Archive for the ‘Diminishing Memories I: Reviews & Feedback’ Category

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.

29/10/2006   早报、新闻- 《镜头下前村民的淡淡乡愁最感人》 by 邓莉蓉
"Certain little things I remembered from the  film:
Your classmate asked you why you are so quiet and you replied "Because I’m not talkative…"  hahaha…clever girl!

The most poignant scene was that of rain falling on the zinc roof…

Although I am an "emotionless" old man who don’t cry these days,
my heart was shading tears like rain-drop when I read those words and remember
about my childhood days in the kampong.

Its a great documentary, Yee Peng.  Very thought-provoking, creative and realistic.  You are a very good film-maker.  I am very impressed and touched by the presentation style in a simple, natural way. Its not artificial or "plastic-like"…  The interviews you conducted was with people who express their true emotions, especially your parents. Please apply your creative, innovative film-making talent and art to produce more documentaries like Diminishing Memories"

James Seah

"I got the DVD, and watched it right away! I almost cried watching your movie, very touching and wonderful piece of work.  Singapore needs more of this kind of documentary."

Dr Johannes Widodo, NUS Department of Architecture
Some Reviews on Diminishing Memories:
Karen, an audience from Taiwan International Documentary Festival 2006-















有些人有IDEA… 但是一点不符合实际。



虽然你不是“她”..你也会跟着电影的喜怒哀乐一起走… …


片后的Q AND A也很精彩她每题都回答得很认真,很深入









很难说吧!!! 毕竟太阳底下新鲜事一直不断的在发生




FOCUS IN老师有教都没听







A Nutshell Review-

Diminishing Memories was relatively serious, heartwarming, and extremely touching. Singapore isn’t large, geographically speaking, but I’m certain each area in our island has its own distinct personality. And the personality of early Lim Chu Kang (LCK), and its transformation, is vividly captured by director Eng Yee Peng beautifully, as she experienced it herself while growing up. With interviews and countless anecdotes by family members, and of those who had lived in the village days of the past, this documentary offered us a memorable trip down memory lane as to how fast things in our society have progressed, and how the kampung lifestyle could very much be envied by city dwellers – the slower pace of life, the genuine neighbourliness, the living of life instead of the rat race.


Complete with family photos, stills, animation, and even an old 16mm movie clip, it is without a doubt that you can feel that this is a very personal film, and yet be touched by the sincerity of Yee Peng’s passion for LCK. Recounting childhood (diminishing) memories, we see how urbanization and relocation (without much choice) have an effect on the kampung folks, and how they adapt, successfully or otherwise, to change.

I believe this documentary has done wonders for LCK, and for a new generation of Singaporeans who have never experienced first hand the village lifestyle, or cannot imagine that Singapore once had villages on the mainland, a new medium apart from textbooks and archived photographs is now here, in the form of this film, to see and hear the experience of those who have lived in the bygone era, and their reminiscence of life as it used to be.

I think Singapore made documentaries about Singapore are rare, and Diminishing Memories is a valued film that deserves a place in our film archives for its preservation of lives that once were, of a lifestyle now almost forgotten.



Sometimes, you can’t ever go home again

Okay, ignore the sometimes choppy video and sound editing that’s a little off, the narrator’s sometimes over-melodramatic voice-overs, the inexplicable animation sequence about the narrator’s dog, the moments that go for the cheap laughs — because dammit, Diminishing Memories is a heartfelt, moving, rousing film. Because other than those elements, the interviews, which make up the bulk of this documentary, are all very powerful and honest testimonies by people who were forced to leave their homes and friends in 1986, amidst young Singapore’s relentless march towards industrialisation and urbanisation.

There is a palpable sense of frustration, anger, loss and helplessness when these interviewees talk about having to give up their homes and way of life, of having lost some of their innocence when confronted with the need for progress. This is summed up perfectly later in the film when the narrator, who moved to an HDB flat with two siblings some eight months before the rest of the family, interviews her mother about the sense of having lost something that she had not been aware was missing in the first place, because she had been so young when she moved. It was only after her return from an education overseas that she felt the loss so keenly.

Yee Peng also uses many old photographs, some from the National Archives but mostly her family’s and from other personal collections, that tell more of the story than her narration and our history books ever could. Faded and dated these photos may be, but they are also deeply personal — yet now sadly relegated to being artefacts of an abruptly lost age.

There are some very nice little touches in the film that inspired more than a bit of nostalgia, especially the scene with mimosas. I remember squatting in my primary school field for hours and touching the leaves of these plants, watching as they closed up — how many children afford the time for that now? When was the last time anyone even saw the formerly ubiquitous mimosa?

The film starts and ends with the narrator visiting the site of her old home, now reclaimed by nature, overgrown with trees and undergrowth. It’s been twenty years, but everything remains where they were left — the sad outlines of houses that once stood, and the human detritus that would be alien to any ”modern” society. What price progress, indeed.

Below is a compilation of some of the responses from the audience who attended the Cine.Sg screening at the Museum on 18th Oct 2006.

"Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your film last night. I found it extremely moving and I think the experience is something that many of us can identify with. I dream of my old home very very often too. Even if we haven’t lived in a kampong, the experience of being dislocated is so common, not just due to government forces, but also commercial ones – our old bungalow homes are now condos, and our old flats are now being en-blocked to become spanking new condos too… On top of that, the general landscape of Singapore changes so fast that it’s not just our old homes, but many public areas that start to look unfamiliar after a while too.  Thanks again for sharing your most heartfelt emotions and opening up the hearts of your audience to what is probably the hidden trauma of our nation’s post-independence generation."

Best wishes,
Ai Lin


"It is quite powerful.  There is still scope for some more fine tuning with editing.  Over all it is a very sensitive and subtle.  We feel your sense of loss and we are touched by your persistence to bring it to our attention.  Thanks for sharing your passion and emotional attachment."

All the best in your new projects.  Stay in touch. 


Sam Kumar


"I have wanted to thank you for giving me the precious opportunity to share your sentiments thru the touching documentary. I learn a lot from it, shocked and saddened to know for the first time that many of the elder residents "jumped" to kill themselves after being forced to move into flats."

Chew Juai Fong (Lianhe Zaobao, Editor Commentary Desk)


"Think we all enjoyed your film very much.  It was very honest and
heartfelt, and at the same time, I thought it presented quite a balanced
view of things.  I really appreciated the glimpse your film offered of a
little bit of Singapore’s past, as well as the individual life stories
involved.  Think future generations will also appreciate the documentation
that you have provided.  Thank YOU!"

– Adele Tan

Hi, I saw your ‘Diminishing Memories’ on Australia TV last night, and enjoyed it very much. Thank-you for making such a touching and personal film.  I caught the film by accident; I was just changing channels on the TV. In fact I missed the first few minutes, but luckily Australia TV re-broadcast it later that night so I was able to see it all again (and cried the second time, too!) But the thing that resonated most for me about your film wasn’t just that it was about Singapore, or Lim Chu Kang, or any place in particular. All of us have a childhood that we can’t return to. All of us have diminishing memories…

Dave K.
Hong Kong

A feedback from an audience in Hong Kong after watching Diminishing Memories through the ABC- Asia Pacific Regional Satellite Channel.  Like the audience from Tara, it’s always so heart-warming for me to hear such feedback and encouragement :-))) I am a happy person today! ;-p
“I saw your film feature on cable. I miss the first half so I’m not sure what’s the title. It’s about the memory of the old life in lim chu kang. Very touching and fresh… It has put more humanity in the seemingly dehuman perception of singaporean.“
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device  7290
此时此刻,我的纪录片正在澳洲电视台的一个亚太区域卫星电视上播映着。 是当天的重播,而在三个半小时之前,也就是七点钟时间, 有个观众,不知道是在哪个亚太区域观看了我的影片后,马上就写了电邮给我。 真有点儿不可思议!因为电视上的首播时间是六点钟,影片长五十分钟,他寄电邮的时间是七点钟。 他怎么会有我的电邮呢? 真是个有心人。 我在影片的最后是有打上了我的电邮的没错。 他不但把影片看完,还看完了整个“谢幕词”(credits),我以为电视观众都没耐性?
我怎么会在影片的结束打上我的电邮的呢? 我的用意正是如此啊! 感觉上好像有点儿自大。 我凭什么相信我的影片会跟新加坡以外的观众见面,我凭什么认为我的作品或许,可能可以打动人的心? 不止打动人们的心,还能促使他们动心也动手的为我写了封电邮? 我凭什么? 我究竟何德何能?
其实,我当时决定把电邮放在影片上的原因就是我抱着一份希望。我希望听到新加坡以外的人士,他们在看了影片后有没有因此而让他们对新加坡的印象有所改观? 我记得,我的本意是想让外国人更了解新加坡的!
花了那么多时间、体力、精神、心思,去掏心掏肺,在自己的伤口上撒盐到连自己的心都像被掏空了。 自己从寻找资料到拍摄、收音,到后期制作。 我自己一个人一手包办。 还要写旁述稿,自己在一间录音室里,像个疯婆子似的,往控制室和隔音间跑来跑去。 这边按了按扭,开始录音,念完旁述后回来发现电脑故障,要重录! 放假了,全体师生都放假去了!我自己一个人在剪片室里埋头苦干。 搞到最后连大学的保安人员都会背我的学生证号码还有名字!完成作品后,好累、好累、好累、好累。 到现在还在累。 因为我把我一部分的灵魂,放进影片里了。 作品完成后还要自己去推销自己的"产品"。 从找寻国际影展的资料,到自己打信请求媒体报道自己的放映会,到自己去接洽发片商。 这一路来似乎都是孤军作战,虽然我有好多贵人朋友相助,但这条路走来感觉还是有点儿孤单。
回报是什么? 如果期待所付出的,会有所相等的经济回报的话,那我干脆改行算了! 如果以我应得的,以每一个我工作的项目来做一下专业酬劳的计算。 我再在做几年的自由身编导的工作都赚不回我那十三个月分身出来做不同技术的酬劳! 那么我现在快乐吗? 我非常!
今天很有趣,有位朋友问我是不是“基本上”算是个快乐的人? 我想我有种快乐是脸上不带着笑容的。 是一份感动、欣慰。 如果我是个斤斤计较着经济报酬的人,那我此时此刻肯定感受不到快乐! 如果我连这点小小小小小小的小感动都不懂得把握的话,那我真是个不快乐的人了! 于是,我又怎能不好好地,用心地去让这份感动慢慢在我心底扩张,让自己感受一下这样的温暖,带给我心的激荡!
如果这一路上没有这些小礼物、小小幸福, 这艰辛的道路,我该如何走下去?