SINGAPORE Jan 29 (Reuters Life!) - Ekachai Uekrongtham loves a sordid story and the award-winning Thai director wants prudish Singapore to hear this one.
This week, Uekrongtham finished shooting "Pleasure Factory," a film about Geylang, the city-state's red light district, which he wants to release in the second half of the year.
"In this very orderly society, this very pristine place, Geylang is very unexpected," he told Reuters by telephone.
"Geylang is a black hole which Singapore often pretends does not exist but which, of course, does exist."
Singapore, one of Southeast Asia's most successful economies, prides itself on its propriety. The government has a long list of things undesirable that includes chewing gum, homosexuality, public protests, the local patois and even satire.
Prostitution is legal in Singapore. But Uekrongtham said "Pleasure Factory" includes some illegal aspects of the industry and tries to show that the world's oldest profession, which is often deemed seedy, can also be beautiful.
"Geylang is equated to sex, but to me sex and the human body are not bad things, they're beautiful," he said. "Providing pleasure, and seeking it, are good things."
Inspired by the stories Uekrongtham heard during his many visits to Geylang, "Pleasure Factory" revolves around a prostitute, played by renowned Taiwan actress Yang Kuei-Mei, who watches a young girl being drafted into the profession.
SEX AND SUBSTANCE
Shot entirely in Geylang, the film casts another Asian heart-throb, Australian-Laotian actor Ananda Everingham, as an art director who roams the streets of the district.
Many of the lesser-known actors were not allowed to meet before filming their scenes to give the film a realistic edge, Uekrongtham said. He also features people on the fringes, such as the cleaners who empty bins filled with used condoms and tissues.
"In reality, the characters of the 'pleasure factory' are strangers. These are not sad, wrong people, they're humans who are strong, resilient and who deal with hardship," he said. "Of course there's sex and nudity, but the film also has a heart."
The director has lived in Singapore on and off for about 20 years visited Geylang a lot. But despite his intimate knowledge of the area and the warm welcome he got from many sex workers, filming "Pleasure Factory" was fraught with difficulties.
"Geylang is not an easy place to navigate, especially with a film crew. We had to get a lot of permissions and it remains to be seen whether the film will... show in Singapore," he said.
The government recently established a film commission to encourage "made in Singapore" movies but Uekrongtham said he did not approach the authorities for funding. "I was not sure what they would feel about the subject matter," he added.
Uekrongtham's fascination with the unorthodox was manifest in his 2003 film "Beautiful Boxer," inspired by the true story of Thailand's famed transgender kickboxer Nong Toom.
Believing he's a woman trapped in a man's body, Toom masters kickboxing to raise cash for a sex-change operation. The film was internationally acclaimed and won awards at the 2004 San Sebastian Film Festival and several gay and lesbian film events.
Uekrongtham's next film is also unlikely to go down well with the authorities -- it's a movie about a Singaporean father who advertises for sons-in-law for his three daughters.
"It's a comedy that focuses on Singapore's materialistic sensibilities. On his Web site, the father says 'only the rich need apply'," he said.