Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reel Surprises

Growing up as a kid in Geylang, I think I laughed more than I cried. I laughed with my buddies in the backlanes, I laughed with my buddies in school. I think I was generally a happy-go-lucky kid. My dad might seem fierce and stern most of the time, but he had his moments of levity, especially when it came to his choice of movies. I think his favourite was a series by The Crazy Boys - a French troupe of guys who often found themselves in silly situations created by the jobs they took on. It's a bit like those Hong Kong escapade movies in the 80s starring Alan Tam,  Richard Ng and the rest of the Lucky Stars gang. Or the Hui brothers comedies with two more kakis in the mix. The actors were all skinny, wore bell-bottom pants, and had long wavy hair...very typical of the times.

The movies were often named after their latest adventures, such as The Crazy Boys Go To The Supermarket or The Crazy Boys At The Games. In their own country France, they were known Les Charlots (Charlot was what Charlie Chaplin was affectionately called there). Here, we watched all their movies dubbed in English.

TCBGTTS is available on Youtube if you want to watch it again. You will understand why a kid would laugh until his sides split. The action or antics were often ingeniously contrived and their actions slapstick, much like Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was a fella I watched quite a bit as a kid. I found him more modern and deadpan funny than Chaplin.

As for the TCB movies, me and my siblings would watch and imitate them afterwards with cardboard boxes and blankets as props. Come to think of it, they were quite like the Monty Python gang although their stories were less ironic in humour and execution. And less gross than Jim Carrey's in the Ace Venturer series. How times have changed!

Another movie surprise my dad sprang on us was the one about copulation between animals. It was called Sex and The Animals and people often wondered why, as a kid, I was brought to see such a brazen documentary movie. My answer would always be, It's never too soon. Maybe it helped that we kept and reared pets as kids, so by age five, we knew all about birthing and dying; just not so clear about what's in-between!

Sure, we have seen dogs do it unashamedly by the roadside, sometimes stuck backside-to-backside. Sex and The Animals gave us that and more. For every sexual encounter between animals, there's always a courtship dance between  them first. Often the male being the more gregarious one. The movie wonderfully moved our understanding of domestic sexual behaviour to those in the wild (Africa).

Some of the scenes were quite memorable, like the one with the bull elephant and his super long penis that dragged on the floor. Or that scene with the frog that refused to let go long after the act was done. (The clip came complete with a 'clingy' love song.) What impressions did all these leave on a young boy? 1: Don't despair, your penis has great potential for growth. 2: That some animal babies are actually better equipped than human ones straight out of the birth channel. So, are we the superior species or are they?!

Sex and The Animals was thankfully a no holds-barred kind of documentary. I would hate for it to be a half-past-six treatment, else we kids would have learnt nothing. But (and it's a BIG but) the movie was all about animals. I was naturally curious about the human being in all this. A year or two later, the National Museum came to my educational aid. At the time (for some reason best known to the museum folks) they had a booth that played an uncompromising clip of a woman giving birth - vaginal frontal and all. It was a pretty bloody and gruesome sight. I was enraptured by how such a huge thing in a woman's belly could come out. Haha, I thought then that a woman's privates was pretty elastic. Little did I know that certain conditions made it so!

The other movies our parents brought us to watch were those with Bruce Lee or David Yu, who was recently seen in Peter Chan's Wu Xia movie. David Yu was made famous by that One Armed Swordsman movie (it's on Youtube). He later starred in The 13th Prince or Si San Tai Zi. I think it was him. I often get him and Wang Yu mixed up. They both look alike and were very popular martial art actors back then.

The one thing, however, that stuck in my mind about these sword-fighting movies were the extraordinarily cruel punishments meted out to offenders and traitors. One popular method was the Wu Ma Fen Shi (Mandarin, literally Five Horses Splitting The Body) punishment to tear a person to pieces. Sure, tying a person's limbs and head to one-horse power devices don't sound like much, but hey, it must have been a terrible sight for the family members to watch... and parts to collect afterwards. The last time I saw such cruel punishment was in the movie, The Stoning of Soraya M. I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel of what it would be like to live under the Taliban as a woman. Or any syaria Muslim regime, for that matter. Everything and anything can get twisted to someone's end. And it is so easy to find an excuse to stone a woman. Another movie was The Kite Runner (based on the book of the same name).

No one can escape the influence of Bruce Lee growing up in the 70s. He was a demi-god in the eyes of young Chinese boys, including me. After watching Lee's The Big Boss, I immediately wanted to go find a girl to rescue and avenge for. But then all the girls I knew were the ones in school. So, we boys often got into fights not because the argument was particularly hurtful (or had Hokkien vulgar words like cunt ni nia ma) , but we all just wanted to show how Bruce Lee we were. I think our female classmates must have scratched their heads or rolled their eyes in exasperation. Luckily, most of the fights were short. We often landed on our bums trying to perform roundhouse kicks. It was both funny and embarrassing. How to fight when the bum is sore and pants split? Ha, ha...

The cinemas we went to often were Lido (Orchard), Odeon-Katong (Katong) and Cathay (Dhoby Ghaut). We also went a couple of times to that drive-in cinema in Jurong. That was some experience watching the movie from our family's long Volvo car (see blog Boot View). During Chinese New Year, and because we had relations in Keong Siak Road, we often used our ang pow money to watch movies at the old Oriental Theatre near Chinatown. It was in the present Oriental Plaza location.

That wasn't the oldest cinema I've been to. I think the oldest ones were in JB in the 80s and early 90s before they got demolished for new urban spaces (a.k.a shopping complexes). These were similar to the one I went to in Admiralty Road East two years after I left Geylang. This cinema still had those old wooden swivel seats with PVC cushions. They were sticky and some were ripped, exposing bits of coconut husk filling. The whole place was musty and stank of urine. I was feeling wary because such seats were very susceptible to bedbugs and you would get bitten leaving with welts on the back of your legs after a show. Me and my buddies searched for some decent seats and sat down to watch what I think was the last movie for this rundown cinema. I believe it was called Canberra and it stood opposite the present Terror Camp Recreational Club.The movie we saw that day was Christine, the one about a devil-possessed car.

I think the experience for most kids going to the cinema ranks second only to going to the toy shop. Besides the movie transporting you to another time, another place, there were always the snacks and various types of kacang puteh. The white sugared peanut was a favourite amongst us siblings, as were the steamed chickpeas. Later, I learnt to eat the curry-flavoured ones.

Probably the most unforgettable movie I saw in my young life had to be Melody. It was about a couple of 10-year classmates finding romance and eventually rebelling and eloping to get married. The movie was directed by BBC old-hand Waris Hussien and screenplayed by Alan Parker (who is better known for his darker scripts). Melody was basically a movie vehicle for the many Bee Gee songs (Melody Fair, get it?) Surprisingly, people from all over the world would have the same sentiments about the movie: That it was  unforgettable, brought them back to their own childhood loves and losses, and ultimately, to a time where they spent a shared moment in the darkened hall of a cinema or TV with their moms and dads. 

They laughed, we laughed, they cried, we cried. For an hour and a half, we would forget that our parents were the strict disciplinarians they were back then. That they were just as human as we were. We felt connected, but just. With my dad, it was always only just. However, I could never fault him for some of these movie surprises up his sleeve. Or was it really my mom's idea all along? Hmm.

And oh, if you want to know which animal has the longest penis, it is the boring barnacle. It's penis is 50 times the size of its body. Yup, it goes out of the shell and gets waved about quite a bit. One hopes no fish will find it a delicacy. Amen to that.

Next story: Head Tunes

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