2 November 2010

Singapore did have movie studios

From a photography visit months back to defunct old Woodlands Cinema, we were wondering if there were even older cinemas from the "black & white" movie era.

For me, i do recall watching b&w Malay comedies and horror movies on television. Those b&w horror movies were simply the scariest shows on tele during my childhood days, even though it was simple rubber masks and realistic acting. Even the drug warnings of 'Dadah' showing dying people climbing stairs or the 'Awas' ads on the Malaysian RTM channels scare me. I would run and hide around the television cupboard (those old ones with wooden roller shutters) and peek, waiting for the ad to end. Now, i could laugh at myself at the good old days.

In addition to a light hearted discussion with Raz of old places in Singapore, our topic came to old movies and studios, and if any of those are still standing in Singapore, for example, the Shaw Brothers' movie studio at Jalan Ampas or the Cathay-Keris (which we heard was demolished?). The idea struck us. Why not make a visit and document this unique location while if it's still around? A quick check on SLA's map, which denotes the area as private land, shows that most of it used to be part of the studios, now occupied by factories and condominiums. And with the usual en-bloc rumours of any old location, probably a swanky condominium estate might just be built in it's place in future. It would be a pretty sad sight if that really happens.

The heritage plaque outside the studios

We got our permissions, made the trip down to the No.8, with our heritage advisor, Jerome Lim, joining in as well to document this precious location with its long heritage (read up on his blog article of an by-gone era of the studios). The gates look worn and ranshackled from the outside, but the moment we stepped in, it was like taking a step back in history. It was simply incredible.

Tall gates No. 8

Simple gates hide the beauty within

Pre-war structures

Aged walls, familiar old styled window panes and grilles greeted us (i had those in my old Clementi flat in the past). Everyone in our group were excited and off we went exploring and admiring the beauty, smelling the musk in the air, and perusing the equipment left over from the post-war period of the 40s-70s.

Setting the mood in what seems like the storage area

Green tinted window panes

Old window sills we don't usually see anymore in new constructed buildings

The many props left over from the past


Old movie poster

The studio was built before the war, and reopened again in 1947 with a role of bringing Malay films to the local community (incorporation of their subsidiary - the Malay Film Production Limited (MFP)). This period too, heralded the golden age of Malay Cinema with over 300 films produced.

Mechanical relics...

This very location 'gave birth' to the legendary Tan Sri P.Ramlee, a prolific actor, singer, songwriter and director in the studio's heyday. Incidentally, he made his last film at Jalan Ampas as well, Tiga Abdul, before heading north to Kuala Lumpur.

A little dedicated corner to P.Ramlee by the guards

It is a little-known fact, except for those in the know, that most of the actors and actresses live just round the corner at Boon Teck Road. And from here, we would like to share with everyone as well (with his kind permission), nostalgia as Mr Anwardi describes his visit to the studios. His father was Jamil Sulong, a director (one could see from the heritage commemorative plaque just outside the studio grounds, the director in white, holding a loud hailer). Coincidentally, our own group member Faye's grandmother too worked in Shaw studios as an actress , best remembered for portraying Mak Enon.


Greenish tinted windows bring green warmth

If one wants to find out more about this unique heritage venue, we would recommend you to read more about Shaw Organization's interesting and colourful history via Shaw's history pages.

Old radio and bottle of thinner

An array of sound equipment

We were told most of the original film and studio equipment, installations and anything that was of interest or value had already been removed by buyers or scrapped during the 70s and 80s, leaving only the huge cumbersome items or non-valuable stuff.

We noted the warehouse looking building (see photo in this link) which we saw in early photos, was already demolished. There were quite a bit of personal items as well, including kids toys. Perhaps they were left over by the younglings of actors/actresses/staff working there in the past.

View from the roof of the tallest building in the compound

There was the "Silence" signal box still showing defiance after many years of weathering, sitting silently on the walls outside the former filming halls.

Ancient fire extinguishers

We saw some chickens as well, though we have no idea where they came from, but they sure add to the aura of the place, definitely a welcome sight as they lend an authentic, nostalgic touch.

Lastly, we rounded up with the visit with a trip to the directors rooms, taking a last look at even more old stored items. It was time to say good bye, as we headed off to our next location.

Photographs, probably from past press handouts

One of the director's, room B, empty

Hand written records

Brands which were once household names

Beautiful tiles which were a dime a dozen in houses of the past

Overall it was a great experience and opportunity to be able to look and experience real history which normal school textbooks are unable to offer. And there aren't many of such old historical places remaining in Singapore, most of them were gradually torn down in recent years. Those still standing do get a drastic makeover sometimes, accidentally voiding any old world charm that they might had.

With the increased interest in film making and our government's ever growing support for the art and culture, perhaps some company will buy this place over and revive the filming industry. It's all a big maybe for now.

Last but not least, we leave you with one little excerpt from the late legend's movie exploits,

P.Ramlee as Hassan, in movie Sarjan Hassan
[via yamashitari]

"Jalan Ampas got its name from the sugar cane plantations, which used to be in the area since the time of Joseph Balestier's sugarcane plantation. The Malay word "ampas tebu" refers to the refuse of the crushed cane."
- Trivia from Heritagetrails.sg

View more photos on our Flickr album

Balestier Heritage Trail
Info from Heritage Trails
Jom tengok filem lama Blog
Temasek Bajet Blog
Photos on Flickr by Haslan Salam
Another location along Jalan Ampas which was used for film editorial work, now a warehouse

Shaw's history pages
Wikipedia entry on Shaw Brothers
Wikipedia entry on list on Shaw films

Wikipedia entry on P.Ramlee
Unofficial P.Ramlee fan site
Profile of P.Ramlee (in Malay)

Article and photos copyright of Andrew (熊赴龍) & Aaron Chan.

Forgotten places, secret spots, lost historical sites or having some interesting info to share? Is there a location/venue you want the One-North Explorers to feature?

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