Toronto: Eric Khoo’s ‘In the Room’ Draws From Personal Experience

Singapore’s best-known auteur returns to the festival circuit with erotic drama “In the Room,” premiering in  Toronto.

The film is a peep through the keyhole of a once-grand hotel that has fallen on hard times, and is constructed as eight scenes, each telling the stories of the sexual escapades  over seven decades in in the same room.

As well as being a concept that was firmed up while Eric Khoo was jury president at the Bucheon fantasy fest when he stayed in a seedy hotel, the director says the film plays tribute to Damien Sin, a larger-than-life Singaporean artist who died in 2006. Khoo got to know him through shared interests in comic books, horror stories and rock music. Sin features in the film as a recurring character.

“Damien wrote the screenplay for ‘Mee Pok Man,’ my first feature movie. And without him, who knows where I would be today,” Khoo says.

“Room” went to the soundstages of Mike Wiluan’s Infinite Frameworks where production designer Arthur Chua built two identical hotel rooms. That   structure enabled Khoo to shoot an episode in one suite, while Chua readied the other room for shooting of the next segment. That system, and a lot of planning, enabled the film to be lensed in just 10 days and the budget to be kept under $1 million.

Khoo says he and producer Nansun Shi are both fans of upmarket 1970s sex movies like “Emmanuelle” although he admits they seem tame in today’s Internet age.

It is unclear whether Singapore’s Censor Board has also moved with the times.

The Singapore festival showing seems safe enough. Operating with a special license, the SGIFF may be able to show a version different that is the same as the one shown to international festival audiences, while unspooling a different one in Singapore’s commercial theaters.

“We are the only country in the world where you need to be 21 to see some movies,” Khoo bemoans.

But he adds:  “I really want this to be seen in Singapore and would love it to get an R21 with no cuts. If it cannot, I will have to think again.”

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