Recently, I sent a letter to the Straits Times Life, about the use of standard English in films. The letter, edited for brevity, is published as follows:
As in most articles edited for brevity, some interesting details are lost. So, here you are... the original letter:
I agree with Mr John Lui about promoting local music and films. I also agree with Mr Yeoh about producing art with universal appeal and standard English to reach a wider audience.
I know this because I have acted in the lead role of two short films that have gone viral on the Internet.
The first one "Hentak Kaki", about an army Warrant Officer hitting his glass ceiling due to his knee injury, was scripted in a typical Singapore Armed Forces lingo. It speaks to all male Singaporeans instantly and went viral as they can identify deeply with every word spoken. It has a combined online hit rate about 200,000 hits. This is a good score considering that local full feature film trailers with a significant marketing budget barely hit 50,000 hits. However, I suspect that because of the very localised lingo, the film did not travel much beyond Malaysia and Singapore, even though the film expresses issues that are common in any army in the world.
The other short film that has gone viral is "Gift", which is a story about a misunderstood father and his disgruntled son. This film has a combined online hit rate of about 5 million hits and counting. Besides South East Asia, USA and Europe, the film has gone viral in far away and exotic places like Brazil, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia,...etc. Moreover, we are also getting a spontaneous response from audience from all over the world volunteering to translate the subtitles into their native languages as they want to make the film more accessible to a yet wider audience. Incidentally, the film uses standard English. :)
"Gift" is so successful that I am now getting calls to give talks in schools, to act in foreign feature films and from investors who want to produce feature films of a similar story line between a father and his son.
Below are the links to the two films, so that you can experience them for yourself.
Further, another short film worth studying would be "Detour", which I acted in and had won a handsome swoop of four categories for the Best Director, Best Script, Best Performance and Best Fiction awards at the recent 5th Singapore Short Film Awards 2014. The film uses Hokkien, with one or two English words. The full film is not online yet as it is making its rounds in the film festival circuits, but a trailer is available at:
I think films with universal values travel, but films with mainstream languages travel further. Let's see. The jury is still out there.