Photo 1: Liang Po Po (left) and Aunty Lucy (right).
When a Hong Kong-based filmmaker wrote the screenplay of the same name in 1995, they resorted to using set construction to creatively recreate the visual of 1960s Bugis Street. Hiep Thi Le a foreign talent played the role of a 16 year old Malaccan girl. Hiep was last seen in “Heaven & Earth” where her opposite number was Tommy Lee Jones. I remembered Hiep as that Vietnamese refugee carrying her illegitimate child to a U.S. army base. To this Yankee soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) who thought she was available she angrily replied, “Charlie want boom boom? You go there boom boom! (pointing to another Vietnamese prostitute) I no boom boom!”
Photo 2: Hayley Mills and Trevor Howard guests of the Raffles Hotel (c 1967)
Photo 3: The armoury is on the ground floor of the three-storey building (left). The cars on Bras Basah Road are heading towards Beach Road. Raffles Hotel is on the right (c 1960).
In 1967, during recess time a group of RI students (including yours truly) were playing hantam bola behind the armoury building when they noticed a long line of trishaws on Bras Basah Road travelling towards Beach Road. We stood still, peered through the fence and saw a cameraman at the head of the line filming somebody in one of the trishaws. Pretty Polly had a foreign cast of Hayley Mills, Trevor Howard and Shashi Kapoor. Seven weeks were spent location shooting in Singapore and 2 weeks in a London studio. Tom O’Brien (Memories of Singapore blog) told me his former teacher at St John Comprehensive School, Mr. David Prosser was the hair stylist in the movie.
Photo 4: (Left) David Prosser as the sissy hair stylist in the movie. (Right) David standing on the extreme left. The ex-students of St John wear the school uniform at this reunion party.
The following year, the crew and stars of “The Virgin Soldier” came to town for location shooting. The vivacious Ms. Ng Lee Ngoh, a University of Singapore undergraduate played the role of a Bugis Street prostitute leaning out of the window shouting, “Briggs come back.” I suspect Mr. Briggs a British Serviceman fighting in the Malayan Emergency did not pay for services rendered.
I decided to spend some time researching on the history of Bugis Street because it was so colourful to begin with. It appears that rickshaws, trishaws and prostitution went hand in hand, that is if I were to objectively believe the Registry of Rickshaws, a department within the Colonial Government of Singapore.
All the old streets within Bugis Junction and Hotel InterContinental Singapore used to be Japanese brothels while Tan Quee Lan Street and Fraser Street had Chinese brothels. The stations were on the Victoria Street side (present Bugis Junction and Bugis Village) and Queen Street. This probably explains why we still have a trishaw station at Albert Centre.
Photo 5: Trishaw Station at Albert Centre.
Now here is still the chance to catch the original Bugis Street, on film that is. I encourage you to watch Pretty Polly the movie, albeit the British dialogue and accent can be too heavy. Watch the game of noughts and crosses, beer drinking, sailor boys, transvestites, the trishaw race and the Kampong Glam Istana.
Roll! Camera! Action!
Earlier post by Peter Chan on Bugis Street here.