No One Wants To Dance was made by Amanda Lee Koe for the Asian Film Archive as a site-specific response to Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979; banned in Singapore for more than twenty years), and the forcible ban of transwomen from Bugis Street in 1980s Singapore, with police slogans such as "Tourism does not depend on transvestites".
All that is left of Bugis Street now exists in Peter Bogdanovich's movie.
But what does it mean for a Singaporean girl to hanker after a vision in some white man's New Wave Hollywood movie, in a production bankrolled by Playboy? Did the non-professional Singapore cast have agency in their roles, was there room beyond stereotypes? What does it mean to act and to voice and to show and to tell?
Shot mostly on an iPhone by Kirsten Tan, No One Wants To Dance replicates and implicates the white man's moviecam gaze by way of pseudo-authentic representation and "local color" even whilst it documents a voice from the underrepresented Singaporean trans community and the irrevocable loss of Bugis Street (and the continuous OCD tendency to clean-up still extant in Singapore).
Anita is a 60-year-old transwoman who was a Bugis Street old-timer in its heyday, and through long conversations with her before the making of the video, we were given to know that "Bugis Street was the most beautiful place in the world. It was the only place I felt at home. There will never, never, never be another Bugis Street."
This karaoke video was played for a month in a swanky VIP lounge opposite the site of the old Bugis Street - stomping ground of transwomen in '60s and '70s Singapore, where boisterous sailors, convivial conversation, hard drugs, chilli crab and bartered sex could all be found in one place. Once referred to as the Montmartre of Asia, Bugis Street is now a by-the-numbers pedestrian mall peddling Hello Kitty keychains / fast fashion / McDonalds.
Lyrics: Amanda Lee Koe Vocals: Amanda Lee Koe feat. Anita Music: Kiat & Cherry Archival images: Anita Director: Kirsten Tan Assistant: Si En Tan