Archive for May, 2008

A review on Diminishing Memories (part one) by Jeremy Sing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Diminishing Memories by Eng Yee Peng – A Family Portrait

I took home with me 6 lives (or maybe more) from watching Diminishing Memories. I will always remember the endearingly helpless father, the fast-talking and level-headed mother, the jovial singlet-clad uncle, the Chinese Caligrapher, the laughing-Buddha face provision shop owner and of course, the earnest and brave Yee Peng, whose voiced stringed the different lives together.

A week ago, I watched a Simpson’s spoof on indie documentary filmmaking in which Maggie Simpson tries making her first film and goes around exposing her family’s ugly doings. She gets into Subdance and at the festival, the family members become the notorious talk of the town. Things are a little different in Dimishing Memories because Yee Peng actually interviews them (which already siphons off the uglier side of things). But the way the characters shared their views and lives so freely made me think that only Yee Peng could create this kind of screen honesty. Of course, for a first documentary, shooting a subject so close to her heart is a very smart move. But how many of us can actually make your parents feel comfortable in front of the camera, especially if they do not whole-heartedly approve of your filmmaking.

I had the opportunity to chat over dinner before I watched the documentary. While we spoke of the usual things filmmakers would talk or even grouse about, we also went beyond film and picked each other’s life experience. Somehow, with her, I felt nothing was too low-brow to be talked about. The way she has told the story in DM emanates this spirit of hers as well. It was very `Kampung‘. Though this has certain negative connotations in it, it is almost like the documentary cannot live without it. By `Kampung’, I mean a few things – the scrapbook-style of presenting the story, the gushy and sometimes boorish narration, the closeness the characters felt towards Yee Peng who operated the camera and many more. Perhaps the film could get a better editor to cut the loose storytelling bits, but like fried lard in bak chor mee, the style redefined the film, because anyone could easily make a documentary about their family.

I cannot resist commenting on the characters and why they continue to live in my mind. Take the father as a start. He is wrinkled and all but had a face that grew on me. Alternating between saggy frowns and sudden grins, there was something quietly endearing about this man. I could tell he was probably an handsome and determined young man in his early years. His eyes are stern and focussed, even in his younger photos. It’s no wonder he was such a prolific lorry-maker. But on the downside, he is not as shrewd as his wife. The relocation from Lim Chu Kang is remembered with sentiments of helplessness and even betrayal. In a sardonically funny moment when the daughter asks if he benefitted at all from the move, he said no, but there was definitely `victimisation’ by the govt. And he said with a stifled laugh.

His wife, or rather Yee Peng’s mother is one who will hold the family together in bad times. She is evidently strong and resolute. She talks fast and is very level-headed. Unlike dad’s slightly dreamy and forlorn eyes, her expressions are always alert. But she is more complex than you think. Unlike her single-minded husband, she plays so many more roles. She is the manager of the kids, she is the gregarious party-organiser, she is sometimes an Ah Soh group leader (haha) but she will slow down and spare a thought and some honest emotions when the time calls for it. For instance, asking Yee Peng in front of the camera if she once felt neglected? On the whole, I feel she is Yee Peng’s source of strength in the family and she would get a lot of guts from her mother. From her father, perhaps it is determination and ambition?

And then I will always remember how the chubby uncle who wore the singlet related how he knocked his elbows against the HDB bathroom wall when he might be thinking he was still bathing in Lim Chu Kang. Its seems to almost register the thought that we Singaporeans have been moulded into a generation of enclosed beings with clipped behaviour. Even his wife’s warmth was so effortless and natural. She laughed as she commented how the camera had already started rolling even as Yee Peng stepped in. And the chunkiness of the meat filling in the Yong Tau Foo oozed with wholesome Kampung flavour as it sizzled in the cooking oil, just like the uncle’s full-hearted laughter. The power of sentiment overrules so many things we perceive which is really the beauty of life. Just like how the wife felt so strongly about the taste of the water back in the Kampong. And its not just the wife, the old-fashioned singlet -clad husband wept buckets for leaving his Kampung.

Of course, there were other variants that formed that vivid family portrait that I remembered of DM. Some documentaries unintentionally exude a lot of romanticism in it and I think the mention of the Dog, like another family member was immensely sweet. Okay, maybe bittersweet. Related through the melancholic voice of Yee Peng’s father, it was mentioned that he would make time to stop by the old abandoned house on his way to work just to take a look at the dogs everyday. Eventually, both dogs vanished. Which I think was the saddest part of the film because the documentary gave to them life and a subliminal kind of voice. And it was never heard, had to be imagined and died along with their Kampung.


曙光球队 Homeless FC

Posted: May 21, 2008 in Column 专栏





  《曙光球队》有一幕情节,两个中年汉为一个芝麻绿豆般小事而争吵不休。要不是一班人在旁阻止,他们可真会大打出手起来。导演不干预他们的争吵,像是一个安静的旁观者,观众也通过了情节而进一步了解其人物性格、教育水平和社会阶层等。很多影像工作者都易流于得太多,太用力。但通过一段段的情节,观众就有机会与空间用自己的心去体会。一部好的电影,就是能通过情节,道出一部电影的主题,还有中心人物的思想。一部更好的电影,是能在通过人物性格中,让人感受到一个社会的形态。《曙光球队》都有具备了好电影的元素。这部由新加坡独立制作纪录片工作者——李成琳与梁思众的电影,正在旧校舍的新戏院放映(Sinema Old School


A COMMENT from Stephanie Ho on The History Workroom, 18th April 2008:

I caught the screening and was impressed.


Unlike DMI, which was more personal in tone, this sequel was concerned more about the future of Lim Chu Kang rather than its past.


It was interesting to hear what the different ‘farmers’ who are now in Lim Chu Kang thought about the issue.  The people featured were an interesting mix- Ho Seng Choon, Ivy Singh Lim (Bollywood Veggies) and Kenny Eng.


By presenting their views which both colluded and contrasted with the director’s, this gave the viewer much food for thought.


A REVIEW from Stephanie Ho on The History Workroom, 11th May 2008:


This is a belated review on Diminishing Memories II, a documentary by local filmmaker Eng Yee Peng, and an elaboration of an earlier comment (

I watched DM II last month at the Singapore Film Festival. I was looking forward to it as I had enjoyed the first film, and was eager to see what Yee Peng has come up with next.

DM II is a continuation of DM I, yet it is something different. While DM I was concerned mainly with the past of Lim Chu Kang where Yee Peng grew up, DM II is concerned with its future: what is going to happen to Lim Chu Kang especially with government plans to make it a education/leisure venue with an agriculture theme?

Yee Peng explores this question through visits and interviews with the people who currently reside and work in Lim Chu Kang such as Ho Seng Choon and Ivy Singh-Lim of Bollywood Veggies and in her own reflections of these discussions.

As in DM I, Yee Peng plays a pivotal role as the narrator and director of the film. From her commentary we hear her voice clearly – one that is constantly thinking, reflecting on the information she has received and struggling to make sense of it. This is one of the most attractive aspects of her film – her honesty and courage in presenting her views and perspectives as a filmmaker which in turn motivate the audience to think a little more deeply about things many of us take for granted.

In addition, Yee Peng also allows the viewer insight into the filmmaking process. The most moving scene was perhaps the interview with Yee Peng’s mother where she expressed concern for Yee Peng’s overwhelming passion for filmmaking that threatened to affect her health. This helps the viewer understand some of the difficulties of independent filmmaking and how it operates in the context of the larger family.

Overall, I enjoyed the film very much and cannot even find anything negative to say about it. I admire the filmmaking style, I found the content educational and it was technically competent – better than DM I that suffered from shaky camera and stinting narration.

Most importantly I felt the soul of the filmmaker and the passion she has for the topic. I hope more people will watch the film. It’s good.

SIFF Encore Screenings

Posted: May 8, 2008 in Others 其他
Singapore International Film Festival was finally over a few weeks ago but there’s an Encore screening at Sinema in May!
There were two films I love most at the Singapore Panorama section, they are the “Road to Mecca” and “Homeless FC”.
The website link to “Road of Mecca” is while Homeless FC will be screened again at Sinema, please see details below:

Football, Friendship and the Search for a Place to call Home

Winner, Best Feature Film, Chinese Documentary Awards 2008
Nominee, Humanitarian Award, Hong Kong International Film Festival 2007

**** “Wonderful… profoundly moving.” Westender

“A genuine crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.” Vancouver
International Film Festival

“Won the loudest applause at the HKIFF this year.” Hong Kong
International Film Festival

“The warmth that radiates from their work is due to the long-lasting
relationships built with their subjects.” South China Morning Post

Where and when: Sinema Old School, 17th and 25th May, 7pm, and 1st
June, 9pm

Book tickets here:


More about the filmmaker:

One of the audience from the Singapore International Film Festival’s 2nd screening wrote me a letter on his blog, see below:

A Letter to Eng Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II


Dear Yee Peng,


Every good film festival allows you to take home something that you can’t get at other film festivals. The Singapore International Festival has never meant much to me. I never had luck. Or timing. They say they want only world premieres, so I could not submit my work. So often, SIFF is a lonely affair for me, creeping into cinemas alone, not really feeling part of this spirit. This year’s decision to give these 12-13 Singapore feature films a viewing platform made a big difference. To get to the most importnat point, it gave me a chance to watch your film and attend your Q & A. The experience on that Saturday afternoon gave me that something to take home from SIFF this year.


I know nothing about kampungs or farming. I grew up in a HDB flat straightaway. And the topic is not interesting to me. So I came to watch DM2 with little expectation but with a hope that the documentary would not be too long.


Your choice of a personal style, and I dare say angry style, made a lot of difference right from the start. The fact that you aimed straight at the points that were directly relevant to you made it very watchable indeed. This includes pin-pointing that the danger sign was the former location of your kampung. Like having a good tour guide, I knew I was in good hands and followed you from one issue to another. You were even funny, like how you never managed to pull out the Chye Sim without its muddy roots while the expert next to you nailed every attempt.


As the documentary progressed, that persistent, skeptical and somewhat adamant voice in you surfaced slowly. It defined the flavour of your documentary but on the other hand, made it all the questions you were asking seem rhetorical because you already took a stand right from the start towards the current and imminent changes seeping into the area. I somehow recalled vaguely how DM1 was a much-talked about documentary and suspected your very unique voice in it was the reason so. And as you probed further into the wisdom of these new agri-tainment developments and lament the the real kampung flavour that was diminshing, I felt like something of a collision was going to take place.


And the turning point came when you interviewed a middle-aged lady whom I learnt moments later was your mother. Her message was simple – to `move on’. Thereafter, you finally questioned the flaw in your initial argument and came to a resolution about leaving the redevelopment matter to rest. And to reinforce the conclusion, you captured another defining image of Lim Chu Kang – the cemeteries. This struck an immediate chord in me because I remember the depressing Sunday night bus journeys across these cemeteries back to the Sungei Gedong army camp.


Thinking back, if you were so level-headed about the whole agri-tainment issue, maybe the voice of the documentary would have been more of a whimper. It was truly nothing less than a shout, a scream from you. Maybe stylistically, it could have been more restrained, eloquent and less preachy. But you showed me something that I would keep for a long time. Mission.

The sense of mission did not end with your film, it had only begun for the following Q & A was about to make me helplessly emotional. At first glance, you look like the quiet sort. But your spirit is more than palpable. The best word I can think of is unabashed. Many filmmakers work hard but are sometimes too afraid to wear that badge of mission and drive on their sleeves. They don’t want to seen as trying too hard. Because if they fail, maybe less people will take notice. I can’t help but feel this is a very Singaporean trait, not just in filmmaking. I succumbed to it somehow along the way. But seeing how you pursue your goal, I am going to change that and find back the `devil-may-care’ in me.


Honestly, the portion of your mother’s interview in the film felt a little incomplete. Like I was missing the bigger picture and you just took out some hard-hitting points and included them in the film. I mean, it still had its effect but it was a fraction of the resonance that I felt from the `live’ sharing by your mother later on. She said she was concerned that you only came out of the room to eat the fruits cut by her. She remembered how much you sacrificed and lost weight for your craft. She said she did not agree with your choice of career at first. Finally, she cited that the family is not rich and that she could not support your films like other parents and all she could do was offer little manual tokens of help here and there.


Money is not a dirty word. It is something I would often think about. My parents often talk in circles about things that link back to money. It is a very pertinent issue that ties in so many emotions in it our context. My parents would never think of giving me money to make films. More importantly, I will never ask them to do so. Despite loving films and making them, I can’t help but feel like it’s against my conscience to ask them. What I heard that Saturday afternoon will make me remember that someone who also had no recourse to deep pockets and warm familial support had gone on to make 2 very strong feature-length films. By the end of the Q & A, my cheeks were soaked in tears and I walked out of it already knowing what my concluding thoughts for this year’s SIFF would be. This is bearing in mind, I still had 2 very good films to watch – `Flower in the Pocket’ and `18 Grams of Love’.


I want to thank you for making it special for me. I assure you none of this is dramatised for sensationalising my write-up. I wish you all the success in your future projects.


Yours sincerely





Posted: May 6, 2008 in Column 专栏








Posted: May 6, 2008 in Column 专栏