“Directors need to direct”

Written by The Straits Times journalist John Lui. Appeared on 4 September 2010 in Life! Section.

An industry friend brought this article in The Straits Times Life!, September 4 2010 to my attention while I was on set filming Channel U telemovie “Love in a Cab” (directed by Han Yew Kwang, who happened to be mentioned in Lui’s article). He asked me, just a couple of days before the article was printed, what I thought the role of a director in a drama/movie was. I shared with him my thoughts and by some bizarre cosmic coincidence, this article by The Straits Times journalist John Lui appeared after.

John Lui, who is neither an actor nor a director, offered his perspective as a journalist/member of the audience. His writing does come across slightly harsh, and industry people might think he is yet another self-righteous journalist who really is in no position to criticise and doesn’t know any better. After all, “Who is he to comment?” and “What does he know since he’s never been a director himself?” It is a natural defence mechanism (an emotional reaction) when you are personally invested in the topic of discussion. But as we question the validity of his points based on his lack of expertise in this particular discipline, we should realise that because he has no vested interest nor emotional attachment to this particular topic, that he also offers greater objectivity.

I guess you can think of him as a mean journalist who has an axe to grind with local directors, or he could just be writing to meet his quota, or whatever other 101 reasons you can think of to discredit the article, but the way I see it, he is also drawing attention to an industry pattern that not many people (both inside and outside of this industry) are aware of. And even if they are, either do not have the platform, or the interest and motivation to air their views. He is trying to send a message for change to happen, even though he might have made some people feel victimised along the way.

I have my own views on the matter and do not agree whole-heartedly with what he said, but then I’ll save that for another entry.

Do share with me what you think.

18 responses to ““Directors need to direct”

  1. John Lui us a pretty good journalist…It is agreeable that he may be harsh in his writing,he do offer neutral unbiased articles at times.

    Done a few productions,Here’s my take…Directors need not be directing,but maybe 45% will direct in terms of technical ,5% will be learning.50% almost BKL in other parts of production.

    Perhaps that is just my style,Yew Kwang may have a different style,even Royston Tan also can have another different style…

    That may be what I think.

  2. It’s not fair to blame the director entirely for bad acting. Obviously the industry in Singapore is limited because our country is so small. It’s only right to feel as though the same few faces are being used for shows all the time.
    The scriptwriters may be at fault too if the written storyline is so thin with not much background, there is no deep thought about character development so the dialog would be very predictable.

  3. Actually, I am someone who do not bother to remember who is the director or even the name of the actor or actress of the movie, yet only remember the name of that movie or drama. In my small little brain, I only remember Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yi Mou as director. For Director, as name applied, he/she needs to direct, he must be someone who know everyone and gather everyone to make the film a good one, using him/her talent. He/she must have the talent to know the equipment and every scenery, which angle is the “good” angle to show the “natural” features or bring out the best of the actor and actress. As for the actor/ actress, they cannot see themselves while filming, their trust is given to the reliable director to “judge” or determine their act is a good one. He must be the expert in his own trade to make everyone work with him. This is my personal thinking, from a very layman’s thinking.

  4. Joanne, I love the maturity of your writing on this blog article. It’d be the easy out to take one side or the other, but to leave room for debate, and stimulate discussion shows that you are willing to listen to the criticism out there. Instead of lashing outwardly, you seem to look within and ask how you can improve. This is the type of reflective thinking that this industry needs.

    I also agree with some of the points in the news article… Singaporeans have readily embraced, accepted and even celebrated their own eccentricities and stereotypes to a point where it’s a bit much… overbearing even (from the POV Singaporean-born living abroad). I hope to see that self-image grow beyond what we’ve defined in the past, and yet progress seems to always be held back.

    But the problem don’t rest squarely on directors who are singled out much more in the articles.. ultimately the Asian media industry revels in that they feel works for their market. Producers are producing content that their audience is demanding.. it also rests upon an intelligent, open and, accepting audience to demand better programming, directing, scripts, acting and cinematography.

    I am excited at the new breed of directors that have doing good work abroad in countries like HK, trying to break out of the comedic funk that has plagued Singapore cinema for the last decade. One might argue that creativity is stifled by the modern clean metropolis image of Singapore preventing visceral, raw story telling. But I’m energized by movies like “Truth Be Told” (starring Yvonne Lim, directed by Teo Eng Tiong) that find a way to redefine Singapore cinema.

    Yet in the end, the more things change.. the more they stay the same. Every Singaporean story feels like a government propaganda or a deliberation on some ills of the system. There’s a constant swing between the socialist and the comedian. Lately, there’s a resurgence of the historical perspective that have worked so well in “Little Nonya”, because it’s entertaining in a more grounded way. There need to be more works like that (you were fantastic by the way!). A young nation like Singapore will have more limitations in looking back at its history to create entertaining media.

    Finally, my biggest pet peeve… Idolism is a big contributor to the media stagnation in the entire Asian demographics… when you have a captive audience demanding to see the same adored actors/actresses.. no producer is willing to cast unknowns. Taiwan cinema is a great example of the need for such a dicotomy. TW indie films that garner world recognition don’t cast beautiful people who distract from the story.. it’s about the story and acting, and not about the reputation of the actors… yes there’s still tons of TW idol movies, but at least a grassroots movement can exist. Both Singapore audience and industry have not shown support to allow such indie productions to counter the mass of comedic confusion and repeated “popular” actors casting.

    Keep up the good work Joanne, you are willing to hone your craft, and the industry needs more people like you. Maybe I’ll get to meet you at a public appearance when I come back to visit Singapore in November! LOL

    Your Canadian fan

  5. I fully support John Lui’s report. One does not need to be an”expert” to criticise or comment on the actors and directors. As long as you are a “celebrility” you will be subjected to different degrees of criticism by the public. I have never been a fan or supporter of local artistes and movies for obvious reason/comment given by John Lui. Where credit is due, I will not hesitate to give credit to deserving artistes and movie directors/producers such as (to name a few) Tay Peng Hui, Qi Yu Wu, Jeannet Aw, Ann Kok, Xian Yun, Hong Hui Fang… Lim Kay Tong and Eric Khoo.

    But then… if there is no honest and constructive criticism/comment and a change to happen …. how are you going to improve yourself as an artiste? Please do not forget…. without the audience, you will not be what you are today. Thank you.

  6. I briefly browsed through the article and I salute the writer for his guts. Precisely that he is not in the industry (as you aptly mentioned) that his objectivity is not compromised.

    Many journalists, or writers, or critics, does not hail from a particular industry. I’ve heard many say “He don’t even write a poem, how can he critic one?” Do you see chefs going around criticizing other restaurants/cafe? Probably not…..because they are in the same industry thus the same level of “professionalism” arises. They don’t need to be a critic to begin with.

    I’ve heard so many actors/actresses wanting roles which will challenge them. Tay Ping Hui hoping for a gay role, etc. I can go on but this cramp comment box doesn’t really allow sparring.

    Perhaps as a director, being one in a sprouting small industry in Singapore, has a greater fear of failing that a playing safe is perhaps a better bet for his and/or investors’ returns.

    One can be an expert in Ah Lian characters, for every audition she lands the role, but again, she is so good and comfortable in that role…..where do you seek improvement in a comfort zone?

    As an audience, truly, I am pretty tired of looking at the same character over and over again…..that sometimes in retrospect, I forgot which movie she was cast in. Being an expert in ONE particular role is, perhaps to me, a failure as an actress.

    All the best to you.

  7. the pot is calling the kettle black. i have been reading SPH newspaper and watch mediacorp drama for the past 20 years.

    my observation is SPH journalism is getting from bad to worst. the insight on political and financial issue is often shallow and baseless.

    Mediacorp drama on the other hand is inconsistent, some are very good while some are produced just to please advertisers.

    our media industry is suffering from a lack of competition it badly needs to bring up standards.

    i missed those days when the gov force SPH and Mediacorp to compete, then you really see some dramatic changes greatly improving the overall media scene.

    but because the gov is shareholder of both parties, losing money is of greater concern then improving the content of our local media, they were allowed to continue their media giant monopoly status. One in printing newspaper and the other in TV and radio.

    ah peh don’t be angry, you are just a chess in the media game they are playing.

    make your money and run. many of your colleague have done so. it is a rat race.

  8. iThug On The Loose

    Interesting article, Jo.

    Not an actor, so I don’t have sufficient industry knowledge to either accept his premise, or denounce it as as pure speculation.

    Howver, speaking as a layman, I believe that there should exist a strong synergy between the director and his cast, in that both must be able to communicate their intentions well. For example, Natalie Portman is a brilliant actress, and George Lucas, world-renowned as the genius behind Star Wars. However, the former stank as Padme in those awful Star Wars prequels. Now, was this her fault? Or could it be that Mr. Lucas seemed to display more empathy with his animated creations than real human beings?

    See what I mean?

    Just my 2 cents anyway…

  9. Now, as a reader of Stlife for many years, it is not hard to tell that this paper has prejudices against certain artistes & directors. And it is always the most bankable stars & directors who get hit by them, especially when this star is NOT known for pandering to the media (especially SPH).
    It is also not hard to tell that this papers has its own favourite stars & directors whom they will readily sing praises or find excuses for their flaws.
    The article is trying to attack a certain star & some ‘commercial’ director (very obvious), but camourflaged it by attacking directors & professional actors in general.
    If all these local critics think Boo Jun Feng & his movie are that great, then ask Boo to sell his movie to overseas MOVIE distributors & see how the movie fare at the box-office. Why only sell to some overseas TV stations & earn that peanut? And whether was it being alloted prime-time TV slot, we won’t know too.
    What’s the point of a few very helpful local critics praising the movie when it really can’t travel far (in cinemas overseas not just a few TV stations)?
    Isn’t a good movie suppose to attract large audiences & it should be borderless?
    I don’t understand why these local critics keep lauding those local movies that earn some nods at Cannes but yet they can’t attract audiences to the cinemas, whether here or overseas. Some of the so-called award winning local directors are over-rated by local media.
    And I believe this journalist doesn’t even watch any Fann’s past works. She didn’t always act sweet sister roles, for goodness sake.
    1. her 3rd drama – she acted as a outspoken journo turn scheming businesswoman who avenge her family & had extra-marital affair.
    And she won a Best Actress award for that.
    2. in Unbroken Cycle, she acted 3 different roles in 3 life cycles in both periodic & modern settings. She was a soft-spoken long-suffering songstress & mistress in her first life. She transformed into a flirty dance hostess in her 2nd life. She was a modern photographer/ad director in her 3rd life. She won a nomination at Asia TV for her superb performanes.
    3. In the movie Truth about Jane & Sam, she played a deliquent HK ah lian, which won praise from HK critics.
    4. she played an ambitious go-getter stock trader, who will do anything to climb up the corporate ladder in Out to Win, & won praises for her performance.
    5. she played icy xiao long nv which won her admiration from those Taiwanese / china artistes & TV viewers.
    6. she played a loud-mouth, greedy innkeeper in the comedy wo lai ye, who isn’t afraid to uglify herself.
    7. she played a lofty high-ranking staff & a soul exchanged ah beng in Just follow law.
    8. she played a feisty sister (not sweet) in shanghai knights, which overseas critics raved about her performance.
    9. recently, she even won rave reviews from critics & TV viewers in China for her performance as a bitchy dance hostess in a China drama. but look what happen here, the STlife critic (the one who always slam her since 2001-the year the 2 tv stations exist) slam her again after slamming her in The Ultimatum.
    10. Stlife critic slammed her acting in white snake, but ironically, Shanghai knights director picked her after watching 3 of her works – The Truth about jane & Sam, wo Lai ye & this white snake (where she played 4 diff roles).
    A successful person will tell you this – if you are successful, you must be good & you work harder than the next person.
    I do agree that local movies are not good enough to travel wide, becoz of bad script. the roles are always one-dimensional – sweet & kind, loud & fierce etc. The artistes act according to the roles, that’s it. Not their fault.
    If there are no meaty scripts, how much can a director do & how much can an actor do to enrich that role?
    But most of all, all these reviews are very biased & personal. Good or bad acting & directing are very subjective. I can say Joanne peh is a good actress, but definitely there will be someone who disagree, right? As for the actors, if the critics praise them, they will think they hit the mark. But if the critic slam them, they can think of many reasons.

  10. Totally agree with the point of Joanne!!! Who is he to comment? and What does he know since he’s never been a director himself?! Changing by criticize like this ? Is imposible !!

  11. “These actors are hired because they portray stereotypes in a stereotypical way.” – AGREED.

    And yes, as a reader, I do think John’s one of the better (and more gutsy) journalists in SPH.

  12. wow u really feel like a big star, u know i really wishes all people can be happy esp the jollity , stay healthy most importantly can love and being love by someone u like. Because to me love matters.

  13. A director must direct his show. If he do not direct then why called himself a director. Personally think that scriptwriter should do the directing as he the person that know what the story is all about. To have a good show need good teamwork from director, script writer, actors & actress. All play equally important role. Problems normally surface when the director think that he is above all.

  14. be strong in whatever u do. 🙂

  15. S’pore doesn’t have the creative environment for ‘real’ directors period. the reasons are obvious w/o making this abt censorship. Can we create or nurture our own Spielbergs, wong kar wais etc? maybe, if the correct circumstances are able to produce one. having worked in the film industry really opened my eyes to the really closed environment of the industry. everyone is polite to a fault esp if ur working w a Mediacorp artiste. even the foreign DOP n lighting guy didnt really help. Plus a major major consideration, budget. when u pay peanuts…it’s really hard to get the best out there isn’t it? but one can hope..if a certain tarantino or kevin smith can rise from their humble backgrounds of video store clerks, perhaps one day that bright spark from videoezy might be the next Quentin

  16. just curious…did u have to pay copyright licence fee when you upload an article from ST?

  17. “等一等爱情””Love in a cab”. The show was very nice. Funny and touching. I love it. Well done. Btw, do u know where to find the drawing shown in the movie? That is drawn by Julian Hee.

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