In The Movies That Made Me, we interview creative individuals on how cinema has shaped and informed their body of work, exploring how film can descend its medium and influence other areas of art, as they ever so often intersect. This month we chat to Wong Kar-wai aficionado Natalie Ng – a Singapore based illustrator, graphic designer, and writer for Meld Magazine and Filmed In Ether. From illustrating intricate silhouette art of literary heroines, to dissecting costume design in Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, to handling marketing for the Asian Film Archive, Natalie is a triple-threat to watch out for!
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?
I’ve just started my role in Marketing & Communications for the Asian Film Archive. The Asian Film Archive works with film archives all over the world to help preserve Southeast Asian films, and encourage members of the public to support Asian cinema. The archive works with a lot of academics, directors, writers to research and critically examine Asian cinema in an academic way, but at the same time we also want to make Asian cinema accessible and get the public excited about their own cultural heritage as well. My role requires me to develop marketing strategy to promote the archive’s film preservation efforts and the screenings, talks and events that we organise. Copywriting, social media management, content strategy is all part of the role. On the side, I write for Filmed In Ether, a film website on Asian cinema.
Have any films directly influenced your career? If so, which ones and why?
Oh, all the time I think, film inspires me a lot, all the time. I have to come up with concepts all the time when I have to present visually and I do get quite a few of my ideas from film. Just the other week A Single Man inspired me in the use of saturation/desaturation in conveying mood. Working with video formats, I also get inspired by the razor-quick cuts of Edgar Wright’s. But when it comes to influencing my career, I’d have to say Asian cinema, especially films like Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love (of course), Tsui Hark’s Green Snake, and Stanley Kwan’s Rouge. I’m Singaporean and ethnically Chinese but I didn’t have that much exposure to Asian cinema until my teens when I got into Wong Kar Wai and Park Chan Wook who are the gateway directors for most people when it comes to Asian cinema. Then I discovered Mizoguchi and Ozu with films like A Geisha and Early Spring that showed women in such complex ways that I still rarely see. I started writing for Filmed in Ether during my uni years and ended up never really wanting to write for anyone else because I felt that the discourse on Western cinema is aplenty, and I wanted to write and speak about Asian films that rarely sparks that kind of fervent discussion. And of course, being Asian, I feel a sense of duty to preserve and shout about my cultural heritage, so I think this eventually led to my role at the Asian Film Archive.
How do you engage with cinema on a day-to-day basis?
Due to my work at the Asian Film Archive, I either directly or indirectly engage with cinema on a daily basis, but that may not be watching or writing about it, and it would be more about figuring out how to attract people to the programming slate and engage in the discussions, talks and events that we organize. My own cinema watching habits will usually be saved for the weekends. Because of the nature of Filmed in Ether, quite a chunk of the films I end up watching in cinemas are Asian and I want to keep that up. I don’t really write about Western cinema because I love it a lot, but I want to write and talk about Asian cinema because film writing is heavily skewed towards Western cinema. If a story is not time sensitive, I usually take a while to really work on it so I can get it right the best I can. My piece for Filmed in Ether, “Limits and Love: How Shoplifters and It Comes confront Parenthood” took me weeks to write, and I also did research on certain things such as single parenthood in Japan to make sure I knew what I was writing about it. Cinema helps me sift through my thoughts and feelings about certain issues, for example with this piece, it was parenthood, as I head towards an age where my peers are all starting families and having children. My latest piece which celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Kiki’s Delivery Service also took weeks to write as I talked to young women all over the world on how the film has influenced, inspired and comforted them, as a testament to the film’s longevity and classic nature. It also allowed me to revisit a film I loved a lot from new eyes as a working adult.
Have you ever seen yourself represented in film? Are there any characters in particular, fictional or real, who you identify with?
I definitely felt very close to the character of Lady Bird in Greta Gerwig’s film. I’ve had the exact same conversations and situations with my mother that I saw in that film. That scene where she tells her mother to write her a cheque for all the money they have spent raising her, I definitely remembering saying those same shitty things to my mother at one point when I was a teenager. I saw that film with my mother. I had to see it alone the first time though, and I was sobbing. But the fun parts, the bittersweet parts, the friendship parts, I could relate to as well, like Lady Bird, I too was a shitty friend sometimes and ditched people to hang out with “cooler” people. Thankfully I did that when I was young (literally a pre-teen) before realizing my mistake going into teenhood and treasuring the friendships I had. Kamikaze Girls is also another film I loved and related to. It was of course, totally fantastical and over the top, but the core of the lead character Momoko, I related to a lot. She was from a small town she wanted to get out of, she loved cute, adorable, pretty things and yet was socially and emotionally disconnected from the world and people, so her arc of finding friends she would stick her neck out for, that she loved, that she started to feel more and care more about the people and the world around her as a result of connecting with another human being even though that person was so drastically different from her.
If you had the opportunity to make a film about your own career and personal life experience, what would this film look like, and what story would you want to tell?
Haha, I think there’s a reason I love coming of age films about girls so much because it’s an experience I can relate to the most and it’s the first major period of life as a human being. But also, I would like to see a diverse range of stories about the coming of age stories about girls. So if I did make a film, it would definitely be a little semi-autobiographical or loosely inspired by my own stories growing up and as a teenager. I think my fanciful imagination, (slight) delusions of grandeur, tumultuous friendships, paint-splattered uniforms and my relationship with my mother would all come into play with this. So like the 2 films I mentioned before, Lady Bird and Kamikaze Girls, I could see it being a mix of that. It would be very colourful and vibrant for sure!