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
"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
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
"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
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
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.