“Let’s put ‘unity’ back into ‘community'” is the key catchphrase touted in the fictional commercial promoting Tiong Bahru Social Club, which is advertised as “a data-driven project to create the happiest neighborhood in the world.” The slogan sounds both encouraging and menacing, as if reality (or at least some part of it) had to be forcefully rectified, restored to its past ideal state. This seemingly utopian neighborhood might be just the place for Ah Bee, a 30-year-old office worker who is swamped by mountains of paperwork and pointless KPI metrics. However, his decision to retire from the rat race and join the “modern kampung day experience” is only the beginning of a strange journey.
“团结一心，重振社区！”是中峇（bā）鲁社交俱乐部（Tiong Bahru Social Club）的宣传标语。他们是一帮号称“以大数据驱动的项目，旨在打造世界上最幸福的社区”。口号听起来倒是鼓舞人心，但同时带着某股威慑力。仿佛必须要纠正现实（或至少一部分现实），才能恢复到过去的理想状态。这个乌托邦式的社区是 Ah Bee 的梦想之地，30 岁上班族的他，一直被成堆的文书工作和毫无意义的绩效指标压得透不过气。当他决定离开忙碌的城市生活，加入“现代甘榜体验”活动（甘榜 kampung，指一种传统的集体村庄），一段奇异的旅程就此展开。
Tiong Bahru Social Club, co-written with Antti Toivonen, is Tan Bee Thiam’s full-length directorial debut that premiered at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival. In it, the seasoned filmmaker presents a world infused with a timeless, retro-futuristic aesthetic: outdated bureaucratic formalities and old-school hardware co-exist with seamless high-tech surveillance technology and omnipresent software. Tiong Bahru Social Club reflects the paradoxical nature of present-day nostalgia that traps people somewhere in between the past and the future.
这部名为《中峇鲁社交俱乐部》的电影，由 Antti Toivonen 等作家共同改编，由 Tan Bee Thiam 执导全片，于 2020 年首次亮相在韩国釜山电影节。整部电影中出现的视觉语言可谓五花八门，各种复古和时空纵横的美学概念尽现眼前：老派的官僚主义习俗与前卫的软硬件兼容起来、破旧不堪的教学陈设却在高科技监控设备共处一室……电影《中峇鲁社交俱乐部》打算用这些元素为我们讲述现代与过去自相矛盾的一面，只不过这一面我们大多人都习以为常。
In Tan’s film, Tiong Bahru—a real-life Singapore neighborhood—is reimagined as an artificial paradise, a distorted miniature of the city itself with some of its defining characteristics: the neon colors seem reminiscent of The Gardens by the Bay in the evening time, while the white-and-cream facades are a shared feature of almost all public housing estates across Singapore. Tiong Bahru is the perfect location to tell the story of struggles with modernity, not only because of the Art Deco buildings but also due to the neighborhood’s history. Built in the 1920s via an initiative from the British colonial government, Tiong Bahru is the oldest public housing estate in Singapore. It became one of the models for the future projects undertaken by the Housing Development Board (HDB) after Singapore’s independence. From a contemporary perspective, the neighborhood seems like a modernist dreamland and Tan explores the narrative potential of the location to the fullest, far away from the simplistic label of Tiong Bahru as an epicenter of gentrification.
影片发生于一个真实存在的新加坡社区，其中穿插了各种元素让观众觉得这里恍如隔世。一些包含地标性建筑的镜头，让这个社区已然成为整个新加坡的缩影：霓虹灯色与傍晚的滨海湾花园达成默契，奶油色的外墙则是新加坡组屋的典型特点。想要撰写 “新加坡现代生活启示录”，中峇鲁想必是理想之地，这里是新加坡小资派的代名词。不仅充满了上世代艺术风格建筑，社区的过往也充满传奇性。中峇鲁是在英国殖民政府的倡议下于 1920 年代建造的，是新加坡最古老的组屋项目。在新加坡独立后，这个社区也成为当地建屋发展局的开发模型之一。从当代角度看来，这个社区似乎是现代主义的理想国度。Tan 没有局限于中峇鲁的中产阶级标签，而是充分发掘了这个社区的叙事潜力。
Ah Bee joins Tiong Bahru Social Club as a Happiness Agent and is assigned to accompany Ms. Wee, an elderly resident of the neighborhood. Eccentric and confrontational, Ms. Wee is a challenge for Ah Bee, whose smile and easygoingness mask his confusion and emptiness inside. However, the elderly painter and cat lover is just the mentor Ah Bee needs. In Tiong Bahru Social Club Ah Bee experiences all the milestones of middle-class life—stable work, marriage, a comfortable and spacious house—all the things that often seem out of reach for Millenials. These items had been arranged for him by the command center that monitors the happiness level of all the agents in an attempt to reach 100%. In order to achieve the goal, Ah Bee was paired with another Happiness Agent, Geok, who hides her insecurity behind extreme perfectionism. The ubiquitousness of algorithms, maps organizing the residents’ lives in order to achieve high efficiency is the reflection of real-life Big Data and technological innovations that aim to bring happiness and prosperity to citizens. But as it turns out, dystopia and utopia might actually be two sides of the same coin—it only depends on the perspective.
Ah Bee 加入中峇鲁俱乐部，成为一名“幸福经纪人”（Happiness Agent），负责照顾社区里的老太太 Ms. Wee。Ms. Wee 性格古怪又爱吵架，让 Ah Bee 感到很棘手，他一直都是用笑容和友善来掩饰内心的困惑和空虚。但年迈的画家和爱猫人士 Ms. Wee 却正是 Ah Bee 所需的导师。在中峇鲁俱乐部，Ah Bee 体验了中产阶级的理想生活——稳定的工作、完满的婚姻、宽敞舒适的家，所有这些对于许多千禧一代来说都是遥不可及的。而所有这些都是由指挥中心为他安排的，该指挥中心监视着所有经纪人的幸福指标，直到达到 100％。为了达成指标，Ah Bee 被安排与另一位女性幸福经纪人 Geok 相恋 。Geok 常常用极端完美主义来掩饰缺乏安全感的内心。
The world presented in the film is seen through Ah Bee’s eyes. The extreme subjectivity is suggested by the scenes of Ah Bee taking off his glasses upon entering Tiong Bahru Social Club and putting them back on when leaving the community. Ah Bee’s happiness agent ring puts a technicolor lens on the cinematic world, while getting rid of it returns the film back to a palette of mellow beiges. These details suggest that Tiong Bahru Social Club might even be a creation of Ah Bee’s mind. The setting is also clearly divided into aboveground and underground, which hosts the community’s secret command center as well as the Complaint Center where Ah Bee finds suitable work listening to residents’ talking about their problems for the whole day. Underground corridors and rooms indicate the realm of the subconscious, but the psychoanalytic reading is not the only one.
影片所呈现的一切都是透过 Ah Bee 双眼观察到的。在进入中峇鲁俱乐部时，Ah Bee 摘掉了自己的眼镜，而在离开社区时又将眼镜重新戴上，两个动作来回切换着角色的主观视角。当 Ah Bee 戴上了幸福经纪人的戒指时，影片的世界立马变得更鲜艳亮丽起来；而脱下戒指后，影片又会恢复了柔和的米色调。这些细节仿佛在告诉我们，这个峇鲁俱乐部甚至很可能只是 Ah Bee 内心的幻想境地。
影片场景分为地上和地下。地上是秘密“指挥中心”和“投诉中心”，Ah Bee 在那里忙碌工作，倾听居民谈论家长里短；而地下的走廊和房间，则隐隐暗示了潜意识层面，错综复杂的地形预示着精神的不确定性。
The name Tiong Bahru means “new cemetery,” because of the neighborhood’s location near the old burial ground. The fact gives a dark twist to Tan’s film, bringing some black humor into this bright neighborhood. Maybe Tiong Bahru Social Club is another dimension or a sort of an afterlife? The film ends with the quote from Chinese philosopher Laozi: “Without leaving my house I know the whole universe,” so it seems that every answer is possible.
“中峇鲁”这个名字意为“新墓地”，因为这个社区位于一片旧墓地附近，而这无疑又让 Tan 的影片多了一层黑暗的色彩，更为这个看似幸福的社区增添了些许黑色幽默。中峇鲁俱乐部是属于另一个维度的世界，或是某种形式的来世？电影结尾引用了中国古代哲学家老子的名言：“足不出户便知天下事”，这样看来好像一切都说得通了。