Places

Cinema Reclaimed - Film Locations Map

by Toh Hun Ping & Ben Slater

Come take a peek at glimpse of old Singapore and its various sites of healthcare through a selection of films, curated for the Cinema Reclaimed film programme.

Cinema Reclaimed 2021


1. College of Medicine Building
Address: 16 College Road (now Ministry of Health)

Gazetted as a national monument, the College of Medicine was originally built in 1926 to house Singapore’s first training institution for medicine, which had opened its doors in 1905 and was renamed several times to reflect Singapore’s shifts from Crown Colony to Malayan self-government to Independence, becoming the Faculty of Medicine for University of Malaya, and later National University of Singapore until the construction of NUH in the 1980s. The building has neo-classical Italian decorative elements, such as its striking pillars, designed by the famed sculptor Rudolfo Nolli and underwent extensive renovations in the ‘80s. Today, appropriately enough, it’s the location for Singapore’s Ministry of Health, and we can admire it’s magnificent exteriors.

In the Cathay-Keris film Tunang Pak Dukun (The Bomoh’s Bride) from 1960 we see rare footage of classes being taught in the College and students in its surroundings, including the inevitably comic scene of students being asked to recognise the names of bones on a human skeleton. The future doctors at this key juncture in Singapore’s history are from all races and are visual evidence of a new meritocratic Singapore freeing itself from the boundaries of a class-based and colonised society in which being a doctor would have been reserved for elites only. We see a similar set of quasi-documentary images in Phani Majumdar’s Doctor (1958), with multi-racial students in medical classrooms, learning from Chinese or Caucasian professors.


2. Former University of Malaya in Singapore
Address: 469 Bukit Timah Road (now National University of Singapore Bukit Timah Campus)

College of Medicine, forming a new university launched in 1949. As the relationship between Singapore and the Federation of Malaya evolved it was renamed University of Singapore in 1962, still housed on the Bukit Timah site. The next big change would be in 1980 when the Chinese-centric Nanyang University was merged with University of Singapore to form the National University of Singapore (NUS), moving most colleges to the Kent Ridge campus in Clementi. The Bukit Timah site is architecturally centred around classical-style buildings and open green spaces designed by Cyril A. Farey and Graham R. Dawbarn after WWII (and gazetted in 2009). Over the years new buildings would to be added, as the site temporarily housed the National Institute of Education and then Singapore Management University, until 2005 when it was returned to NUS to be the campus for the Faculty of Law and other research centres, as it is today.

About half-way through Phani Majumdar’s relatively gritty social-realist melodrama Doctor (1958), we have a brief (and pretty rare) glimpse of the corridors and classrooms of University of Malaya, when Idris (Aziz Jaafar) finally goes to study medicine as per the wishes of his grief-stricken father. The same site was also a filming location of Cathay-Keris film Tunang Pak Dukun (The Bomoh’s Bride, 1960).


3. Bowyer Block Clock Tower, Singapore General Hospital
Address: 11 Third Hospital Ave (now SGH Museum)

The Bowyer Block, with its iconic clock tower, was the architectural centrepiece when the Singapore General Hospital was rebuilt and opened in March 1926. Formerly known as the “Upper Block”, it was so named after the Japanese Occupation to commemorate Dr. John H. Bowyer, Chief Medical Officer of the hospital at the time of Singapore’s capitulation. He was tortured by the Japanese military police to extreme ill health and died in November 1944. The Bowyer Block served as the main administrative wing of the hospital and held staff quarters and patient wards. Parts of the neo-classical building were torn down in the 1980s to make way for new structures. Only the portico, clock tower and central section of the block were left undemolished. What remained of the Bowyer Block was gazetted as a national monument in 2009. It now houses the SGH Museum.

The Singapore General Hospital in Outram was frequently referenced in films produced during Singapore’s golden age of cinema in the 1950s to ‘60s – whenever the movie plot called for a medical emergency – and the oft-cited image representing the oldest medical institution in Singapore was of the Bowyer Block and its clock tower. As early as 1950, it appeared briefly in the Malay classic film Rachun Dunia (Poison of the World). The storyline of Hong Kong Cantonese classic Moon Over Malaya (椰林月, 1957), shot on location in Singapore and Malaya, also weaved in a car accident injured person’s stay at the hospital, preceded by a gleaming image of the monumental clock tower. In Malay classic melodrama Korban Fitnah (Victim of Slander, 1959), one could even watch local screen icon Maria Menado arrive at the portico before being led by a nurse to walk down one of the now-demolished long corridors of the Bowyer Block to visit her fictional husband, made blind because of a car accident (again!). A few moments later, the self-sacrificing brother of the fictional husband, wishing to commit suicide after overhearing an eye specialist say “only a dead man can be an eye donor”, walks behind the Bowyer Block and sets his eyes on the nearby seven-storey House Officers’ Quarters (built in 1959, demolished by 2011 and now replaced by SingHealth’s ‘Academia’). He is apprehended by the police before he could make his suicidal attempt from the top of the building.

4. Former House Officers’ Quarters, Singapore General Hospital
Address: Third Hospital Avenue (demolished, now site of SingHealth's 'Academia')


Filming location of the movie Korban Fitnah (Victim of Slander,1959)

Please refer to the description for Bowyer Block Clock Tower, Singapore General Hospital for more information.


5. Former Institute of Science and Forensic Medicine
Address: 11 Outram Rd (now Forensic Medicine Division, Health Science Authority)

When it was founded in the 1960s, the section dedicated to forensic medicine was named the Department of Forensic Medicine, and was led by the legendary Dr Chao Tzee Cheng, who was originally operating the practice out of a mortuary in Outram Road, and later moving to Block 9, which was constructed in the 1980s, where it remains today under the new name, Forensic Medicine Division, Health Sciences Authority.

Body Puzzle (2001) was an attempt to dramatise the investigations of Dr Chao, which he himself had brought to light in his memoir, Murder Is My Business, in 1999. In the film, Dr Chao is played by Hong Kong-based actor and comedian Kent Cheng, but is relegated to supporting the investigating detective played by Thomas Ong. Nevertheless there are scenes that show Dr Chao at work. These were shot at the mortuary in Changi General Hospital, presumably because it was not possible to get permission to shoot in the real centre for forensics, although we do see the exteriors of the current building at Outram Road.


6. Changi General Hospital Mortuary
Address: 2 Simei Street 3

Built to replace the elderly (built in the 1930s) “OId” Changi Hospital and to merge it with the Toa Payoh Hospital, which faced a severe bed shortage, what we now call CGH was opened in 1997. Constructed on a large site in Simei, it was for a year known as “New Changi Hospital'' before it was renamed Changi General Hospital in 1998, and was touted at the time as having a large capacity to serve the areas around East Singapore and state-of-the-art facilities In 2014 additional buildings and annexes were designed by B+H Architects.

The CHG Mortuary serves as the location for the interiors of autopsy scenes set in the “Institute of Science and Forensic Medicine” in the hardly-known Singapore feature film Body Puzzle (2001), a thriller based on the life and cases of Dr Chao Tzee Cheng, Singapore’s pre-eminent forensic pathologist, whose work help to shed new light and even solve on a number of gruesome murder cases from the late 1960s into the ‘70s.


7. Former Mistri Wing, Singapore General Hospital
Address: 5 Hospital Drive (demolished, now site of National Heart Centre Singapore)

Completed in 1955 with a $950,000 donation from prominent Parsi entrepreneur and philanthropist Navroji R. Mistri (1885-1953), the four-storey Mistri Wing of the Singapore General Hospital was a modern-style building made up of eight paediatric wards. The new facility provided a major boost to the development of paediatrics in Singapore. It also fulfilled the wishes of Mistri, who intended his monetary gift to be used for the building of a third-class ward for non-paying patients, explaining while being treated at the hospital that he “cannot bear to think of sick children, and their mothers lying on the floor of hospital wards… I thought it my duty to do something for Singapore’s children.” In 1994, the Mistri Wing building was refurbished to house the newly established Singapore Heart Centre, which was redesignated as National Heart Centre Singapore in 1998. On the site of the former Mistri Wing was built the centre’s new 12-storey complex in 2014.

In the interim period between the relocation of paediatric departments from the Mistri Wing in the mid-1980s to its refurbishment in 1994, the empty building was briefly utilised as a filming location of a Singapore-Hong Kong co-production - The Last Blood (今天十二小时, 1990). Running counter to the spirit of warmth and kindness in the former children’s wards, shlockmeister Wong Jing, the movie’s director, turned the revered place into a target of violent offence perpetrated by fictional Japanese Red Army terrorists out to assassinate an injured religious leader named ‘Daka Lama’ (a thinly veiled reference to the Dalai Lama). Notwithstanding the crass banter, blatant military violence and overblown pyrotechnics, this action flick starring Andy Lau and Alan Tam does offer a glimpse of the now-demolished Mistri Wing building - its lightly patterned façade and bright airy hospital rooms, with remnant medical equipment and accessories (nurses’ rosters, incubators, oxygen tanks) making cameos in the movie’s fiery finale shoot-out.


8. Former Kandang Kerbau Hospital
Address: 1 Hampshire Road (now headquarters of Land Transport Authority, opposite the current KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital)

Opened in 1858 as a general hospital and functioning as the Pauper Hospital for Women and Children in the early 20th century, the Kandang Kerbau Hospital (affectionately known as the “KK Hospital”) was converted into a free maternity hospital in 1924, with 30 beds and 12 children’s cots. Before the Second World War, the hospital played a key role in raising the standard of maternity care for the poor, with more choosing to deliver their babies in hospitals instead of at home. During the postwar baby boom, KK Hospital became very popular and expanded a new wing to meet an increasing demand for beds. It even earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records with 39,835 deliveries in 1966, a record it held for ten years. Over 100 babies were delivered daily at the KK Hospital in the same year, accounting for more than 85% of all births in Singapore.

It is therefore unsurprising when British documentary filmmakers working for the Rank Organisation made a nine-minute colour featurette on Singapore in 1964 as part of their Look at Life series, they chose to bookend their film – titled Singapore Is Youth – with shots of the KK Hospital and its maternity service ambulance and mentions of their achievements.

In the year prior to that, the same year Singapore merged with the newly formed Federation of Malaysia, the local Cathay-Keris film studio released Masok Angin Kelaur Asap (Enter Wind, Come Out Smoke, 1963), a Malay-language comedy that interweaved, fitting for its time, stories about neighbourly rivalries, family disputes, courtships and marriages. By its final scene, young couples in the film, freshly married with the wives pregnant, have chosen to perform maternity check-ups and give birth at “Rumah Sakit - Kandang Kerbau” (meaning ‘hospital’ and ‘buffalo shed’ in Malay respectively), causing a series of misunderstandings with their parents who had wanted their grandchildren to be delivered in their homes. Similar suggestions to deliver at “Kandang Kebau” were also expressed in Cathay-Keris’ rival film studio the Shaw Brothers’ Malay film Darah Muda (Young in Heart, 1963).

The KK Hospital eventually underwent restructuring in the 1990s, moved into new premises opposite its former site and was renamed the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The old hospital site was designated a historic site in 2003 and now serves as the headquarters of the Land Transport Authority.

Toh Hun Ping & Ben Slater

Researchers Toh Hun Ping (SG Film Hunter) and Ben Slater (author of Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore) collaborate to present the inaugural edition of Cinema Reclaimed programme.

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