The Asian Film Archive Collection has recently launched a new DVD compilation, the first being Singapore Shorts, and now, a collection of short films by prolific director Royston Tan.
This DVD compilation contains three sections - The Shorts, The Special Features and an "About" section, containing information about Royton, about the Asian Film Archive, the funraising effort of the DVD, as well as the credits. Here's a quick review of the shorts included in this compilation:
Shot in black and white, consisting of many quick edits, and non distinguishable sounds, perhaps one of the few scenes which you can make out something, is that yellow shirt hanging on a telephone pole. Very quirky short, done to the tune of local band Concave Scream's Benign. Oh, and the dolls used actually have names, in alphabetical order too.
There's something about a father-son relationship, the love both individuals have for each other which is never explicitly expressed, and is quite realistically portrayed from an Asian context. Beautiful cinematography, and an excellent soundtrack score using Chinese stringed instruments like the er-hu and gu-zhen, you feel for the father as he narrates his relationship with his son, and longs for a forging of closer ties before his time is up. Easily one of my favourite Royston shorts.
Hock Hiap Leong
This short is fast becoming one of my favourites, especially after repeated viewings. The myriad of colours and that Ge Lan Cha-Cham-Bo! song just blends perfectly, not to forget the nostalgic 50s-60s setting of the coffeeshop as well as costumes!
Taken from my earlier review
The title of Royston Tan's short film refers to a coffeeshop by that name, which has since closed its doors. Like an ode to the shop and its owners/stallholders, memories of the 60s heydays are brought back in a song-and-dance routine which includes the beehives and a-go-go moves.
The beginning looked similar to Moveable Feast, with its protagonist taking in the sights and sounds of the aged-old coffeeshop, and laughter abound when he breaks into a song, complete with high pitched girlie voice, kinda like a bollywood movie with numerous male and female dancers going through their paces in the cramped setting.
Enjoyable short clip, leaving you wanting more.
It's amazing how something so deceptively simple to create, can evoke emotions of sadness, isolation and loneliness. In all of 3 minutes, this short contains visuals from Korean television ads, a beautifully sad musical piece from the movie Il Mare, and a subtitles-only monologue. I thought this short had the same style which was used in Eric Khoo's Be With Me, and called on the same emotions... until the painfully ironic finale.
This short mirrors Sons, yet another sad tale, but one which many can identify with, especially if we had taken our moms for granted. This short perhaps has the strongest story of them all, without actually saying too much. The narration in itself already worked wonders, recounting events and attitudes, good or bad, towards Mother, with the visuals and the score complimenting it all seamlessly. Check out the production notes and the Interview with Royston (Special Feature) to learn more about how this short came about and was developed.
Jumping at the chance at collaborating with local band The Observatory, this is an experimental piece done to the band's track called Killing Time. Plenty of facial closeups and check out those freaky eyeballs, but seriously, not very easy to digest.
The Blind Trilogy: Blind / Old Parliament House / Capitol Cinema
Three different premises intertwined into one, with a capsuled look into places which are no longer, like the old Capitol Cinema at the junction of Stamford Road and North Bridge Road, with its famed winged horses adorninng the left and right of the screen, and the old Parliament House, now converted into a performing arts venue. Together with the last segment shot in a reserve, it is the ambient sounds, in a natural environment or manufactured from the past, that is the centerpiece of this trilogy of shorts. The old parliamentary speeches, Shaw's old distinct signature theme, or just noisy crickets, the short ends with Corrinne May's Fly Away.
A memorable reject during the audition stages of the very first Singapore Idol, Patrick Khoo aka Mr Careless Whisper, shot to notoriety for his almost inaudible performance of George Michael's signature tune in the 80s. However, it's pretty amazing how Royston managed to weave a relatively adequate performance from this silent man, as a security guard who wants to impress a girl in his workplace with his singing.
The short plays with a mat-rocker styled narration to explain the hilarious visuals of the life of Patrick, which included sight gags of his guy and girl friends, one pair who is played by Don Richmond, who contributed the song "You'll Never Have To Fear", which Patrick sings at the end, audibly, though I'm not sure if the production team had to increase any volume to its maximum. The finale, with the crane shot and special effects, plays like a typical music video about love.
New York Girl
Karen Khoo, the art director on some of Royston's shorts, stars as New York Girl, an aspiring actress wannabe who's in a pseudo-casting call. This is one of the most simplest short of his ever produced (from an audience's point of view), save from the hilarious tongue-in-cheek redition of Wonder Woman as the opening credits. It's simple, because there's only 1 person, Karen herself, engaged in more or less a monologue of sorts, but it just meant that everything hinged on her sole performance to make this short work.
And it does, as you get to see some of her talents like her demonstration of various accents, of the English, the French and even the Japanese. She also got to diss Fann Wong for her "act-cuteness", as well as Jackie Chan for his monkey antics. Though the part which was really interesting and funny, is her impersonation of mat-rockers singing Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing from Armageddon. Really spot on!
But this short isn't all about fun and games, as it meandered towards a drama-mama ending, and capped it off with, sort of like a continuation from Careless Whisperer, her beautiful rendition of the same Don Richmond song You'll Never Have To Fear, as the closing credits roll.
Shot on location in Hokkaido, this short marks a collaborative effort with a mainly Japanese crew. Different cameras were used, and hence produced a short containing a different look and feel for scenes, about a man in a monkey suit, looking for lost love, for that someone or something, in order to get it back. This is perhaps one of the rare shorts, besides 4A Florence Close, which has the director appear in front of the camera.
You can learn more about this short through the Interview with Royston included in the Special Features section of the DVD.
4A Florence Close
A silent film which captures the happy and poignant moments of a family, in the selling of their home where memories are abound. No dialogue is necessary when reminiscing the happier times, set to the constant whirl of a projector, akin to a walk down memory lane.
Royston's shorts are always well known for their visuals, and the encoding in this compilation managed a fair job to showcase those unique visions adopted for the shorts.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which adequately brings out the many musical pieces used throughout the shorts. Having gone through the credits for all the shorts, it is obvious that sound and music plays an integral part of Royston's Shorts. If anything, the music have all been carefully selected to add a separate layer to evoke feelings from an audience, and from Sons, Hock Hiap Leong, and Mother, the music punctuates the shorts and gives it additional oomph!
It is interesting to know that there is an options menu for each short featured, with insights to the director's thought process on how he came up with the idea, and the list of awards the particular short has won, if any. It's also apt to have included the key musical theme used in the options as well. Can't get enough of the wonderful tunes Royston used which fit most suitably with his visuals.
The key special feature included, besides the filmography, awards and retrospectives listing, is the short 4A Florence Close, a rarely seen personal short about his own family home, and his thoughts about the short. There's also a 25 minute interview with Royston, about his childhood, the insights to his films like Hock Hiap Leong, Sons, Mother and Monkeylove, including snippets of 15 and Cut, his influences from television, his style, the "Royston Emergency Fund", and on Singapore too. If anything, this short interview is the jewel of all the features to learn more about the filmmaker. The only gripe is the slight synchronization issues in video-audio.
There is a companion website for the DVD at the Asian Film Archives, containing more extras like an Online Gallery containing the film stills, behind the scenes pictures, and a storyboard for the short Monkeylove, an essay and a bibliography.
But I felt that all these extras should be packaged into the DVD itself, and be replicated on the website if deemed necessary, so that the DVD can be self contained. Also, since I'm on the "more is good" mentality, more storyboards and an indepth look into the production process would be much appreciated by fans, to take a sneak peek into what makes Royston tick when producing the award winners.
Nonetheless, this DVD contains a neat collection, and an excellent platform for anyone who wishes to know more about Royston's Shorts (hence the title), and my take is that it is already a gem of a collectible to be included in any DVD library, especially of local movie buffs. So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy today, now available at good stores.