Location Scouting in “青青河边草” (a.k.a “The Rebellion”)
Film Title: 青青河边草
English Film Title: The Rebellion
Directed by Chiang Wai-Kwong (蔣偉光）
Produced by Kin Shing Film Company (堅成影片公司）
Year of Release: 1966
Film Synopsis: After completing his studies in Taiwan, Bing-kong(秉剛)[acted by Wu Fung, 胡楓] is sent to Kuala Lumpur by his parents to help his uncle manage his business. In Kuala Lumpur, he is welcomed by his uncle’s family, including his cousin Fung-chu (鳳珠)[acted by Lam Fung, 林鳳] who has a very good impression of him since young. Bing-kong’s uncle and aunt intend to betroth their daughter Fung-chu to him, but he has reservations over such a marriage proposal because of his fond memories of another of his uncle’s daughters, Siu-lan (小蘭)[acted by Ng Kwun-Lai, 吳君麗]. He is captivated with Siu-lan immediately upon meeting her. However, Siu-lan is considered an illegitimate daughter by the uncle because she is born out of wedlock. The uncle admonishes Bing-kong for falling in love with Siu-lan and not wanting to marry Fung-chu.
Despite all odds, Bing-kong brings Siu-lan home to Taiwan, but the couple’s return meets with disapproval from his parents as well. Faced with rejection, the couple elopes and attempts to eke out a living without their families’ support. Bing-kong then receives a friend’s invitation to work in Singapore. They eventually move to the newly independent Singapore in search of better prospects.
The Film Locations:
The film’s narrative moves between three countries — Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. I guess the three locales suitably represent the extent of geographical mobility among members of a typical upper/middle-class overseas Chinese extended family in the 1960s. Siu-lan and her family are based in Kuala Lumpur, have relatives in Taiwan and she will move to Singapore with her partner Bing-kong. It almost seems easy and natural for them to traverse between those national borders.
What would seem striking is the absence of mainland China as one of the locales to set the film narrative. It is a film about overseas Chinese, Chinese “sojourners” and Nanyang Chinese after all. There ought to be a mainland China connection somewhere in the family tree or the network of friends and associates. It could be because Mainland China (People’s Republic of China), in 1966 under the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, was at the heights of socio-political upheaval — it was the year in which the Cultural Revolution began. I don’t suppose that a Hong Kong-based (capitalist; profit-driven) film company would wish to risk a film crew entering mainland China. The film producers would probably not even consider setting the narrative in one of the mainland Chinese cities, or would they? Were there Hong-kong-made films in the 1950-70s that were set in contemporary mainland China or made an explicit reference to communist China? That, I would need to find out.
What is even more surprising is the absence of Hong Kong — it is nowhere mentioned in the narrative of the film, though all the characters speak Hong Kong Cantonese?!! Maybe such was the desire of the film producers to want the film narrative to be set in locales outside of Hong Kong — it was one of the selling-points of the film after all…
Anyway, this blog post will only focus on the film locations in Singapore, among them buildings in Collyer Quay, old Clarke Quay, the Padang, Chinatown, a hospital that is no longer around and unidentifiable restaurants and hotels:
[19 Feb 2013 update]: The restaurant and hotel have been identified as the “Singapore Theatre Restaurant” and “Singapore Hotel”. Read on for more details.
1. Former Asia Insurance Building and Ocean Building, along Collyer Quay.
This is how we are introduced to Singapore in the film — a zoom-in to a close-up of an office block, showing where Bing-kong is going to attend a job interview. The 20-storey office block was in reality the “Asia Insurance Building” (now ‘restored’ to become “Ascott Raffles Place” — serviced apartments for business travellers). The Asia Insurance Building was designed by local architect Ng Keng Siang and completed in 1954 as the tallest building in Southeast Asia. It is Art-Deco styled with features (sunshades) to cater to the tropical climate.
In the first of the three film-stills above, to the right of the Asia Insurance Building is the Ocean Building, headquarters of the Ocean Steamship Company, built in the ‘modern classic’ style and completed in 1923 by architectural firm Swan & Mclaren. This building has since been demolished, in its place now stands Ocean Towers, a new skyscraper building. To the right of the Ocean Building, at the extreme right handside of the film-still, is part of the Moorish-style ‘(Alkaff) Arcade’ (demolished in 1978 and replaced by a new skyscraper named ‘The Arcade’).
2. The Padang
A collage of several film-stills from “The Rebellion”. A panoramic view of the surroundings from the Padang. From left: Esplanade Park, The Cenotaph, Fullerton Building, Bank of China Building, Asia Insurance Building (in the background), Singapore Cricket Club and Victoria Memorial Hall.
(Click on image for a larger view.)
Bing-kong is rejected in his first job interview in Singapore and wanders around the Padang.
What interest me most in this film-still are the trees planted along the Padang sidewalk. Today, these trees no longer line the edge of the Padang that is facing the City Hall and Supreme Court. They seemed to be planted after the second world war and removed before the turn of the century. Why did they cut them down?
3. St. Andrew’s Cathedral. MacPherson Memorial Monument.
Bing-kong wanders aimlessly from the Padang to the grounds of the St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
This is the memorial monument dedicated to Ronald MacPherson, the designer (as Executive Engineer and Superintendent Public Works Department) of the current version of the cathedral. Earlier versions had to be torn down due to damage by recurring lightning strikes. The monument is constructed using granite and has a maltese cross mounted on the top.
[Updated on 19 Feb 2013: Added 4 photos.]
4. Hawker Stalls along Eu Tong Sen Street. Chinatown.
Bing-kong is tired from all the walking and sits down for meal at a hawker stall in Chinatown.
This is probably one of the make-shift hawker stalls set up along Eu Tong Sen Street in the 1960s. The film-still depicts the junction of Upper Cross Street, Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road(the one with vehicles moving leftwards), in the vicinity of the Nam Tin Hotel (Great Southern Hotel; 南天大酒店).
A colour photograph of New Bridge Road in the 60s, from http://www.singas.co.uk.
I have added a red arrow which points to the filming location of the above-mentioned scene from “The Rebellion”. That was where Wu Fung 胡楓 had his bowl of pork ribs soup or something…, under that huge replica of a cigarette pack!
5. Thomson Road Hospital
Bing-Kong eventually finds work at a quarry or a tin mine, but hard labour is not suited for him. He collapsed at work and is admitted into Thomson Road Hospital.
The film merely depicted a close-up of the signboard of the name of the hospital at the entrance. No scenes of the hospital building exteriors or interiors.
I looked up “Thomson Road Hospital” in the National Archives PICAS website and found some photographs of the now-demolished hospital:
The orange circle points out the signboard that is depicted in the film. This was the entrance to the former Thomson Road Hospital located at Toa Payoh Rise, year 1965.
The hospital was first established as a hospital for the chronic sick and for the people in surrounding communities in 1959. It later expanded to include more hospital services and was renamed Toa Payoh Hospital in 1975.
The main hospital block in 1965, Thomson Road Hospital along Toa Payoh Rise.
The hospital eventually merged with Changi Hospital in 1997 to form Changi General Hospital. The hospital buildings were all demolished, probably to make way for the construction of the MRT Circle Line and the new Caldecott MRT Station.
6. The Singapore Theatre Restaurant and Singapore Hotel, Geylang Road [updated on 19 Feb 2013]
Siu-lan decides to sing in a cabaret restaurant, so as to earn enough to pay off Bing-kong’s hospitalisation fees. There, she encounters her sister Fung-Chu who is being courted by a pimp (unknown to Fung-Chu, but whom Siu-lan recognises). After a squabble between the sisters, the pimp deceives Fung-Chu and brings her to a hotel, where a patron is waiting…
[19 Feb 2013 update]: From a 1971 photograph found in the National Archives PICAS website, I was able to confirm that the restaurant depicted in the two film-stills above was the Singapore Theatre Restaurant, which was situated next to the Singapore Hotel along Geylang Road….
A 1971 fire burned down the Singapore Hotel and the neighbouring Singapore Theatre Restaurant. Before disaster struck, the restaurant was highly popular for hosting company dinner-and-dances and wedding banquets. It had also been the place to indulge in Chinese cuisine while watching performances by local and Hong Kong singers, pop bands, magicians, acrobats and cabaret dancers.
Extracted from National Library Board’s online newspaper archive. An advertisement in The Straits Times 8 March 1966, Page 4.
The names “Martez and Mariya” also appeared on one of the posters at the entrance of the restaurant depicted in the film-still above.
[19 Feb 2013 update]: This was the Singapore Hotel. I had referred to the photograph of the 1971 fire already presented above. The hotel entrance and the distinctive window awning depicted in the film matched the ones of the Singapore Hotel in the 1971 photograph. “Mystery” solved!
[19 Feb 2013 update]: The shot of the lobby and reception was definitely of the Singapore Hotel in Geylang. And I understand that the Singapore Hotel was merely a two-storey building. So, I surmise that the shot of the lift-floor indicator (17 floors) might be of another hotel, probably in Hong Kong.
7. Clarke Quay, between Read Bridge and Ord Bridge.
Siu-lan arrives at the hotel just in time to rescue her sister Fung-Chu from being prostituted. They were on their way home as they passed by Clarke Quay…
Siu-lan lies injured on the isolated quayside.
Clarke Quay seems cold and deserted despite the congested urban landscape surrounding the scene of incident…
The above sequence from the film had been shot at Clarke Quay, at the section between Read Bridge and Ord Bridge:
The white circle marks out the same buildings. The red arrow pinpoints the location where the above-mentioned scene was filmed. The bridge on the left of this photograph (dated 1985) is Read Bridge. The one in the middle background is Ord Bridge. Both bridges still survive to this day, but Clarke Quay has since been given a major facelift.
A bird’s eye view of Clarke Quay, 1990. A white circle points out the original location of the buildings in the background of the above-mentioned scene in “The Rebellion”. All the shophouses and buildings in that plot of land were demolished to make way for the shopping mall Riverside Point. The bumboats in the river were cleared out too.
A view of the empty plot, on the left, after the buildings, godowns, and shophouses were demolished, 1990. The yellow warehouse would be torn down soon after too. In their place now stands the Riverside Point.
Imperial Hotel in the background (demolished in the 1990s).
How things change…