Premiered last year, Perth, directed by Ong Lay Jinn, has finally been released theatrically. It stars Lim Kay Tong as a taxi driver anxious to migrate to Perth. But $ingapore, the city he is trying to leave, continues to tie him down. Philip Cheah interviews Jinn.




What does Perth the city signify to $ingaporeans?

It is $ingapore's de facto second city with the highest number of expat $ingaporeans outside the country.

More importantly, in researching the phenomenon of Perth, it is a place where failure is tolerated, something less likely in the pressure cooker environment of $ingapore.

Why is it that the younger $ingapore audience cannot believe that the working class taxi driver character played by Lim Kay Tong speaks English well?

Quite simply, this is because the younger generation doesn't remember 1979, the year when the Speak Mandarin campaign was introduced. One result of this is that there is now a big Eurasian community in Perth for example.

Recently, I've noticed a change in the accent of the local Malay population. The younger generation sounds much more Chinese than the older generation used to be. It's the barrage of Mandarin in most public places to the fact that we rarely see the "Akan Datang" (Coming Soon) sign in cinema screens these days.


Scene from Perth.
 

In the case of Kay Tong's character, Harry Lee, he is supposed to be a Peranakan. It is based on someone I know so the circumstance of a lower educated Baba talking to his Chinese wife in English (stemming from a need to feel superior) is very real. But the younger generation is a little out of touch with this element because there is less emphasis on our diversity and more emphasis on a sort of forced identity based upon Singlish, (Gurmit Singh, no offence to him) and an almost artificial construct of what constitutes a $ingaporean.

There is an inner rage that the Lim Kay Tong character is filled with. Is this something that you have seen often before, where does it come from and did Kay Tong instinctively understand this anger?

I realised that he does seem to harbour a very silent inner rage which maybe is reflected by the fact that after all these years, despite the voracity of his work, Perth is the first film that he has the lead role!

The frustrations of an actor was a very powerful energy source in capturing the repressed anger of Harry Lee.

Kay Tong captured it brilliantly, the over bombastic verbal diatribe of a slighted individual unable to hit back at society by the constraints of his education, status, and the system. Instead, it is the silences where his character communicates this delicate feeling of anger. Perhaps, this is very $ingaporean, that is why we have a silent majority.




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