Our next interviewee is no stranger to this platform. Nor is he a stranger to the muddled world of making his mark on Singapore’s film industry amidst LGBT censorship laws.
But in a world that bears harshly on him from both within and outside the queer community, he continues to stand fiercely by his passion projects. In spite of the financial and mental strain of his filmmaking pursuits, Jet has persevered through it all.
Here is a story of a Singaporean that you don’t hear very often.
Dear Straight People,
Meet Jet Ho, a filmmaker who is fast establishing himself as one of Singapore’s most provocative auteurs.
Previously featured on Dear Straight People after making his debut with Aqua Man, Jet recently produced the experimental film Boys Desire Spare Money (BDSM)—which is now available exclusively to stream on our Patreon.
After observing how LGBTQ+ content was rapidly expanding into the mainstream in other countries but remained criminally lacking in Singapore, Jet took it upon himself to feature the queer community prominently in his works.
But instead of producing fluffy feel-good dramas, Jet went in the opposite direction. In fact, taking a more subversive approach towards his craft has attracted a great deal of controversy.
But Jet wears this contentious reception like a badge of honour. Having seen how the local LGBTQ+ scene has evolved from his teenhood till today, he believes it is crucial to capture the authenticity of the queer experience in film, no matter how unflattering that may be.
Coming Out Was No Fairytale
Even though Jet tells exciting stories for a living, he considers his own journey to be quite boring.
Jet first knew he was gay when he developed a crush on his classmate in his teens. But with homosexuality an even bigger taboo to openly discuss back then than it is now, it was natural for him to remain mum about it until his classmate eventually got married.
And in a time before dating apps, Jet was left with little means to reach out to the fellow gay community in Singapore.
“There was no such thing as coming out to your circle, back then. My life is quite realistic in that I only started to be more vocal about my sexuality later in life.”Jet Ho
As someone who grew up in a conservative climate, Jet has always thought of coming out as its own nightmare. So after transitioning from being a producer in Bangkok to a director in Singapore, he was able to realise this unique perspective through creating LGBT-centric works in the horror genre.
“When I wrote and directed BDSM, I made it quite scary and nightmarish. I shot it like a horror movie, so it’s not an easy watch.
If you notice, I mimicked the concept of the twins from ‘The Shining’ in the BDSM poster. I find horror films to be very fascinating, so I tend to incorporate horror elements into my works.”Jet Ho
From afar, Jet had always regarded directing as a glamorous profession. But once it was time for him to step into the role, he started to think differently.
“You have to be able to withstand a lot of pressure from everybody. You also need to write and imagine.”Jet Ho
To keep his creativity flowing, Jet continually searches for inspiration in his everyday life. He’s a self-professed daydreamer, who often talks aloud to himself on trains or planes, imagining himself in film. Through documenting and listening to these voices within himself, Jet eventually found real-life stories worth telling.
For instance, the idea for BDSM first came about when Jet was talking to a friend who received an anonymous message asking whether he could trade sex for money.
“I found it fascinating that such a messed-up story could happen in Singapore.”Jet Ho
Quarantined alone in a hotel room, Jet started writing the script for BDSM: set in the very environment he was stuck in. He and his team then began doing research into Singapore’s history of sexual crimes and hotels where they took place, as well as looking up friends who’d participated in the BDSM community.
This was a similar approach he took for Aqua Man, where Jet visited a church himself and looked for a pastor after which he could model the main antagonist.
“I try to imagine, What would this character be doing? What kind of room would he have? Then I think about whether this fits into the story.
It’s quite unorthodox, but that’s the length I go to as a filmmaker to make sure the essence of the story is actually real.”Jet Ho
Making LGBT Films In Singapore
Directing a film is a paramount challenge in itself. But as an independent filmmaker, Jet has had to navigate his own unique set of hurdles. For a start, people who supported him were few and far between.
“When I was producing Aqua Man, people were saying to me: Why are you wasting your time and money? In the end, you might not even get to premiere it with so many issues of sensitivity in Singapore.”Jet Ho
Jet faced similar challenges for BDSM. During the production of BDSM, Jet’s former producer left because he felt such a sensitive film would surely cause an uproar. But that only gave Jet the motivation to succeed out of spite.
“When people don’t believe in you, that’s when it’s a real test of your strength and your beliefs. The disapproval of those around me only generated more empowerment for me to make it.
So no matter what, I wanted a way to get this film going.”Jet Ho
Filmmaking is an extremely expensive endeavour with little to no ROI. Even independently produced budget films will boast a 5-figure budget at the very least. With few supporters to be found, Jet’s decision to self-fund his projects is a true testament to his conviction.
Contrary to popular belief, his decision to shoot BDSM entirely on an iPhone wasn’t an economical decision. Filming with an iPhone actually turned out to be more expensive for Jet.
“We needed to get special lighting and other equipment to support a phone filmmaking setup. That made filming almost ten times harder.”Jet Ho
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic threw another wrench into his plans as Jet was forced to coordinate rehearsals over Zoom during circuit breaker. This made it even harder to fast-track production in time for the Singaporean Film Festival deadline.
Needless to say, it was incredibly rewarding for Jet to see the final result.
But even after production wrapped, the struggle didn’t end there. Many have criticised BDSM for being a negative portrayal of both queer and sexual communities. In response to public criticism, Jet wants to encourage his audience to look at the bigger picture.
“BDSM is so dark, but that darkness is reflective of the imperfect world we’re living in.”Jet Ho
Jet also wants to address the backlash he faced by presenting queer characters as flawed antagonists rather than heroic protagonists.
“People ask me why I featured the LGBT character as the antagonist of the film, and I always ask ‘Why not?’ What era are we living in now that we can’t portray them as the bad guy?”Jet Ho
Regardless, Jet welcomes such polarising reception.
“My goal is to get people to gain awareness about certain issues.
So if nobody starts talking about how blasphemous your work is, are you really a filmmaker?”Jet Ho
And having struggled to find a venue willing to screen his film, is further emblematic of Singapore’s general resistance towards such daring themes.
“Unfortunately, people’s attitudes have not really shifted even after 377A’s repeal.
But that doesn’t stop people like me from making queer content to normalise the queer community. Even though it takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”Jet Ho
Plans for The Future
Having weathered through a series of tribulations, Jet wants to continue producing LGBT-centric content so long as there’s an opportunity to do so.
“377A might have been repealed, but what’s next? I wish to gain more attention from our younger generation in terms of shaping their thinking and educating them long-term.
In the past 20 years, Golden Horse and Oscars have featured so many LGBT films. But Singapore still has so few. It’s like we’re going backwards, so all the more we should buck up and inspire more people to create queer-focused content.
By doing more, we can change the culture, and eventually people will start to open up.”Jet Ho
But going forward, Jet is looking into taking a break in producing strictly LGBTQ+ content as a filmmaker and wants to experiment more in the comedy genre. However, this does not signal the end of LGBT elements in his work altogether.
“I think as long as there is a need to, why not? Why not try and help and shape the world?”Jet Ho