7 Letters

“7 Letters is Singapore’s entry to the Oscars” – Mocha Chai Laboratories

This interview was originally published in an email newsletter by Mocha Chai Laboratories on Dec 18, 2015.

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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.

Pineapple Town (2015)

Watch Trailer here

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.

15 min, 16:9, DCP, English and Chinese Subtitles


Ampulets: “Song to a lost Malaya and a different future”
The Straits Times “All directors turn in top grades for SG50 film project 7 Letters”

Interview with Pin Pin

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

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

Post Production

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

Special Thanks

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