To capture the notion of pleasure on film, Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham has made a film about Singaporean prostitutes. Silvia Wong reports.
To some, Singapore's notorious red-light district is a sordid and dark place. To Ekachai Uekrongtham, Geylang is a 'rich emotional maze'.
It was here he chose to shoot his second feature, Pleasure Factory, as he was keen to 'explore how pleasure seekers and providers swap places knowingly and unknowingly and how people find human connections in unlikely places'.
The award-winning Taiwanese actress Yang Kuei Mei stars in the film as a 'pleasure provider' who witnesses a young girl being initiated into the 'pleasure manufacturing' process. She plays opposite rising Thai star Ananda Everingham who stars as an expatriate art director. Many of the rest of the cast were plucked from the streets of Geylang.
Shot for $1.2m, Ekachai wrote the original script in English and filmed it mostly in Mandarin with only some English dialogue. He does not speak very good Mandarin and worked with an English-speaking crew mostly from Singapore, including second assistant director Sunny Yong who helped with the Chinese translation.
The director says the major challenge was not the language but perfecting the spontaneity of pleasure in front of the camera.
'Pleasure is elusive and transient. I wanted to see if it can be captured on film,' explains Ekachai.
To this end, he did not pre-plan or storyboard every scene. And although there was a script, the director did not insist on actors reciting lines verbatim.
Pleasure Factory is the debut production from Ekachai's new Singapore-based company Spicy Apple Films which financed the project. Singaporean producer-distributor Innoform Media has Singaporean rights.
The film reunited Ekachai with cinematographer and editor Brian Gothong Tan with whom he worked on two stage plays, Mammon Inc and The Optic Trilogy and for which Tan had created multimedia sequences. Ekachai enjoys a parallel career as a theatre director and is the founding artistic director of Action Theatre, a Singapore-based company.
Pleasure Factory is Ekachai's second feature following his 2003 debut Beautiful Boxer. Produced by GMM Pictures, the film was based on the true story of transgender boxer Nong Toom. It featured in the Thai top 10 for 2003 and screened at more than 100 international film festivals.
Fortissimo Films has taken on the worldwide sales rights to Pleasure Factory.
'Fortissimo shared my enthusiasm after the project was presented at Locarno's (co-production market) Open Doors last August,' says Ekachai. 'It gave me comfort and confidence knowing early that a reputable international sales agent will take care of my film when it's done.'
Pleasure Factory screened in Un Certain Regard at this year's Cannes film festival. Fortissimo secured a slew of sales including Benelux (A-Film), France (Wild Side), Portugal (Lusomundo) and Thailand (Mongkol).