A cabaret covered with risqué posters advertising the entertainment within; an opium den attached to a seedy bar; bustling provision shops and hawker carts on the side of the road; a big Chinese opera house that dwarfs the other houses on the block. It’s the roughand- tumble streets of post-war Singapore, and it’s also the back lot of Infinite Studios in Batam, Indonesia, where the HBO Asia Original Serangoon Road was produced.
The procedural drama follows the adventures of a former Australian solider (Don Hany), as he reluctantly takes over the private detective agency of his next door neighbour (Joan Chen) after her husband goes missing. “It’s a detective series that at its heart is set in the reality of mid- 1960s Singapore,” says series producer and co-creator Paul Barron. “Every single story in the series was grounded in some fact, some reality of Singapore at the time.” Unfortunately, that kind of authenticity would have been a production design and logistical nightmare in the modern city-state.
The story takes the characters through the colourful street life of Bugis Street, Chinatown and Serangoon Road. Although some scenes were shot at iconic landmarks in Singapore such as Raffles Hotel, production largely took place at Infinite Studios in Batam, on a back lot set created by Infinite Studios and added to by production designer Herbert Pinter and art director David Ingram.
“Trying to recreate 1960s Singapore in Singapore is difficult, so we recreated a lot of colonial Singapore here in Batam,” Barron explains. This included a three-story façade of a Chinese opera house, provision shops filled with eraappropriate goods, kopitiams (coffee shops), a cabaret with uncensored posters, barbershops and various other shop houses authentic to the period in a grid of streets complicated enough for a long, continuous shot. The streets were also littered with trishaws, hawker stands, and the occasional abandoned bicycle. Graffiti, rare in presentday Singapore, was painstakingly hand-painted randomly.
The detective agency central to the story and other indoor sets used throughout the series was built in one of the sound stages at Infinite Studios Batam. Most of the indoor sets were built to scale, in rooms made to appear as dark and dank as they would have been in the 1960s. The look of the detective agency harks back to film noir; a crowded nightclub is constructed with low ceilings and attached to an opium den, illegal but still rampant during that era.