Thursday, May 07, 2020

Bukit Brown in 1973 (from the show Ring of Fury)

A made in Singapore movie, named Ring of Fury directed by Tony Yeow Park Swee and James Sebastian in 1973 was recently made available on Youtube on 3 May 2020 by the Asian Film Archive with the accompanying text, In memory of James Sebastian (who recently passed away on 7 April 2020). Ring of Fury was labeled has Singapore’s first and only martial arts film. Unfortunately  the movie was banned for local viewing for about 32 years. It was apparently banned for its portrayal of gangsterism and vigilantism at a time when Singapore was ‘cleaning up’ its national public image. The film finally made its long overdue Singapore debut in 2005 at the Singapore International Film Festival and in 2017, the Asia Film Archives restored the film from the sole surviving film print. Ring of Fury was shown again in 2018 at The Projector after it had been restored. A posting on the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown Group by Beng Yong Tang alerted us about the film which provides rare glimpse of various locations of places in Singapore. The one that is rare for me is Bukit Brown, in which some of the scenes where filmed included the Bukit Brown Temple as well as the shelter at the former roundabout in Hill 1 (now part of the highway). This article gives you some snapshots of Bukit Brown from almost 50 years ago.

Bukit Brown Temple and tomb cluster of Ho Siak Kuan
This screen grab of the scene from the movie is rare, as the temple in Bukit Brown and the tomb clusters of the family of Ho Siak Kuan no longer exist. I have previously only one picture of the temple courtesy of one the descendants. The Ho Siak Kuan cluster of tombs were affected by the 8 lane highway and was among the affected tombs exhumed. The temple and why it was demolished remains a mystery for now. What remains intact from this photo is surprisingly the tomb of Tan Chong Chew (son of Tan Kheam Hock), which is the tomb that is just behind the temple.
Bukit Brown Temple
Bukit Brown Temple (screengrab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Ho Siak Kuan's cluster of tomb and the temple of Bukit Brown
as shown on map, using main gate as reference.  

Ho Siak Kuan cluster in 2012-2013 before exhumation for the highway

Scenery of Bukit Brown
There were various scenes which shows how Bukit Brown was in the early 1970s when there was less trees at the top of the hills. From the first picture, i can make out the beautiful rain trees and croton plants that were use to decorate the various tombs. I suspect the first picture was taken from Hill 1 and overlooking Hill 3 in the distance.

Bukit Brown (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Bukit Brown (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Bukit Brown (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Scenes at the Bukit Brown Shelter
The fighting scene between the main actor in Ring of Fury also took place at the Bukit Brown shelter near the former roundabout after going through the entrance of Bukit Brown. The fighting continue downhill at the tombs at Hill 5. What is interesting is i have managed to get photos of this shelter that dates back to 1925 and the more recent ones in 1960s. In the earlier pictures from 1925, there was no long table and benches for sitting, that was a later addition.

Bukit Brown shelter (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Bukit Brown shelter with tables and benches for resting (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973) 

Bukit Brown shelter view from Hill 5 (screen grab) from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973)

Bukit Brown shelter in the 1960's
(Photo courtesy of Madam Lim Soo Eng and James Yip)

Burial scene at unknown location 
The show itself has a scene where the mother of the actor who was killed by thugs was eventually buried in Bukit Brown. Whether this scene itself took place in Bukit Brown, i am uncertain, but it was an interesting snapshot of tombkeepers and the burial practice of the tomb.

Burial (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973)

Burial (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973)

Roadside drink vendor beside cemetery
As the Ring of Fury was done on a very tight budget, many of the scenes used was undoubtedly real and not props. The drink store was probably real and you can see on the far left behind the 2 actors having drinks is a tomb ! Could this be at Kheam Hock Road itself when there was a thriving village beside the tombs? It probably was.

Bukit Brown shelter view from Hill 5 (screen grab from the movie, Ring of Fury dated 1973)

Synopsis of movie
A humble noodle-seller refuses to pay protection fees to a gang of thugs, resulting in tragedy befalling his family and loved one. To exact revenge, he learns martial arts to deal with the gang led by a mysterious man in an iron mask. Inspired by the kungfu craze sparked by Bruce Lee in the 1970s, Ring of Fury is Singapore’s first and only martial arts film featuring local karate master, Peter Chong. Watch the movie from the Bukit Brown scene

James Sebastian and Ring of Fury.(website). Asian Film Archives Blog.
Ring of Fury (1973). (Youtube). Tony Yeow and James Sebastian.  Asian Film Archives

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