No regrets for Royston Tan
Sat, Sep 19, 2009
The New Paper

A SINGLE mum tells her young son who is being bullied in school: 'You do have a father, because he lives in your heart.'

That's the line in Royston Tan's latest short film, Little Note, that tugged the heartstrings of his father, Mr Tan Chin Cheng.

After all, the Tans have had a father-son relationship that was often tested by the local director's passion - making movies.

Mr Tan used to disapprove of his son's career choice.

To him, making movies isn't lucrative. It is prone to failure. He would often read newspapers just to look for any critical reviews of Royston's movies.

The 60-year-old retired coffee shop stall owner told The New Paper in Mandarin: 'I told him to be careful about what he filmed. Otherwise, people might be unhappy.'

After all, Royston, 32, who started making short films as a visual communications student in Temasek Polytechnic in 1995, isn't one who shies away from controversial themes.

Known as the 'bad boy' of the local movie scene, he has pushed censorship boundaries with his films, such as 15: The Movie (2003), which explored issues on gangsters, crime and sex.

Mr Tan accepted his son's filming passion after watching Sons - Royston's short film screened in 2000, which is about a father seeking to mend his relationship with his son.

Speaking to The New Paper at the premiere of Little Note earlier this month, Royston said: 'After watching Sons at home, my dad just stood up and said he needed to take a smoke outside. I think he was crying.

'From then on, my parents have been proud of what I do.

'My movies are my 'little notes' to my loved ones. I'm afraid of losing my memory one day, that's why I make so many movies to record everything down.'

Today, Mr Tan has accepted his son's career choice.

'If my child likes it, then I have to let him do what he wants. But I still remind him to be careful about what he films,' he said.

The parent-child relationship is the central theme in Little Note, a 15-minute Mandarin short film.

The film, which is about a single mother who passes on inspirational notes to her son, is a collaboration between Royston's new production house Chuan Pictures, formed in March, and Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery.

It showcases Star Search 2007 finalist Desmond Tan, actress Chue En Jye and child actor Chen Jing Jun.

It was shot entirely in Bentong, a small scenic town in Pahang, Malaysia.

In the film, some of the notes the mother passes to her son say 'no fear' and 'no regrets'.

Living without regrets is Royston's own personal maxim, as he said it motivates him to persist in making art-house films, even though most are not commercially successful.

Even though he has collected over 40 international and local film awards, the only movie that generated box office success is getai-inspired flick 881, which grossed $3.5 million in 2007.

The follow-up - 12 Lotus, another movie on getai - cost $1.3 million to make. But the joint venture between MediaCorp Raintree Pictures and Royston's former production company 10twentyeight, grossed under $1 million here.

Out of own savings

'For the last 10 years, I've been making short films out of my own savings,' said Royston, who is single and lives with his parents in a four-room flat in Serangoon North.

For example, to make his short film Cut (2004), a movie about censorship issues, he had to fork out $30,000, he said.

It won numerous accolades at international film festivals but, again, no local commercial success.

He said his main source of income comes from shooting TV commercials rather than making short films, which ironically is his forte.

Compare that with prolific director Jack Neo. Seven of his movies, including hits like Money No Enough (1998), have made it to the list of the top 10 grossing local films.

But Royston doesn't want to be compared.

He said: 'My movies may not have mass appeal, but that's because I want audiences to 'find' my film, instead of it catering to the taste of the masses.

'Some movies are for entertainment, but my films provide different options. I think there should be a mixture of both categories in the industry.'

Little Note is sold on DVD here. It will also be screened in schools and community clubs for free.

Schools and clubs interested to screen the movie can contact Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery at 6849 5359 or e-mail info@littlenote.sg.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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