Original film title in Malay: Kembali Saorang
English title: One Came Back
Directed by Ramon A. Estella
Written by Run Run Shaw (original story)
Starring: Saadiah, Ahmad Mahmud, Salleh Kamil, Mariani, Daeng Idris
Produced by Malay Film Productions (Shaw Bros.)
Kampong Tanjong Kling, Jurong
Kampong Ayer (village on water)
– possibly Kampong Koo Chye (Kuchai) off Lorong 3 Geylang, or Kampong Pulau Minyak off Lorong 1 Geylang
Coffeeshop (Kopitiam/Kedai Kopi)
Bridge over Changi Creek, Changi Point Jetty
EVER HUNGRY TO BREAK NEW GROUND and expand their film empire, the Shaw Brothers began to diversify its talent pool of film directors in the mid-1950s and brought on board to their Malay Film Productions studio several renown Filipino filmmakers like Lamberto Avellana, Rolf Bayer, Ramon Estella, Eddy Infante and Teodorico C. Santos. Together, between 1955 and 1965, they made no less than 16 films in Singapore, for Shaw Brothers and for other film production companies active in Singapore at the time – Cathay-Keris and Maria Menado Productions. The films directed by the Filipinos were a move away from the influence of Indian film culture on local Malay films. (Prior to this, many directors of early Malay films had been recruited from India and its film industry in Bombay especially, like B.S. Rajhans and L. Krishnan.) The Filipino directors would have been expected to attract new audiences with fresh approaches to filmmaking – some of them had been trained by Americans – and offer a different take on themes that mattered to the viewers of Malay films then, eg. life in the kampong, the impact of modernity, the Japanese Occupation, and the supernatural in local folklore.
Among the new Filipino recruits, Ramon Estella, who was also a painter and musician, stood out the most and was most influential to the local film industry. Whereas the other Filipino directors dabbled with a film or two in Singapore and left after their contracts, Ramon Estella stayed on to produce a total of 11 movies for various film studios here. The Shaw Brothers, who were the first to employ him, would have liked him because he made quality movies fast, once completing a film (Kembali Saorang) in a quick 19 days. This film was also his first contribution to the Malay Film Productions studio, made in 1957 and almost entirely on-location at Kampong Tanjong Kling, Pasir Panjang (according to Berita Harian news reports), and as far as we are able to identify, a kampong built over water (possibly the “attap colonies” of Kallang River – Kampong Koo Chye [Kuchai] and Kampong Pulau Minyak), Changi Point Jetty and Changi Prison.
Based on a story written by non other than the studio’s boss Run Run Shaw, Kembali Saorang is a tale set in a Malay fishing village and portrays the lives of fishermen who are mired by their pasts; they are facing the consequences of ill-fated romances, or of the missteps they inadvertently took in their daily struggle for survival in a harsh environment. A chain of mishaps after a murder-robbery leads Hussain (Salleh Kamil) to go on the run while his father-in-law-to-be Juanda is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. A fellow villager Yusof (Ahmad Mahmud) helps to take care of Juanda’s daughters in his absence and grows increasingly attached to them. The repentant fugitive yearns to go back to his family and former life in the kampong but realizes that the circumstances for his return have changed.
Tanjong Kling used to be an island in a coastal swampy area near the mouth of the Jurong River. It was likely named after the keramat (shrine) that was located on the end of the headland (tanjong) overlooking Selat Sembilan (Sembilan Straits). It was called Keramat Tanjong Keling, a small grave said to contain the body of a shipmaster of an Indian trading vessel who passed away as his boat was passing through the Straits about 170 years ago. (Kling or Keling refers to ‘Kalinga’, an early Indian kingdom that survived until the mid-19th century; the word ‘Kling’ came to be considered offensive for the Indians in more recent times. There was even a call to rename the kampong in the 1950s because of this.)
The former fishing kampong situated at Tanjong Kling had a population of about 500 people during the 1930s; it dwindled to about 300 by the 1950s. During the war, the British razed the kampong to the ground so as to build defenses against a Japanese invasion; the villagers were forced to relocate to an opposite island. The Japanese later allowed them to return but moved them to Tuas after two months. When the British returned, they re-established their village back at Tanjong Kling. However, by the 1960s, the tragic residents of Kampong Tanjong Kling were made to move again and quit the village so that the incumbent government could expand the Jurong industrial zone. (They would have been resettled in Kampong Java Teban – today’s Teban Gardens.)
Access to the village used to be by sea or a minor path from the main Jurong road. It has since been reclaimed and redeveloped (together with Pulau Samulun) into the Jurong shipyard and is located just opposite today’s offshore industrial Jurong Island. The future may see housing estates sprouting in the area once more as the shipyard progressively move over to Tuas South (Tuas View Extension) in the years to come.
Between the 1940s and ‘60s, the Kallang River and Basin north of Kallang Road Geylang Road used to be one large expanse of river tributaries and intertidal mudflats interspersed with islets, on which were built sawmills, rubber factories and sago processing plants. It was also home to a few squatter colonies of attap houses-on-stilts interconnected to one another by wooden plank-ways, likened to a “kampong ayer” (or village on water). Two such “attap colonies” headlined the newspapers of the time when they were hit by fire disasters. On 5 April 1958, Kampong Koo Chye (Kuchai) (‘Chives Village’), a five-acre squatter village on backwaters off Lorong 3 Geylang, succumbed to a huge fire which destroyed more than 300 houses, killed at least two and made 2,050 people homeless. Some fire victims were resettled in the new Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats at Kallang and Queenstown estates. Others returned later to the newly-built low-cost double-storey houses in Lorong Tiga Estate, built by the Housing & Development Board (HDB) on the former site of the fire, in 1960.
In November 1964, calamity struck again in Kallang Basin, at the Kampong Pulau Minyak (‘Oil Island Village’), an attap colony on marshy swamps off Lorong 1 Geylang, then known for its gangster-related activities. A massive fire wiped out the village of about 200 stilt houses in two hours, rendering 1,615 people homeless and claimed one victim. Former residents were then resettled in HDB flats at Macpherson, Tanjong Rhu and Queenstown. From the ruins of Kampong Pulau Minyak, land was reclaimed by HDB to build a new housing precinct (Geylang West), with a new road (Upper Boon Keng Road) passing over the former site of the village. In fact, large areas of the Kallang River and Basin would undergo a massive land reclamation project in the 1960s, to clear the marshy swamps and replace them with new industrial estates and multi-storey housing flats for workers at the new factories. It turned out to be a comprehensive makeover. Except for parts of the Kallang river coastline that resemble the old, almost nothing remains from the (pre-independence) past. The names of the villages, Pulau Minyak and Kampong Koo Chye (Kuchai) likewise went into history.
1. ‘Mogok kerana mahu chepat jadi kaya’. Berita Harian. 12 July 1957, p. 6.
2. ‘Kampong2nelayan Melayu dalam film Shaw’. Berita Harian. 26 July 1957, p. 6.
3. ‘’Kembali Sa-orang’ sudah siap’. Berita Harian. 18 October 1957, p. 7.
4. ‘Peristiwa di-kampong nelayan dalam film’. Berita Harian. 1 November 1957, p. 7.
5. ‘This village seeks aid to rebuild its homes – pay our war claims.’ The Straits Times. 13 October 1950, p. 7.
6. ‘He wants island re-named.’ The Straits Times. 30 October 1953, p. 8.
7. ‘’Fuss’ over name doesn’t bother the 300 at a village’. The Singapore Free Press. 31 October 1953, p. 3.
8. ‘Govt aid for 300 families who have to quit.’ The Straits Times. 2 July 1964, p. 11.
9. Jurong. Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board, 2004.
10. Jurong reclamation. Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board, 2010.
11. ‘Fire! Six trapped, 10,000 homeless as flames wipe out a village’. The Straits Times. 6 April 1958, p. 1.
12. ‘Now full speed ahead in house building.’ The Straits Times. 20 July 1959, p. 1.
13. ‘$1-mil housing project: Fire victims will be given chance to buy at low cost’. The Singapore Free Press. 21 October 1959, p .7.
14. ‘Two years ago 2,050 lost their homes in big blaze: Today…’. The Singapore Free Press. 30 December 1960, p. 7.
15. ‘Attap colony in Kallang Basin totally wiped out’. The Straits Times. 5 November 1964, p. 1.
16. ‘Govt. tells of big plans for P. Minyak’. The Straits Times. 7 November 1964, p. 4.
© 1957 Malay Film Productions
© 2003 Music Valley
Digital Map Source:
1. Great Britain. Ordnance Survey, Singapore Island, National Library of Australia, MAP G8040 1941. [http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn1900708]
2. Great Britain. Royal Air Force, Singapore photomap, National Library of Australia, MAP G8041.A4 s6 1950. [http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn502375]
© 2012, 2013, 2014 Toh Hun Ping