Royston Tan’s first English feature film is a trilogy of tales, one of which is inspired by Janelle Leo.
|PHOTO: Carol Lee|
Director and producer of acclaimed films such as 881, 15 and 12 Lotus, Royston Tan’s first English language film, The Birdsong Trilogy explores three themes: passion, betrayal and forgiveness.
City News: This is your first English feature film. How do you think it stretches you as a director?
Before this, I’ve only done either Hokkien or Mandarin films. Trying to make a Singaporean English film seem natural is difficult, as the lingo is different. Because we are so used to speaking ‘Singlish, it just feels weird hearing perfect English.
CN: Why did you base your stories on those three themes?
Because these are the basic experiences we go through in life. We fall in love; we are betrayed, be it in love or friendship, but the most important lesson we can learn is forgiveness. If you do not forgive, you are actually suffering more than the person you can’t forgive. I came to the realization that sadly, many people stop at betrayal. It’s also a reflection of my life journey, how I have grown.
CN: Will we be seeing more English language films from you after Birdsong?
I feel that after this, I can do better. I still feel a lot for Mandarin films, because they are full of hidden meanings. They contain the flavor of human expressions. But I had this fear of doing an English film, hence I made myself confront the fear. And now that I have done it, I can do better at it.
CN: Which of the three stories is your favorite?
I like them all, because there is something different in each of them. The first story on passion is a whimsical musical love ballad. For the second, on betrayal, I drew inspiration from my friends and their experiences. The final story on forgiveness, I was inspired by my friendship with a 4-year-old girl, Janelle, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. She was meant to play the lead role, but because she was quite weak during the time of filming, I had to release her from the 14-hour shoot. I was very touched by how brave and positive she is; she taught me a lot. I used to top my school in art, and I would draw cards for others when I saw how down or discouraged they were. However, I had stopped drawing for a long while. When I visited Janelle, I drew her a monkey, which she colored in. She was so happy with the simple monkey that I bought a notebook and drew more than 40 animals in it for her, which she is coloring in now. That incident helped me to reconnect with myself; it reminded me of how I used to be. Even my mother commented that it’s been a long time since she saw me draw anything. When I saw Janelle’s courage and strength, I realized that many times, children give us the best solutions. So I modeled the last show after her. Although she is not physically in the show and it’s not her life story, I want it to represent her strength and spirit.
The Birdsong Trilogy will be telecast on March 28 on Okto at 10 p.m.