Friday, August 12, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Labu dan Labi

I've never caught a P Ramlee film, and what better opportunity than to do so with one of his best comedies Labu dan Labi (Labu and Labi). If you had to ask the question "P Ramlee who?" I urge you to Google him, or to click on his biography on He's one of the early pioneer entertainers in Malaya, with a flair for acting, directing and writing.

Labu dan Labi tells the tale of the cook (Labu) and the driver (Labi, played by Ramlee himself) of a stingy poker Haji Bakhil (and translated as such too). Each harbours affections for Bakhil's daughter Manisah, but the main obstacle is of course Bakhil himself, who'll only approve his daughter marrying a rich man.

While the beginning was at risk of sliding into boredom, the movie picks up pace when the two servants start to day-dream (and often cross into each other's dream) about the good life, one as a magistrate, the other a doctor. And some dreams were fantasy and zany, like the Cowboy and the Tarzan scenes. At this point, it sort of reminded me of the various set pieces in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the way the narrative progressed.

There's a hilarious touch on the supernatural as well, like the engaging of bomohs, and watch out though, there's gonna be a rug pulled under your feet if you're not alert :-)

The introduction is shot in an earnest way, with each character narrating their backgrounds straight at the camera, engaging the audience, as if it was a play. There are moments in the film too, where this technique is being used.

Speaking of plays, besides the introduction where actual scenic shots of old Singapore were captured (like Middle Road, Capitol Theatre, Victoria Memorial Hall), film sets were obviously built for Bakhil's house, complete with fake backdrop, and the interiors for the nightclub scene. Transitions were tacky, using the clock at the Victoria Memorial Hall tower to tell the time in which the next scene takes place. Compared to movies of today, you can tell how much this film has aged from the sets built and techniques used. However, these do not take away the enjoyment of the film.

So for those new to P Ramlee's works, perhaps Labu dan Labi will be a good introduction to his films, with other films like Ibu Mertuaku (My Mother-in-Law) and Penarek Becha (Trishaw Puller) also being featured in Screen Singapore.

Those interested in catching Labu dan Labi, there's one more screening at The Arts House on 23 Aug 05 Tue 2130hrs.

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PostScript: The screening at The Arts Hous today was particularly bad, not sure if it's due to the DVD disc used, as there were some obvious digital jerks and blocky skips during the movie.

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