Pussy power… It means a lot to me,” says actress Josie Ho, who’s starring in director Eric Khoo’s latest, sexually charged film, In the Room. The film spans several decades and is broken down into six steamy short stories with two things in a common – sex and Room 27 at the Hotel Singapura (based on the historic 7th Storey Hotel demolished in 2008). “If hotel walls could speak, I’m sure they would have a lot to say,’ says Khoo. “I was always fascinated with this idea.”
The stories are appropriately titled – Rubber, Pussy, Listen, Change, Search and First Time – and reflect a diverse set of cultures, romances and experiences. “It makes sense, doesn’t it,” says director Khoo. “An international hotel would cater to an international and diverse clientele. This is what I had in mind from the beginning because I thought it would be boring if the stories were only about Singaporeans.” Instead, the film features with Thai, Korean, Malay, Singaporean, English and Japanese characters. It’s a cultural and chronological mishmash with intense, rollercoaster like emotional transitions. There’s passion, eroticism, darkness, humour, sorrow, lust, tenderness, innocence, betrayal and of course, love. “We shot the movie in 10 days and I felt like we were in a time capsule,” says Khoo.
The unfortunate side effect is that as a whole, the film comes off a bit uneven. Some stories are much better and fleshed out than others, which had us wishing there were just three stories instead of six. The film could have been more poignant as a result. But the film isn’t boring by any means. The shift between each story refreshes a sense of intrigue.
Khoo succeeds when it comes to set design and cinematography. He pays special attention to making sure he presents an accurate historical landscape for each segment of the film, which begins with a black and white opening sequence set in the 40s. Taking place during the Japanese occupation, two gay lovers – a Chinese rubber plantation owner and a British colonist – are forced to part ways because of the invasion.
Cutting through the wallowing heartbreak follows the comedic, colourful Pussy, featuring Ho, as Madame Orchid (based on real life cabaret dancer Rose Chan), a woman who knows how to engulf a man’s ding dong and leave him utterly powerless. “I had so much fun playing this role,” says Ho. “It was wonderful working with Khoo, and the first time I read the script I knew that it would be quite the experience playing such a daring character. Orchid is a progressive woman, who speaks her mind and doesn’t care what other’s think. She’s a leader.” Indeed she is. She teaches her students a thing about pussy power as they practice with bananas, gold fish and ping pong balls. “I think the ping pong balls are the most hilarious.”
For Khoo, Ho was an obvious casting choice. “The first time I Skyped her, I knew she was dynamic enough to play Orchid. Josie is so intelligent and fun and she came up with some of the dancing sequence herself. Dream Home is one of my favourite films and she has so much tenacity in
In the Room is dedicated to Khoo’s late friend, horror writer and musician Damien Sin, who scripted Khoo’s 1995 debut feature, Mee Pok Man. Sin became Khoo’s inspiration for his central character, also named Damien – a depressed 70s songwriter, who overdoses on heroin. But before he dies, he finds love during a brief encounter with the hotel’s housekeeper. And because of his love, he lingers around Room 27 as an awkward, voyeuristic ghost that appears in the remainder of the stories. “It’s very Damien,” says Khoo as he remembers his friend. “He was such a prolific horror story writer and this character I created is a tribute to him.”
As the movie progresses, you can see that Khoo isn’t afraid to tackle provocative topics, especially in the context of a conservative society like Singapore. In the Room features everything from homosexual love to pussy power to a tender tale of a Thai man in love with a transgender woman who is about take the final step in her transformational process. “Isn’t it amazing that the first person in Asia, who went under gender reassignment surgery, did it in Singapore? During the 70s there were many transsexuals on Boogie Street, so we thought it was important to incorporate a story with a transgender person.”
Khoo isn’t out to make any particular social or political statements though. “There is a necessity to express and have freedom of expression,” he says. “Not to be combative, but just as an extension of creativity.” He does however lament Singapore’s R-rated system. “It’s a tragedy that you have to be 21 or over to watch this film. The sex laws here are a bit silly.”
Things get very sexy when AV actress Show Nishono, who plays a desperate housewife, has a passionate rendezvous with her gym buddy played by hottie Lawrence Wong. “In the 80s, I heard many stories of lonely Japanese housewives in Singapore,” says Khoo.“All of these stories that I have heard and collected have gone into this film.”
Khoo’s favourite story is actually the last one, First Time, which features a pair of Korean friends. The guy is a virgin and secretly in love with his friend, who sleeps around trying to find that special guy that can give her an orgasm. This is probably the most well-acted segment in the series.
Khoo has definitely given Room 27 life. In the Room, is an imaginative feature film highlighting some of the greatest relationship obstacles while creating a fleeting sense of intimacy. The range and dynamic nature of the film shows that Khoo has great potential, but has us hoping that he doesn’t thin out the storyline in his next feature.
In the RoomOpens Thu Apr 21.