Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore

By Jason Wood


A review of Ben Slater's account of the filming of Saint Jack

Kinda Hot tells, for the first time, the extraordinary story behind the making of Saint Jack (1979), the only American film to ever be entirely shot on location in Singapore. An adaptation of Paul Theroux's celebrated novel about pimps and prostitutes in the Lion City, it was shot in secret under the working title Jack of Hearts (and subsequently banned by the authorities, just as Theroux became persona non grata after the publication of the novel), with a local amateur cast and crew working alongside brilliant filmmaking talents from Europe – including ace Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller – and the US. Bank-rolled by B-movie legend Roger Corman and executive produced by Playboy's Hugh Hefner, the director was Peter Bogdanovich, one-time Hollywood golden-boy whose career, much to the delight of those scorched by his arrogance (he now claims to have ‘mellowed with age’), was on a downward spiral. Saint Jack was his chance to get back on top. The star was Ben Gazzara, the powerful method actor famed for his work with Cassavetes, who on a fraction of his normal fee would immerse himself into the world of brothels in the name of 'research'. As Gazzara comments, ‘I believe every actor should risk his life once’.

In what is an auspicious debut work Ben Slater, a lecturer and curator resident in Singapore since 2002, has tracked down everyone from chief crew members and lead actors, to the humblest extras in order to uncover the hilarious, fascinating and poignant tale of what happened when Hollywood came to Singapore for five months in 1978. Described by Theroux as ‘ a revelation’, Slater’s doggedness and commitment to the cause of bringing the tale of the remarkable making of this relatively little known film to light is mightily impressive. Equally, his understanding and insights into the local culture and the conflicting factors and egos that informed a production that materialised originally as a project for Bogdanovich’s friend and mentor Orson Welles to direct. Frequently laugh out funny, Kinda Hot ranks alongside Eleanor Coppola’s Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now and Picture by Lillian Ross in terms of its capturing the task of making a film in extraordinary circumstances. Exalted company, but Slater deserves it. Despite the fact that its reputation is on the up with both Bogdanovich and Gazzara having recently introduced screenings at the AFI, it’s almost impossible to actually see Saint Jack. Corman reveals that the worldwide rights are owned by Warner Bros, through Orion, but they have chosen to refuse to release it from their vaults. Bogdanovich cracks that ‘It’s almost as crazy to make a book about it as it was to make the movie’, but buy this book and read it even if you haven’t seen the movie. It’ll have you saluting Slater’s attraction to wild endeavors and scouring the Internet for copies.

Ben Slater's Kinda Hot, The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore is published by Marshall Cavendish and is available to buy from Amazon

Also read Ben Slater's "Singapore Sings" article on Saint Jack from Volume 3 Issue 3