We speak to Tan Pin Pin, the sole female director among the seven. A documentary filmmaker, she tells us this is her first piece of fiction work since her film school days.
PINEAPPLE TOWN allegorises political separation as familial separation as Singaporean adoptive parents search Malaysia for the biological mother – the “real” mother – of their daughter.
What is the inspiration behind your film in 7 Letters? I wanted to make a film about a family’s healing and reconciliation with the past. I think as we move forward, we should try to understand how we came to be. I also wanted to reflect on our relationship with Malaysia.
As film directors, what do you consider as most important in a film? Eg. Story, Script, Production Value, Casting Concept is important, a holistic idea that is coherent, that is followed through. I don’t think a film needs to be realistic or have great production values, but it must be coherent. Having said that, since I was going for realism in this film, I learnt the importance of casting, I never had to do it before! I am glad the actors came on board. We paid special attention to the smaller roles too.
How would you rank, in order of importance what makes a good film in your opinion? 1) Story/scripting or concept 2) Casting (where applicable) 3) Editing 4) Cinematography/Location/Set design/makeup/costume (all related) 5) Realistic scheduling
What can we look forward from Tan Pin Pin for the upcoming year? New documentary coming out in 2016.
Anything you would like to add? I’m very happy (on the Oscar selection) and hope for the best! Thanks very much for the effort, Isnor (our colorist) put into the film.
Starring Lydia Look and produced by The Creative Room, Pineapple Town is a short fiction film that is part of the 7 Letters film omnibus. It features seven short films from seven Singapore filmmakers making a short film each to celebrate the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. The omnibus premiered at the refurbished Capitol Theatre on 24 July 2015 and it opened theatrically shortly after. It has garnered unanimous rave reviews. Pineapple Town is written and directed by Tan Pin Pin. It is her first dramatic film in 15 years.
Pin Pin’s segment Pineapple Town is about an adoptive mother who makes a road trip to a small Malaysian town to meet her daughter’s birth mother. It is about how she and her family cope with the unexpected outcome of that visit. As it is the only film that is set in the future, it is perhaps the most aspirational film of the omnibus.
by Wong Kim Hoh, excerpted from the DVD special edition book.
It is her first foray into fiction, so Tan Pin Pin was naturally apprehensive when making Pineapple Town.
“I was worried I may not be as fluent in the medium,” says the filmmaker, who has made more than 10 documentaries and is acknowledged as a pioneer of the genre in Singapore.
She need not have worried.
Pineapple Town is an assured piece of work, a thoughtful film which explores, like several other films in the omnibus, the idea of home, belonging and identity.
After adopting a baby girl from Malaysia, Li Ning (Lydia Look) decides to ask her adoption agent for a meeting with the baby’s birth mother. Li Ning reckons the baby will want to find out what her roots are when she grows up. She sets off for Malaysia with the adoption agent Sumathi. After taking a call, Sumathi stops the car at a restaurant along the highway and drops a shocker.
In an interview, Tan describes Pineapple Town as a road movie. Typically in a road movie, characters set out on a journey and, in the process, go through experiences which alter their perspective on life. “It’s all about the search for roots. I have always been interested in personal journeys and the historical beginnings of each individual,” she says. This obsession with roots is certainly reflected in several of her works. Moving House, which won her the Student Academy Award in 2002 while she was doing her Masters of Fine Arts at Northwestern University, chronicles a family’s experience as they exhume their ancestors’ graves and move their remains to a columbarium.
Her latest documentary To Singapore, with Love looks at the lives of political exiles and examines their memories and perspectives of Singapore. Although they have settled into new lives in different countries, many still think of themselves as Singaporeans and harbour hopes of coming home one day.
Tan dug into her own experience when writing Pineapple Town.
Her mother was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur. As a child, Tan spent a lot of time in that city with her grandmother and other relatives.
“I’m a die-hard Singaporean but my emotional boundaries are a lot more amorphous. I feel very rooted here, but in many ways, I also consider Malaysia home,” Tan says.
In tackling the story of Li Ning and the baby she adopts from across the Causeway, Tan also puts the ties between Malaysia and Singapore under the spotlight.
With Singapore’s independence from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, they have become two different countries. Yet, they are inextricably linked through politics, ethnicity, culture, history and a host of other factors. They need and depend on each other in ways too numerous to list.
Tan’s camera captures this unique relationship in Pineapple Town. The Causeway is a central image; it is like the umbilical cord between the two countries. Each day, at least 250,000 people cross it on foot, by motorcycle or in cars, buses, lorries and trucks. Other striking images in the film include the huge water pipes that run alongside the Causeway. There are also shots of lorries filled with construction materials such as reinforced concrete to show that ties are still being built every day.
Emotional ties, Tan seems to suggest, transcend the physical boundaries between Singapore and Malaysia. Asked by Sumathi what she would like to eat at the restaurant in Malaysia, Li Ning replies: “Nasi lemak and teh.” Tan says she has mostly focused on making documentaries because it seems more urgent. But she really enjoyed the process of working with actors in Pineapple Town.
“The casting process was really time consuming but I got a dream cast,” she says.
Look, a Singaporean actress based in Hollywood, delivers a layered performance as the adoptive mother seeking to understand the whats, whys and hows leading to the birth mother giving her baby away.
Pineapple Town ends in the future, and on a positive note.
The filmmaker says: “It’s my vision of what Singapore can do with her past. Let’s acknowledge our history and be comfortable with it. This will be a precious gift for future generations.”
Ning – Lydia Look Sumathi – Anne James Kang – Nickson Cheng Michelle (Baby) – Rexy Tong Michelle (6 Years Old) – Rianne Lee Ah Gek – Yoo Ah Min Kim Leng – Karen Lim Birth Mum – Rachel Tay Immigration Officer – Muhammad Zulhilmi Bin Ithnin Grandfather (In Photo) – Ho Tin Ann Grandmother (In Photo) – Lily Ong
Written and Directed By Tan Pin Pin
Producer Ric Aw Pok Yue Weng The Creative Room
Director of Photography Brian Mcdairmant
Production Manager – Foo Xiuqi 1st Assistant Director – Tiffany Ng Production Coordinator – Too Wai Shiuh, Sampson Teo Production Assistant – Kelvin Yee, Terrence You Hui, Chan Jiamin Art Director – Isaac Lee Art Assistant – Syed Muhammad Alaydrus Wardrobe Stylist – Meredith Lee Wardrobe Assistant – Lee Xin Ying Make Up Artist / Hair Stylist – Karen Lai Casting Manager – Lim Jia Yun Location Manager – Tan Yue Xing 1st Camera Assistant – Sam Quen Dean 2nd Camera Assistant – Feng Kexin Data Wrangler – Khoo Su-Mae Key Grip – Malik Basar Grip – Marcus Chee Gaffer – William Eng Sound Recordist – Charlotte Wong Movie Stills – Charmaine Poh Production Driver – Yap Sui Boon, Chan Pit Wei, Abdul Rahman Bin Othman, Abdul Manan Bin Paei
Offline Editor – Delcie Poh Graphics – Elena Ho DCP Mastering Services – Mocha Chai Laboratories Colourist – Isnor Dzulkarnian Jaafar Sound Editorial – Justin Seah Music – “Dayung Sampan” Traditional Indonesian Folksong, hummed by Lydia Look
Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore Lee Qin Yi Ang Bee Eik Doreen Serene Wong Hafary Pte Ltd The Projector, Sharon Tan Chan Kim Hong Rathabai Paillai Miss Lan Yong Shu Ling Karen Khoo Yuni Hadi Damon Chua Ian Wee Alan Yap Chung Yin Ping Candice Lim Friends and Family of Tan Pin Pin