This is the third feature length film of internationally renowned local director Eric Khoo, and given the hype of this film's response in Cannes, I'm sure many in Singapore are eager to watch it, given that Eric Khoo's last movie, 12 Storeys, was a long 8 years ago.
Following the previous film's narrative structure, Be With Me features 3 stories (In my humble opinion, I'd like to consider it as 4 actually) carefully strung together, each with a strong common theme of loneliness, love, despair and longing. Given that the 3 stories each touch on different kinds and stages of love, I'm certain the audience can identify with it at certain points in the film's time.
Meant To Be
An old shopkeeper longs for his loved one to continue to be with him. He opens the movie by closing his shop, drawing us instead into his private life, where we see him alone, aloof, and in pain to see his loved one suffering in sickness. Try as he might, there is nothing he can or will do, or is it?
When you're with someone you love for so long, what does it mean to lose him or her? Will you also lose the will to continue leading a meaningful life? Or will it away in a mundane fashion?
Tying in with Theresa Chan's autobiographical tale, this segment is touted by most as the strongest and most touching.
A timid security guard Fatty Koh is a secret admirer of a high flying executive, and longs for her to be with him, somehow. An infatuation, a crush, how do you bring yourself to declare your feelings for someone, when you're shy, and knowingly aware of the huge social divide?
With a letter. Where you are given time and composure to write your thoughts down, hoping to bring the right message across, and harbouring the hopes of acceptance.
We see Fatty fighting his inner shy demons as he carefully pens a letter of admiration for his dream lover. Fate seems to be against him, as he cannot seem to concentrate with the ruckus from the neighbours, and from his own family where he's looked down upon. At times it's like a look back into the life and times of the timid fat lady in 12 Storeys, who incidentally, appears (as a different cameo character of course) in this segment briefly.
He steals glances at his love when at work, and hangs around the perimeter of her home after work, worshipping her from afar. He's like a gentle giant, never meaning any harm, but probably coming across as a desperate stalker.
Love conquers all some say, but will it?
So In Love
Ezann Lee plays Jackie (note the androgynous name), a lesbian who longs for her new lover, Sam (played by Samantha Tan, note the androgynous name too), to be with her.
Most teenage/young adults in the audience will definitely be pretty familiar with this stage of puppy and experimental young love, which was given a modern retelling showcasing relationships in the era of pervasive computing devices - Internet Messaging and Short Message Service. And of course having two pretty young leads in non-conventional roles do help too,
They first meet online, and we follow their new shared lives as they finally meet in person, doing things couples do like watching movies, go clubbing, hanging out, shopping, the works. Everything seems lovey-dovey, happy-go-lucky, doesn't it?
However, the motive of Sam getting involved with Jackie is examined, and the universal theme of unrequited love comes to the forefront. What happens when a lover is suddenly spurned by the other, when all along you thought that everything was going wonderfully well, and you see a future with the other half? You'll be terribly hurt, but what will you do, especially when lied to? Was everything just one big illusion?
For folks with weak hearts, being deceived is like having a tonne of bricks collapsing onto you. Like a cautionary tale of being responsible with feelings and not toying with those of another, it is a reminder that as fast as these perceived love begin, it is never as easy to erase it from one's life like deleting an incoming SMS message.
The narrative introduces us to the various characters from the 3 segments, intertwining their lives with one another in brief moments. The style used in the movie is different, where we begin with the introductions of the segments until forlorn conflicts in each sets in, hanging us in the balance where we ponder and reflect the futility of each character's actions thus far.
Until we're introduced, in more detail, to Theresa Chan's inspirational life. One of difficulties and immense challenges, but one who exudes courage to face up and tackle life by the bull's horns. Losing both sight and hearing, Theresa is a double handicap. To many, we take our senses from granted, until we lament the loss of one. But what about two, without warning? Will we be able to find the same courage within us to smile and carry on living?
Theresa's life story is told, not by narration, but by subtitling. We read in silence her struggles and life filled with chance encounters which made her stronger. As mentioned, her life story is read by the old shopkeeper, integrating her tale into Meant To Be, taking centerstage in the middle of the film, and leading all the segments of the movie into its closure.
This is mainly a silent film, not that it doesn't have any dialogue, but rather the characters have more silent time than speaking lines. Kudos to the cast for having to really express their thoughts through body language and facial expressions - this film really does plenty of close ups.
Food plays a major role in this film. Eating alone signifies clearly the loneliness each character faces (especially in Finding Love), and again, coffee shops feature in an Eric Khoo movie. Quintessential to life in Singapore perhaps, like HDB flats and the spewing of Hokkien vulgarities (toned down a lot here). Food is primary in Meant To Be, where it serves as an introduction, and icebreaker, where the development and effort in cooking and preparing dishes parallel the chef's current mindset and attitude change.
** SPOILER BEGINS - Only for those who've seen the movie **
I've come to notice though, whether is it a style of Khoo to have "spirits" in his films. Though in Mee Pok Man, Joe Ng was talking to a deceased Bunny, in 12 Storeys we had tales seen from the perspective of a man who committed suicide, and screen time from the nagging old lady. In Be With Me's Meant To Be, we see the shopkeeper's wife being around the shopkeeper during his meals, until the final farewell when she knew he had finally rediscovered a purpose to live life again. Wonder if this "morbidity" will evolve into a signature style?
** SPOILER ENDS **
I highly recommend this brilliant yet unconventional film. It has something for everyone, be it touching on your personal experiences in love and life, or simply reminding you of the good things you have in life, or inspiring you to do a lot more. Life's full of ups and downs, but it is the perspective in which you view it from, which matters. The choice is yours.