Chew Tze Chuan’s Exploration of Sex and ‘Shadows’ Too Strong For Singapore Festival

Naman Ramachandran

UPDATED: Underground Singaporean filmmaker Chew Tze Chuan’s latest film title is a mouthful – “Shadows of Fiendish Ancestress and Occasionally Parajanov on Durian Cialis (Lesser #9).” The film also proved too much for Singapore’s censors.

The picture had been scheduled to have its world premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival, part of the Singapore Media Festival, this week. But it was this week denied a public release certificate by the board of censors, on the grounds that it could hurt Muslim religious feelings. The filmmakers may appeal, but if they succeed it will likely be too late for the SGIFF.

Chew is fascinated with depictions of native sexuality in history and his body of work is based on a personal philosophy he calls Lesser, a mixture of ideas culled from cinema verite and Dogme 95. “Shadows” follows a hermaphrodite who comes to town to impart a wisdom that proves to be both untimely and too carnal.

Chew first appeared at SGIFF in 1994, with his debut short “Loving Sappho.” Since then he has had a varied career, debuting as a DoP with Abdul Nizam’s “Datura” that won best short at SGIFF 1999. He performed the function again in 2000 for “Haura,” Nizam’s segment in Zhao Wei Films’ omnibus movie “Stories About Love.” In 2004, he edited and produced cult film “Zombie Dogs” and in 2006 he directed the feature “Carnaval.” He has been making the “Lesser” films since then.

“’Lesser#8’ is a head-on confrontation with the issue that my late collaborator, Abdul Nizam and I encountered when making ‘Haura’ in 2000,” says Chew. “Why can’t we cast a Malay actress for a film project wanting to express sensuality honestly? The paranoia and social pressure against this notion evolved into a few other topics explored in ‘Lesser#9’ (‘Shadows). What happened to the ancient text or oral transmission of the native’s erotic imaginations? Are there any myths and legends, before Sang Nila Utama, on the natives’ sensuality? Since we could not obtain any authentic materials, we decided to invent the genesis of the native’s erotic myths in ‘Lesser#9’.”

“We also notice that the female protagonists in many erotic (art) films are usually victims or fiends. If they are allowed to assert free will over their sexualities, they are left miserable, dead or gone amok in the end. “Shadows” is a subversion of these tendencies,” Chew explains.

In Chew’s unique worldview, any form of external film funding is censorship, which is why the films are all self-funded and the budgets are under $6,000. The same worldview is applied to sales and distribution as well.

“We have recently sent our film screeners to various independent, LGBT, queer, erotic, porn, underground and experimental film festivals around the world,” says Chew. “Let’s pray that they love to see and hug our baby ‘Lesser#9’ too. We do not have a sales agent. Because our baby is not for sale.”

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