Audiences aware of Royston Tan's works, will almost always recall his controversial shorts like 15 and Cut. Full of colour and packed with fascinating visuals, his short films have so far been anything but a silent movie, and everything like song, dance and music, have found their way as a signature.
All these bells and whistles take a backseat in 4:30, a quiet film save for some lines of dialogue. The closing film of this year's Singapore International Film Festival where it played to a sell out crowd, the first thing that comes to mind is, is this a Singapore movie? With a style so commonly found in arthouse films, you'll probably be amazed that we do have someone here capable of crafting a contemplative movie immersed so richly in green hues. A previous short film closest to the mood and visuals to 4:30 would be Sons (you must check it out!)
In the still of the night which is 4:30 am, a little boy Xiao Wu, wakes up almost religiously each day to spy on a Korean tenant of his family apartment. A latch key, lonely boy, he finds joy in crafting a virtual relationship with the man Jung, a foreigner with an agenda here, a friend he cannot communicate directly with given barriers like language and his non presence during the day.
But of course that's just one, obvious layer of the movie. With clues and markers peppered throughout the movie, you'd be compelled to wonder if what is unveiled on screen, can be taken as a matter of fact. There is obviously no regular school in December, the boy's abuse of cough mixture a worrying phenomenon but one which suggests something of a dreamlike bizarreness, and a tinge of homo-erotic sentiments. These markers will tickle your mind as you try and sieve figments of imagination, from screen reality. The many silent moments give your mind plenty of workout time, sometimes into overdrive.
There are plenty of Royston touches to this beautifully shot film, like his preference for all things old - like the Telecoms push button telephone (in green no less), the cloth wardrobe, and the facade of the Look Clinic. The main lead Xiao Li Yuan who plays Xiao Wu, is effectively bilingual, and quite believable in his role as the lonely kid yearning for some serious attention which he is not getting from his parents, lending to his frequent disruption of a neighbourhood tai-chi session, to his fixation and stalker-like behaviour towards Jung. Oh yeah, that reference to Eric Khoo's 12 Storeys was somewhat hllarious too.
Whatever your interpretation of the events that transpire, ultimately, it's quite a sad movie, of unrequited "love" and friendship, about the road of loneliness. It's an engaging character piece, and of the ties that bind.
p.s. 4:30 is now showing in 3 theatres, with limited schedules. If you really want to check out how different this movie is from his previous (short) works, or if you dig Kim Ki-duk's stuff, then waste no time ya? The afternoon weekend screening I went to, only had 5 folks including myself. Once you're done with Supes, give the lonely kid some love :-)
Click here to read an earlier interview sesssion with director Royston Tan