanese friend started scouting for me and recommended Show. She now does theatre plays, television and even cinemas. A lot of these people you see up on screen are through friends and recommendations.

These actors are only given the script of their own specific story, so that they don’t know the whole entire film. We write it in English, translate it to their language and then I will tell them ‘if you feel good for the story, you got to give inputs. You need to make the dialogue more believable.’ There are nuances of the dialogue that the English might not be able to capture. Every actor gave their two cents’ worth and that really moved me.

InCinemas: Tell us the experience shooting at a soundstage, with two identical rooms being set up.

We shot the film in 10 days at Infinite Studios. We met at night, shoot the next day and the next batch comes in. Their own personal investment in their characters and story made my job a little easier. 

Shooting with two identical room was great. I spent a lot of time with Arthur Chua, my production designer. He came up with two rooms where the walls could move very quickly so you could put cameras in different angles. When you are in a small space, it’s hard to get different angles.  As we were filming one decade in one room, the other room will be busy preparing for the next decade. It was exciting and a fun 10-day shoot. I would love to film at the soundstage again, if that’s possible, but I think I will need a lot of exterior shots and outdoor scenes for my next film project. 

In The Room premieres at the SGIFF on 1 Dec 2015!

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