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[InC-terview] Gone Shopping director, Wee Li Lin!

By Say Peng  /  03 Oct 2017 (Tuesday)

Wee Li Lin is one of the pioneer female filmmakers in Singapore. She did her Bachelor's in Art Semiotics at Brown University in Rhode Island and studied dramatic writing at NYU-Tisch Asia. With ten short films under her belt, Wee is one of the most prolific female short filmmakers in Singapore. Three of them have won awards at the Singapore International Film Festival, including her most famous and well regarded short film Autograph Book. In 2007, she completed and released her debut feature film Gone Shopping. In 2011, she released her second film Forever, which world premiered at Jakarta International Film Festival and Cairo International Film Festival. In 2011, the now-defunct Singapore Short Film Awards presented Wee with an honorary award for her commitment to the local film-making scene.

InCinemas speaks to Wee about the 10th anniversary of her debut feature Gone Shopping, which is screening at the ArtScience Museum from 1-8 October.  
InCinemas: Gone Shopping was your first feature film, made in 2007. Before that, you had made about six short films. Can you give us a bit of context of where you were as a filmmaker at that time and what led you to decide to make your first feature film?
Li Lin: I had made quite a few shorts since I returned from the US (university), all little character studies of off -centre individuals and I felt it would be the right time to explore something longer, a pastiche of off-centre characters I found interesting. But the story/setting had to be right and true for me and I mulled for a while over it. Ultimately I went with setting a story in the space of shopping malls and explore these ‘creatures of the mall’. To me, this space was the most representative of what Singapore was. I had a producer who was generous enough to support me through it, which is very important. It’s a massive undertaking and with her help and later on the help of others (including my amazingly supportive family), we made it happen.  We started shoot in 2005 and we released a theatrical cut in July and I did a director’s cut a few months later and that travelled to festivals. It was also released on DVD and that is the edit that will be screened at ArtScience Museum.

InCinemas: In Gone Shopping, you sought to portray Singaporeans’ favourite pastime of shopping. Do you feel the film is still an accurate portrayal of Singaporeans’ relationship to shopping today?
Li Lin: I think online shopping and the presence of social media has changed people’s relationship with the space as a place that fulfils consumerist desires and also as a space to be seen, in particular the appeal of Orchard Road. However, the steady rise and popularity of heartland malls does seem to be replicating what Orchard Road was though so perhaps things are still not so different as we think.

InCinemas: Is Gone Shopping an autobiographical film? Do you see yourself in the main character Clara? What’s your own relationship to shopping?
Li Lin: I see myself in all the characters for sure and that’s the best way to write and gestate an idea, to come from a very personal place. I went to school in SCGS [Singapore Chinese Girls School] in the 80s and it was in Emerald Hill, just off Orchard Road. I spent almost every day before school at Centrepoint or Specialist Centre. I was likely back at Centrepoint during the weekends again. Shopping centres were the space that was the antithesis to school, glossy, beautiful and full of ‘hope’, and it was air conditioned to boot. At Centrepoint, I spent time admiring the CP Kidz (colourful mall kids that were a subculture of Singapore in the 80s) and thinking if only I could be like them, belong to a group and spend all day in the mall looking like an 80s pop star and eating Mcdonald’s. They represented what heaven was to me.
My relationship with shopping now is less aspirational; it’s a bit more functional and it’s less of a social space for me. Also since I’ve been with my husband we spend much more time in cinemas, museums or just outdoors. For him retail equates torture.

InCinemas: Gone Shopping is now ten years old. Can you share with us the reception the film had ten years ago when it was screened in Singapore? How do you think the Singapore audience today will receive the film?
Li Lin: When the film was first released in the cinemas, I felt the edit still needed some work. We felt pressure to release it and I think it wasn’t quite ready. We still got some good reviews but I think the response was lukewarm. in hindsight, we should have sent it to festivals first but we were new to the indie feature film game and there were definitely better steps we could have taken to take care of the film. After the director’s edit and the film got a chance to have a festival life and a DVD life, it was better appreciated. But regardless of how people respond, its most important that as a filmmaker, one feels that they’ve done their absolute best for the film and only release it if you feel you’re putting your best foot forward. And sometimes it just takes time. Later this year Gone Shopping will also be released on Catchplay on demand and Itunes, so that’s cool and exciting.

InCinemas: You have made two feature films so far. The last one, Forever, was in 2011. Are there plans to make more feature films?
Li Lin: Not in the immediate future. Moving forward I plan to work on indie shorts. I made my first indie short (after a long time) earlier this year, a short entitled Areola Borealis​​. And I have more short ideas that I’m gestating. Film is a costly endeavour, especially in Singapore and when you work on something long form, it takes years to develop and may never even see the light of day. To be creatively viable is a big part of my existence. And since I was 19 in school, I knew filmmaking was the medium for me. So going back to making indie shorts and figuring out how to make them for less but with greater creative growth is my focus going into my 40s. 

Be sure to catch the 10th anniversary screening of Wee Li Lin's debut feature Gone Shopping at ArtScience Museum from 1 - 8 October! 
There will also be a panel discussion held on 7 October at ArtScience Museum, featuring speakers Wee Li Lin, Professor Chua Beng Huat, author of Life Is Not Complete Without Shopping, Sonya Nair, lead actress in Gone Shopping, and Julian Wong, Associate Editor of Rice Media. The panel is moderated by journalist Genevieve Loh.
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