History of LGBT people in Singapore film

History of LGBT people in Singapore film

The history of LGBT people in Singapore film includes films that address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)-related subject matter in either an overt manner, through the plot, or through a prominent subplot.

The production of such films, at the least in the mainstream, did not garner considerable attention until the mid-2000s, when debate over homosexuality in Singapore came to a fore.


In contrast to the numerous local theatre productions dealing with LGBT subject matter which have burgeoned since the late 1980s (see Singapore gay theatre), there was not a virtually no feature-length films entirely produced by Singaporeans in Singapore belonging to this genre before 2007. [ [http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2006/yax-662.htm Short Circuit 2006 - for the record, part 1] Yawning Bread Retrieved February 15, 2008] The probable reasons for this are the much larger and riskier investment outlay for movie production, and the lack of government and perceived mainstream community support for such films.

The culmination of efforts to redress this deficiency were witnessed on 6 October 2006, when Singapore's first private GLBT film festival, Short Circuit, was held at the Guinness Theatre at The Substation. Organized by activist Alex Au and local arts practitioners, it featured twelve short films that met the criterion of either being produced by GLBT individuals or having a GLBT theme. [ [http://www.yawningbread.org/guest_2006/guw-121.htm Short Circuit 2006 - a review] Yawning Bread Retrieved February 15, 2008]

Beginning in 2007, there was a dramatic increase in the production of short films dealing with LGBT issues, including a full-length movie, Solos which was produced by film director and actor Loo Zihan.Cite web|url=http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/article.php?articleid=1903&viewarticle=1&searchtype=publishdate&publicationdate=&pdate=2007-04-20|title=Gay Movie, Solos, Pulled from Singapore Film Festival Schedule|accessdate=2008-02-04|year=2007|author=Sylvia Tan|work=fridae.com] Cite web|url=http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2007/yax-727.htm|title=Lights, action..... and cut|accessdate=2008-02-04|year=2007|author=Yawning Bread|work=Yawning Bread] Another full-length film by Royston Tan, "enfant terrible of Singapore cinema", was set in production.

This increase in films of an LGBT nature coincided with a general relaxation of Singapore's laws regarding, and consequently approaches to, homosexuality. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined his support for the homosexual community in September 2007, despite the decision being taking to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, the legislative article that criminalized "gross indecency" between males. [cite news | url = http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest+News/Singapore/STIStory_160321.html | title = Views divided, so gay sex law stays | publisher = The Straits Times | date = 2007-09-22 Retrieved February 15, 2008] However, whilst the enactment of the legislation decreased, the government continued to ban certain items, such as Mass Effect which depicted homosexual behaviour; however, this was not through the medium of film. [cite news | url = http://www.joystiq.com/2007/11/14/mass-effect-banned-in-singapore-over-lesbian-scene/ | title = Mass Effect banned in Singapore over lesbian scene | publisher = Joystiq | date = 2007-11-14 Retrieved February 15, 2008] Notably, the film Solos was shunned by the Singapore International Film Festival.

LGBT-themed films

Bugis Street

"Bugis Street", a Hong Kong-Singapore co-production set in the real Bugis Street, focused on the lives of Singaporean transvestites in a bygone era. It was a minor hit at the box office on account of its R(A) (Restricted (Artistic)) rating and its nostalgic evocation of a seedy but colourful aspect of Singaporean culture, prior to the redevelopment of Bugis Street into a modern shopping district and the eradication of transvestite activities in the area. [imdb title | id=0111788 | title=Yao jie huang hou]

The movie featured several monologues from genuine drag queens and transwomen who had lived in the area.Cite web|url=http://www.timeout.com/film/newyork/reviews/articleid=68578/Bugis_Street.html|title=Bugis Street Review|accessdate=2008-02-04|year=|author=TR|work=Time Out Retrieved February 15, 2008] Bugis Street was world renowned from the 1950s to 1980s for its gathering of transwomen and was set during this period.

Rice Rhapsody

"Rice Rhapsody" (alternative title "Hainan Chicken Rice") (Chinese: 海南雞飯, literally meaning Hainanese chicken rice) was a 2004 Hong Kong production directed by Kenneth Bi. The cast included formerly popular Taiwanese actress Sylvia Chang and celebrity Chinese-American chef Martin Yan. The plot revolved around a contemporary Singaporean divorcée grappling with the homosexuality of her 2 eldest sons and dramatized her efforts to steer her third and youngest son's sexuality. [imdb title | id=0383388 | title=Hainan ji fan] It bombed at the box office and was panned especially by gay critics as being too artificial in its representation of Singapore life. Reviews of the movie by Yawning Bread, Charles Tan and Ken Lee.Cite web|url=http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2005/yax-418.htm|title=Cinema: Rice Rhapsody |accessdate=2008-02-04|year=2005|author=Yawning Bread|work=Yawning Bread] The film's message was generally one of tolerance. [imdb title | id=0383388 | title=Hainan ji fan]

Beautiful Boxer

"Beautiful Boxer", a biography of a transsexual Thai kickboxer was directed by Singapore-based Ekachai Uekrongtham, along with the input of Singapore gay talent. [imdb title | id=0401248 | title=Beautiful Boxer] Although Thai, this film was produced in Singapore for a Singaporean audience and for distribution to Thailand. Based on the true story of Thailand's famed transgender kickboxer, Beautiful Boxer is a story based around one person's belief that they have been trapped in the wrong body since childhood. Parinya Charoenphol, affectionately known as Nong Toom in Thailand, sets out to master the most masculine and lethal sport of Muay Thai (Thai boxing) to earn a living and to achieve his ultimate goal of total femininity. "Beautiful Boxer" traces Nong Toom's childhood, teenage life as a travelling monk and gruelling days in boxing camps. Shot in nine provinces across Thailand and in Tokyo, the film also features a series of explosive matches where Nong Toom knocks out most of his opponents in Thailand and Japan.

Directed and produced by Singapore-based, ethnic Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham, the film stars Asanee Suwan, a real-life kickboxing champ as Nong Toom. The role earned him the 2004 Supannahongsa Award (Thailand's equivalent to the Oscar) for Best Actor. Beautiful Boxer also features performances by Thailand's award-winning actor Sorapong Chatree in the role of Nong Toom's coach and former Miss Thailand Orn-Anong Panyawong as Nong Toom's mother.


"Solos", released in 2007, was the first full-length gay-themed movie to be produced in Singapore, completely by Singaporeans. It was not only groundbreaking for this reason, but also for its graphic depiction of gay sex, which led to it being banned from the Singapore International Film Festival.Cite web|url=http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/article.php?articleid=1903&viewarticle=1&searchtype=publishdate&publicationdate=&pdate=2007-04-20|title=Gay Movie, Solos, Pulled from Singapore Film Festival Schedule|accessdate=2008-02-04|year=2007|author=Sylvia Tan|work=fridae.com] Cite web|url=http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2007/yax-727.htm|title=Lights, action..... and cut|accessdate=2008-02-04|year=2007|author=Yawning Bread|work=Yawning Bread] Cite web|url=http://www.solosmovie.com/|title=Solos Official website|accessdate=2008-02-04|work=solosmovie.com]

Films with LGBT sub-plots

aint Jack

"Saint Jack" was released in 1979 by American director Peter Bogdanovich.

The story was set against Singapore as a US military-approved rest and relaxation (R&R) destination for US troops in Vietnam circa the early 1970s. The movie was banned locally because it portrayed Singapore in bad light, namely showing that (a) the sex trade was flourishing, (b) it was semi-officially sanctioned and (c) Singapore supported the losing side in the Vietnam War. [imdb title | id=0079843 | title=Saint Jack ]

Much of it was about how pimps like the protagonist, American Jack Flowers (played by actor Ben Gazzara) supplied girls to the GIs barracked at Shelford Road, a fact corroborated by university students at the Bukit Timah campus.

But a sub-plot featured a conservative US senator who preferred gay sex. A notable segment in the film showed the senator (played by one-time James Bond actor George Lazenby) picking up a late-teenager named Tony along Orchard Road and bringing him to his hotel room for sex. Male stripping and a shower scene were shown.

The film recorded for posterity that there were rentboys plying their trade along Orchard Road during those days. This could have been related to presence of Le Bistro along Scotts Road and Pebbles Bar at the Hotel Singapura Continental. The movie was allowed to be shown just once during a Singapore Film Festival and is still on the banned list. The Singaporean actor, Edward Tan, who played Tony the rentboy created a first in Singapore gay film history. However, according to Bogdanovich, all the Singaporeans who were given screen roles were not really 'actors' at all, but simply recruited from a casting call.

Army Daze

"Army Daze", Michael Chiang's stage-to-screen adaptation of the trials and tribulations of a motley bunch of army recruits featured an effeminate Eurasian man whose main aim in life was to become a housewife in Ang Mo Kio. However, his platoon mates were flabbergasted when he breezed through the obstacle course with more speed and "sang-froid" than any of them. [imdb title | id=0115569 | title=Army Daze]

Forever Fever

One of Singaporean director Glen Goei's early local productions which was distributed in America under another title. It also dealt with transgender themes, alongside the movie's main light-hearted romance, as Hock's elder brother reveals his desire for a sex-change operation to his unreceptive traditionalist Chinese family. [imdb title | id=0155713 | title=Forever Fever]


The Singapore Government banned 27-year-old's Royston Tan's visually explosive and shocking 2003 film "15". Part social realism, part documentary and part cinematic adventurism, 15 follows a group of teenage outsiders grappling with violence, drug running, prostitution, piercings and thoughts of suicide. Although at times gratuitous, 15 was not, nor was it intended to be, a gay film. Many Singaporeans interpreted the bond between the two main characters to be homoerotic, and outside of the country the film was advertised in gay publications. The Singaporean government also took this view, and prior to banning it had already made 27 cuts to the film. Tan asserted that the characters were not intended to be homosexual.

Be with Me

Acclaimed local director Eric Khoo's 2005 production "Be with Me" was the first major homegrown motion picture to feature scenes of female coupling in the form of 2 stereotypical lesbians, teenage schoolgirls (played by waifish actresses Ezann Lee and Samantha Tan), who fall in love as quickly as they fall out of it. The softly pornographic film, which shows the two naked girls tenderly stroking each other's arm and face, cuddling under the sheets and in cinema halls, ended on a climax with the two naked girls sharing an intense 10-second French kiss, exchanging tongue-licks. Be with Me received a rating of M18. The movie's original poster featuring both girls lying on some steps and locked in an embrace in a scene from the movie was banned in Singapore and replaced with an image of a man kissing Samantha Tan's neck. According to a spokesman of Warner Brothers, which distributed the movie locally, the Media Development Authority (MDA) stated that the original was 'not suitable as a PG poster' because the graphics 'implied content of a homosexual nature'. [imdb title | id=0463903 | title=Be With Me]

Films with cross-dressing actors

Liang Po Po: The Movie

"" was comedian Jack Neo's large screen production of his frequent television drag spoofs of a doddering, bumbling but lovable old lady and her exploits. [imdb title | id=0170161 | title=Liang Po Po chong chu jiang hu] It was released in 1999.


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