It was supposed to be a satirical and funny take on Singapore television.
But just days before its official opening in cinemas here, Singapore film ‘Sex.Violence.FamilyValues’, which initially received an M18 rating, is banned by the Media Development Authority (MDA), raising questions as to why it was such a last-minute pull-out.
The announcement was made in a post on the film's Facebook page on Monday evening, where it stated that the MDA revoked the film’s licence on 6 October, a day after the film's premiere at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard.
“It is of course disappointing to have our certification revoked at the very last minute,” said The Butter Factory, a dance club which backed and produced the film, in the statement on Facebook.
The film was originally scheduled to run from 11 October at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard. Those who have bought tickets will get refunds.
Directed by Ken Kwek, 33, the film is described as a collection of "three dirrrty stories from the world's cleanest city" that "pitches political correctness out the window of Singapore mainstream cinema".
It is made up of a collection of three short films – ‘Cartoons’ which is about a kindergarten student who suddenly starts drawing morbid pictures; ‘The Bouncer’, a “dramedy that puts an Asian twist on the teen dance movie” and ‘Porn Masala’, a comedy about an amateur actor’s troubles caused by his role in Singapore’s first “arthouse porno”. The film stars Adrian Pang, Sylvia Ratonel, Osman Sulaiman, Vadi PVSS, Serene Chen, among others.
HOW THE FILMS GOT THEIR RATINGS
In December 2011, ‘Porn Masala’ received an M18 rating as a standalone film.
In August 2012, 'Sex.Violence.FamilyValues' was rated M18.
A check on the MDA website revealed that ‘Cartoons’ was given a PG-13 rating, while ‘The Bouncer’ received an NC16 rating, but because MDA takes the highest or strictest rating of all films, the whole release was rated M18. ‘The Bouncer’ was just screened at the Gotham Screen Film Festival in New York last week.
As to why the rating changed suddenly from M18 to Not For All Rating (NAR) for 'Porn Masala' and the entire film package, the authority told inSing News that due to "public feedback from the community" on ‘Porn Masala’, it “reviewed the film and the impact of its racial references in consultation with the Films Consultative Panel”.
“An overwhelming majority of the panel members have expressed that the film should not be allowed for public exhibition in view of its overt racial references which are demeaning and offensive to Indians. As such, we will not be giving a rating to 'Sex.Violence.FamilyValues',” its spokesperson said.
MDA did not want to say when the feedback came and when the screening to the panel was held.
On its website, it is stated that the Films Consultative Panel has 59 members and comprises “members from various professions, age groups and races in Singapore” and is consulted when the Board of Film Censors “requires more feedback to help make a decision on a rating of a film, video or game and its consumer advice”.
The more recent consultation was for the 3D erotic film ‘Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy’ in 2011.
The panel, which changes every two years, is chaired by Vijay Chandran, director of Elasticity Pte Ltd. The vice-chairs are Cheryl Ng, director of Great Expectations Communications Laboratory, and Albert Tan, lecturer at the School of Engineering in Nanyang Polytechnic. The full list of its members are listed here.
MDA cannot comment on how the public may have seen the film or scenes from the film before its official release.
However, there have been media screenings and trailers of the film available online.
The film has three trailers on its website – a teaser, the official theatrical trailer that was given an M18 rating by MDA, and one that was not rated titled 'The Dirrrty Trailer'.
The last trailer appeared on the film’s Facebook page in a post dated 23 September, where it was billed as the one that “DIDN’T make it to the cinemas”. In it, there was a scene between actors Pang and Vadi, with Pang spouting a racist remark.
Singapore film writer Tay Yek Keak, who had seen the film at a media screening on 14 September, was shocked at the about-face by MDA.
“I thought that the exchange between Pang and Vadi in the film, despite being based on racial stereotypes, was nothing incendiary. It rather pokes fun at bigotry and stereotypes as it made Pang’s bigoted character look small and silly,” Tay said.
Director Kwek did not want to comment when contacted.
Actress Pam Oei, who acted in ‘Porn Masala’, did not want to comment as well, but said on the film’s Facebook page that “half the crew for ‘Porn Masala’ was Indian, and we all loved working on this film”.
Oei also posted a comment to say that the film’s first assistant director Kavitah Jayanandan said this: “It's pity that people won't get to see the film. It's a pity they will not learn that there is a difference between Indian and Pakistani, Muslim and Hindu. That Indians are not smelly and they don't use Ghee as deodorant. That Indian men don't get drunk and beat up their wives. It's a pity that they won't see that Indian men actually respect women. It's a pity that they won't see that Indians can be dignified, as seen in the character 'Vivian'. It's a pity that Ken Kwek is called racist when he made the Chinese man look crass so that the Indian man can look classy. Bravo MDA! You may have just banned the one film that actually educates one to be racially tolerant.”
Right now, film producer The Butter Factory is considering making an appeal. Its executive chairman Tay Eu-Yen said: "'Sex.Violence.FamilyValues' is a satire that discourages racism by portraying and attacking stereotypes. The film was made to cast irony on negative sexual, racial and familial assumptions that people tend to make."
The NAR is rarely given to films here, and this is the first Singapore film given the rating. Previously, the Hollywood film 'Zoolander' was given this rating as well.
The ban by MDA came amid public fury over a racist remark filled with profanities made by a former labour movement employee Amy Cheong, who complained on Facebook about Malay weddings at void decks. She was sacked yesterday from her job.