Ong Keng Sen on the R18 rating of Five Easy Pieces

Ng Yi-Sheng

August 20, 2016

I hadn't been letting myself get into a kerfuffle over this issue—after all, I'm running a queer cultural festival now, and I don't expect anything to get passed as less than R18 in that context. 

But having watched Five Easy Pieces, I can't help but feel like the rating is an injustice. This is specifically a work about childhood, mostly drawn from the mouths of children, critiquing adult relations. It would've actually been more logical to ban anyone over the age of 18 to attend the show!

Keng Sen's initial disapproval has been registered by The Straits Times, and he had a lot more to say recently on Facebook:

OKS: The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) must become more accountable for its actions and not hide behind a committee or in this case a consultative panel. It is un-transparent and irresponsible to delegate the decision to the consultative panel who is after all only consultative.

Singapore works through committees as many of us know but it should also be the practice that the committees are informed by experts and specialists who are researching the specific contexts of the issue.

The consultative panel is not paid to be professional experts, they are often volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds with limited time to research the contexts. MDA has to be the responsible expert to provide the contexts or else it should not have the important role of controlling information flow in our country.

This is not the right system to develop Singapore's future.


If MDA had looked carefully at the full script and full video submitted on time, they would have perceived the need for young people to be allowed into the theatre for an issue which concerns them. There is nothing explicit in the full video of the performance of Five Easy Pieces, unless simply talking about paedophilia amongst 7 young people is already explicit. This is a wasted opportunity for informed engagement with young people of the dangers which exist all around them, performed by their peers.

MDA is a manifestation of the lack of creative thinking which we are all decrying in Singapore's educational system today. What could have been more appropriate is to simply put an advisory so that parents and young people are aware of the complexity in the work. Let them decide for themselves whether they come to the theatre.

“…. Five Easy Pieces’ rating defeats purpose of staging a cautionary story about paedophilia with child actors.”
Find further insights in this article by Akshita Nanda for Straits Times LIFE!

Here's a couple of other testimonials from friends that I noticed on his wall. The first one prefers to remain anonymous for now:

"I'm not sure if there are any tickets left for FIVE EASY PIECES, by IIPM at SIFA, but I highly recommend it, if you can get your hands on some.
I'm quite sure it will go down as one of the most quietly but firmly important pieces of theatre I have seen, as a theatre-maker, a theatre teacher and a parent.
The piece has so much to give.
I am deeply thankful to have seen it. I may share a lot more about it later.
But I cannot end this post without highlighting what absolute ignorance and mockery it is that this show (performed by children and young teens) was slapped at the final moment with an R18, disallowing many youths (including my own students) from seeing this important work.
It is unfathomable and quite shameful. Deeply shameful. Unnecessary. Deaf. Dumb. Blind. Irrational.Stubborn. 
I cannot think for a moment why one would consider it worthy of an R18 (or even an advisory), nor why you would decide to do so until the very last minute. 
I do not understand the operating of a mind that thinks like that. A fearful ignorant mind that aims to actively breed other fearful and ignorant minds.
It's a show that could easily be appropriate, relevant and impactful for even the youngest teen or a mature child.
Thanks SIFA for bringing in this work.
Thanks Keng Sen Ong, Tay Tong and your team.

Actress Jean Ng says:

"Woke up still thinking about the ridiculous, shameful, painful R18 rating on Five Easy Pieces. Why? What did members of MDA's consultative panel say? How much time were they given to evaluate? Did they watch the full video and read the full script? How many panelists were involved? Three? Thirty? One hundred? Did all of them agree on the same rating? If they didn't then what was the process of negotiation like? Was there any negotiation? And MDA itself? What was its role? What did it do? What are its own reasons for delivering the final "verdict"?

All of this must be shared with artists and the public. We cannot even begin to have any bit of mutual empathy and understanding without transparency, then you will just get imagined assumptions and blind rage on both sides, with artists saying fuck you MDA and some others saying fuck you stupid artists. Then we are all fucked."

Arts critic Clara Chow says:

"This is not theatre as mere entertainment and immersion, but a kind of induction and inoculation of the psyche. In view of that, it seems a shame that the R-18 rating for the play in Singapore meant that many teens who might have benefitted from this theatrical encounter missed it. And parents who might have wanted to make for themselves the decision of whether to experience Five Easy Pieces with their offspring and to guide them through it were unable to do so.

Would I bring my own children to see it? The answer, because of my children’s unique personalities, has to be, regretfully, no. My ten-year-old has a phobia of death, and is very likely to be upset by the subject of child murder. And it would all go over my happy-go-lucky six-year-old’s head. Still, I imagine that there will be families with kids mature enough to attend, and who will have thoughtful post-show discussions together. But the Singaporean censors’ reaction to the show is itself relevant to what Rau and his collaborators lay bare: childhood is a social construct that depends on cultural context. How do we and/or the state perceive and value children? I see them as little adults and are loathe to sugar-coat anything for them. Another person, however, might feel that innocence is precious and must be safe-guarded at all cost, for as long as possible."

  • 2016