How Lee Kuan Yew Cost Singapore A Flourishing Film Industry

How Lee Kuan Yew’s crusade to shut down independent trade unions during the 1960s cost Singapore a flourishing film industry.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Singapore was a cultural and cinema centre of Asia, rivaling Hong Kong.

Between 1950 and 1967, over 250 films were produced in Singapore, primarily by two film companies – Shaw’s Malay Film Productions at Jalan Ampas and Cathay Keris at East Coast. A majority of the blockbusters churned out by Shaw’s Malay Films at that time featured P. Ramlee, Malay cinema’s most celebrated auteur, actor and music composer.

But in 1964, “when Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew heard about the strikes, he didn’t like the Malay involvement in Unions. He told the Shaw Brothers, ‘You’d better close down, so Shaw Brothers advised P. Ramlee to move to Merdeka Studio. ”
( from documentary ‘P. Ramlee’, produced by the History Channel )

That same year, P. Ramlee moved to Kuala Lumpur. In 1968, Shaw Studio closed down, and Singapore’s film industry went into comatose for 3 decades before’s a mini-revival began in the 1990s and continues today.
P. Ramlee passed away in KL in 1973.

Watch the full documentary of “P. Ramlee” by the History Channel.


In 2005, while justifying the construction of casinos, Lee Kuan Yew expressed regret in having neglected popular culture.

“I went for high culture, and forgot pop culture. That is where the money is.” – MM Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times. Apr 17, 2005



Source: Martyn See

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