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About Eric Khoo

Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo was born in 1965 and was from an early age immersed into the world of cinema. He attended City Art Institute in Sydney, Australia where he studied cinematography. Starting out with short films, Khoo has directed When the Magic Dies (1985), Barbie Digs Joe (1990), August (1991), Carcass (1992), Symphony 92.4 (1993), Pain (1994), and Home Video (2000), a number of which have won prizes and been screened at festivals overseas. He has also produced and/or directed made-for-television film Drive: Sex, Lies and…, music videos, and television advertisements. Khoo is perhaps best known for his three critically acclaimed feature films that have been invited to festivals all over the world: Mee Pok Man (1995), 12 Storeys (1995), and Be With Me (2005). Mee Pok Man won prizes not only in Singapore, but also in Fukuoka and Pusan. 12 Storeys (1997) won him the Federation of International Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award, the UOB Young Cinema Award at the 10th Singapore International Film Festival, and the Golden Maile Award for Best Picture at the 17th Hawaii International Films Festival. It was also the first Singapore film officially to be invited to participate at the Cannes Film Festival. Be With Me played as the opening film of the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival and has met with rave reviews.

As an executive producer running his own production firm Zhao Wei Films Pte Ltd, Khoo has worked on Liang Po Po – The Movie (1999), Stories About Love (2000), One Leg Kicking (2001), 15 (2003), Zombie Dogs (2004), and the made-for-television mini-series Drive and Seventh Month.

In 1997, Khoo received the Singapore National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for film. In 1998, he was profiled by Asiaweek as one of 25 exceptional Asian trendmakers for his influence on film and television. A year after, Asiaweek listed him as one of the leaders for the millennium. In the same year, he received the Singapore Youth Award (Individual) in recognition of his dedication to filmmaking and contributions to society.

Khoo’s films tend to explore a set of hard-hitting themes, including a sense of alienation in contemporary Singapore, nostalgia for a more humane past, and the centrality and complexity of human sexuality. Influenced by Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, Khoo often features a complex anti-hero as the protagonist of his films: the lonely old man who commits suicide on his birthday in Symphony 92.4, the self-abusive job-searcher in Pain who tortures and kills an Indian shop-keeper, the pork-seller in Carcass who takes comfort in television dramas and regular sex with a prostitute, the outcast necrophilic hawker in Mee Pok Man, the model citizen who breaks down in 12 Storeys – all dysfunctional individuals struggling to cope in a rigid and yet fast-paced society administered by harsh norms, rules, and regulations. Often, Khoo captures grittier, less sanitized images of Singapore’s underbelly that contrast starkly with the official glossy-postcard projections of tourism-hungry Singapore. And yet, Khoo possesses the remarkable ability to invest tremendous aesthetic beauty into the dilapidated back alleys, crumbling old buildings, and seedy prostitute dens, without trivializing them.

In many ways, Khoo is a public intellectual who, through his films, raises a critical awareness – uncomfortable as this may be – among his audience of their own conditions of existence, or at least of other people’s conditions of existence that they perhaps may be partly responsible for. Eric Khoo will be a pivotal name in any history of Singapore film waiting to be written in time to come.

Kenneth Paul Tan
Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore

    

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