Tuesday 29 December 2015

I remember: Movies in the 1960s

Enduring scoldings, slaps for love of his craft
By Ho Ai Li, The Sunday Times, 27 Dec 2015

A young Ang Hao Sai did not flinch when he was scolded and even slapped by his foreman at Lam Kok, an art studio specialising in movie billboards and posters.

"Other people would have left but I didn't," said Mr Ang in Hokkien.

The 64-year-old is one of the last movie-billboard painters in Singapore. He stayed to work because he loved to paint and wanted to learn the craft.

As he was not interested in his studies, his parents had suggested that he become an apprentice at the art studio. So when he was 12, he left school to join Lam Kok. He stayed at his workplace to save money from commuting, and would stay up late to practise drawing. At first, the young apprentice did chores like cleaning toilets and buying coffee for his colleagues.

His break came when his boss noticed his diligence.

"One night, I was practising painting until 2am or 3am. The boss saw me when he forgot something and came back," recalled Mr Ang.

He was later given the more important task of filling in the background colours of movie billboards, which were painted by a team specialising in various aspects, from the backdrop to clothes and faces.

Lam Kok was the biggest of five or six such studios in the 1960s and business was brisk, said Mr Ang.

It even painted publicity materials featuring naked women for racy films for Malaysian cinemas, he said.

Censorship was stricter in Singapore then, he added.

This week in 1965, Singapore MPs were calling for stricter curbs on movies with sexual content, and lamenting about the posters of these racy films.

Mr Ang could not remember much of the movies that he painted for in the 1960s. But he liked to work on horror movies, and would watch them to get a sense of the colours and expressions needed.

"I learnt more about the colours from watching the movies and the actors' expressions, whether they were laughing or crying or whether it was day or night," he said.

Back then, the posters and billboards used to be painted in oil but watercolours were later used to save time.

Staff sometimes had to put in overtime work to complete big orders of 50 to 60 posters and billboards in just two to three weeks, he said. But Mr Ang did not mind.

"I wanted to work. I liked to learn. A lot of colleagues didn't work nights or weekends," he said.

He subsequently worked at other places before starting his own studio, Hao Meng Art Studio, with the help of his wife, Madam Chua Poh Kim, in 1987.

The studio takes on jobs like designing backdrops for company functions and printing posters.

While billboard painting has died with the arrival of digital printing, Mr Ang took out his brushes earlier this year to paint posters of 1960s movies like Lion City, which were displayed at Capitol Theatre.

The grandfather of three also held an exhibition of his paintings of Singapore scenes earlier this month. Said Mr Ang, whose Chinese name means noble lion: "As long as my health is okay, I will continue to paint and do something for Singapore art."

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