Published in the Straits Times, Saturday April 2, 2005
I Not Stupid opens film week in London
Film-maker Jack Neo quizzed on Singapore censorship after screening
by NEO HUI MIN
Europe Bureau in London
First, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver attracted attention with his television expose of the state of British school meals. Now, it is Singaporean film-maker Jack Neo - who shook up Singaporeans' attitude to the education system with his movie I Not Stupid - who is catching the eye here, among those interested.
His award-winning film opened the Singapore Season Film Week at the Barbican Cinema here yesterday. It is the first time it is being shown in England.
The film-maker faced a host of questions after the screening. Britons asked how he managed to get his film past the censors, given that there were criticisms of the Government, if he practised self-censorship and how the movie was received.
Neo pointed out that of the seven movies he had made, only one had received one or two cuts.
"People said I'm lucky, but I think it's the right timing. These issues (raised in the film) are being discussed everyday in the newspapers. So they are not new," he said.
Throwing a glance to Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan, Neo noted that he "did not get any bad comments from the Government" about the movie. Most people found it funny, he added.
"And why did they find it funny? It's because it' true," he said to laughter from the audience, including Dr Balaji.
"People say Singapore has no freedom of speech, and in my films, I have said a lot of things, but I'm still here," he said.
The problem with Singaporeans is: "Sometimes the Government doesn't say don't do this and that. But we play safe. Now the Government is trying very hard to tell the people to please say something."
The Government's attitude had changed, he said, and Singaporeans are now encouraged to speak out for themselves.
A member of the audience then asked: "Is caning still practised as shown in the movie?" Neo replied that some schools still have public caning.
He added: "Our country also has the cane and it's very effective. Some gangsters told me that they don't mind going to jail but they are scared of being caned." That quip met with laughter.
Neo says he knows this as he is spending time with inmates as research for his next film, which will feature life in prison.
He said he hoped for commercial release of I Not Stupid in Britain. It is "doing well" in Singapore and Hong Kong, he said, and a TV series of the movie had been sold to satellite television.
The Singapore Film Week at the Barbican is part of the Singapore Season festival, the first concerted effort by government agencies to promote Singapore arts and culture overseas. It also marks the first time that Singapore films are being screened overseas on such a scale - although previously, individual movies have been brought to foreign screens on a smaller scale.
During the Singapore Uncovered programme in London last year, for instance, two of Royston Tan's short films, 15 and Cut, and Eric Khoo's full-length feature 12 Storeys were screened.
12 Storeys is one of the eight movies that will be shown during this film week. The others include Khoo's Mee Pok Man, Forever Fever by Glen Goei, Chicken Rice War by CheeK, Eating Air by Kelvin Tong and Jasmine Ng, Rice Rhapsody by Kenneth Bi, as well as Homerun, also by Neo.
Dr Balaji launched the Singapore Chinese Orchestra debut performance last night. He will travel to Newcastle for the orchestra's performace at the Sage Gateshead.