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Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore Paperback – March 1, 2006
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About the Author
Hailing originally from England where he was born in 1974, Ben Slater is a writer, lecturer and curator who has been based in Singapore since 2002 where he lives in the east of the island. A former magazine editor and art-house cinema programmer in the UK, he has written about film for a number of publications in the UK, US and Asia. Kinda Hot is his first book.
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I came at it from the Bogdanovich angle; this and THEY ALL LAUGHED, the other film he shot with Robby Muller in much the same style (but in NYC) are my two favorite films by him and two of my favorite films of all time, so while I never saw this coming, I ordered it immediately upon stumbling upon it. Well worth a look if you think you might be interested in it...
Ben Slater's short book is a delicious little thing, to the point and full of lovely stories, setting the scene at the start by describing the career of Peter Bogdanovich, introducing the idea that this nearly became a project of the very washed-up Orson Welles (rather than a newly washed-up Peter Bogdanovich), the relationship with Roger Corman, and the incredible casting exercises the production crew conducted throughout the world, but mainly in Singapore (at the same time that an episode of Hawaii Five-O was being filmed here). Combat between the production crew resulted, and parts of the film were hijacked at one point! Hugh Hefner was one of the bankrollers of the film (a natural, given the bordello nature of the film), but strangely enough Slater doesn't talk much about George Lazenby's involvement, nor does he seem to have bothered to get in touch with old George to discuss this very rare appearance by the elusive star (who was hiding out in Hong Kong with Bruce Lee around the time).
The book gets into interesting background items, such as Ben Gazarra's notes on the film from his autobiography, Hollywood-in-Asia history discussion on films about Singapore such as Pretty Polly, and exploitation films like GI Executioners and Shocking Asia (I'll have to look into these). Interesting Bruce Lee anecdote from Tony Yeow (producer of the legendary Ring Of Fury film), who mentioned that Lee wanted to do a musical, and who signed an autograph to his boss Robert Chua that said "Patience my ass - I'm gonna kill somebody!" Mention of Michael Herr's Dispatches, which had been an influence on Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Then there's the weird story of how the producers switched tickets for a doomed flight - they were nearly on board a plane that crashed, killing all passengers. Whew!
The book also has great descriptions of life in Singapore, especially that of the disappearing lifestyle there, as the government cleanup on "Yellow Culture" was well underway, removing "decadent" elements of pop culture, as well as secret societies, opium use, prostitution and gambling (ironic, now that there are two huge casinos here). There's some discussion about dealing with government authorities, but it seems that it was pretty smooth - at the time. Bodganovich made the big mistake of bragging about his deception of local authorities, though, nice that this is mentioned here.
At the end of the book there's a nice "where are they now" chronicle of the main participants, a nice photo gallery, reproductions of the opening and closing credits (nice touch) and general acknowledgements. Nice.
Bogdanovich appears pompous, complete with cigars and Bentley; his underlings had to watch him enjoy breakfast. The script was written a-new every day. Local bar ladies, taxi drivers, transvestites, waiters and English teachers were all hired for smaller roles - and if there was no role for an interesting character they met, they'd write a new role for him or her into the script. Partly they had to work under pretexts or secretely, because they believed that Pau Theroux's original Saint Jack novel was banned in Singapore.
Slater writes a few pages about Singapore's specific history with special regard to its movie business. He describes the movie's lengthy development in California including Orson Welle's role. We also learn about Bogdanovich's changing relationships around the Saint Jack time. After all these details, you might find that the post production phase was covered rather short. The movie is regarded as a monument to "Old Singapore" and so, Slater reports what happened to all the sites that appear in the movie - most aren't recognizable at all today.
Bogdanovich, Gazarra and most other major figures contributed their tales to this book, so you get a very lively picture. Theroux buffs will also happily soak up a few side aspects of how the original novel was conceived and written; but Theroux didn't play a big part in this movie production (even though he wrote an early draft of the script) and he doesn't appear often in Kinda Hot.
The preparations and the shoot seem very disorganized and that might be the reason why the movie seems to drag and to crumble, despite many individually nice scenes. But the book about the shoot is much better. Slater delivers delightful hot-country multi-cultural reading - I like his book much better than the movie (I'd give the movie 2,6 stars, the original novel 4,4 stars and maybe 4,6 for Slater).
I liked Slaters book even though I find his language rather ambitionless and too colloquial, with a string of typos. He uses past tense and avoids any journalistic tricks and styles. But the events are most interesting and seem to be thoroughly researched, not only through many interviews, but also by checking through production archives. I was well entertained.
The book is even more interesting given the fact that the DVD has no regular making-of report. It has a Bogdanovich interview (around 20 minutes) and then Bogdanovich's comment along the whole movie. But he keeps repeating a few things over and over: this was done in one long shot; this actor never acted before in his life, but was wonderful; this street or building doesn't exist any more.
Better grab the book. It also sports two dozen black-and-white images covering half a page each; most are casual snapshots or set photos, almost no PR stills. So you get to know the producers and camera men and see the main stars in off-screen moments. Slater's Kinda Hot blog has more interesting pictures, details and updates - it is very well worth a visit.
The book's title Kinda Hot stems from a sentence repeated often in the original novel, but less often in the movie. You don't have to buy Kinda Hot through Amazon; I e-mailed Slater for a book, sent him a reasonable amount by Paypal and received a brand new copy soon after - all very smooth. You'll find his e-mail address on his Kinda Hot blog and elsewhere.
By now, Slater even conducted bus tours to Saint Jack's shooting locations in Singapore, there are illustrated reports online. The movie itself is no longer prohibited in the Lion City, instead the National Museum proudly screens it. The novel, the movie, the book about the movie and Slater's Kinda Hot blog form a great package of hot-country multi-cultural entertainment that I thoroughly enjoyed.