Probably the last Singapore film to make its debut this year, I actually had high hopes for Becoming Royston. But expectations is always a bitch, and I sincerely thought it fell short of its potential. The creative team of Randy Ang and Nicholas Chee (of Originasian Pictures) had won the 2005 Fly By Night competition with their lavishly produced 5 minute short film, I'll Live A Day For You, incorporating Stephen Chow's axe-gang dance (now the umbrella gang here) into the popular short.
Becoming Royston worked its publicity engine earlier in the year, through its website as well as the release of webisodes - little episodes of the film released on the Internet. It's a novel approach, and I was intrigued, though I stopped short of only 2 webisodes, hoping that I would be able to watch the complete feature film on screen some day. And yes, today marked the day that we're watching it for the very first time, something fresh out of the oven. Nicholas revealed that the DVD was pressed that very day. It's in widescreen format, though the subtitles were relatively small and at times difficult to read on the small screen at the Arts House screening room.
The story tells of a boy, Tan Boon Huat aka Little Shrimp (Alvin Neo), and his journey to discover and realize his dream. He stumbled upon the filmmaking ideal when he watched Royston Tan (the real mccoy, making a cameo) talking about his profession in a mock TV talk show, and starts to emulate him, from writing his own scripts to shooting random objects with his 8mm. Chance, of course, allowed for almost implausible happenings with certain recognizable artefacts, and I thought it ruined the idyllic, rustic setting established in the beginning.
For a first film, it looks gorgeous. If I have to rank the cinematography in local films for this year, this would be the contender to Smell of Rain's. Given that both had that artistic element to them, each take their time to establish shots and employ various techniques to incorporate into the narrative. However, I felt that the fade to black has been used too extensively - almost every scene transition is a fade to black. While it might work for small short webisodes, having it used throughout a feature length might be a little trying. There are shades of Wong Kar-Wai-Chris Doyle influences, with instrumentals accompanying slow motions in dialogue-less scenes, which again I felt was unnecessary at times as they seem to stick out without having first engaging emotions, nor requiring or evoking a response from an audience.
And here lies one of my gripes about the film, that its characters lacked a certain emotional depth to engage, and didn't allow much avenue for an audience to identify with them. The characteristics of the two protagonists are relatively weak and disn't allow for much growth - Boon Huat is your average drifter aspiring to pursue his dreams with nary a clue how to, and Ah Girl (Oon Shu An) is built from the typical "bad girl" mould who smokes, swears, steals, and engages in lots of sex. The supporting characters held a lot of promise, and their back-stories seemed interesting enough to lift the movie forward. However, they were totally wasted midway through the film, and are left forgotten, which is a huge pity.
I would rate the first half of the movie holding so much promise, and narratively more interesting than what the second half dished out, with hastily introduced characters like Marilyn Lee's journalist character being just there, but adding little function to the plot. You just don't care for them, and they don't allow you to even if you tried hard. Based on an original story by Tay Kay Chin, Becoming Royston lacked a strong, compelling and convincing storyline, and repetitive dialogues in dialect, while amusing the first few times it gets uttered, becomes unfunny after a while.
One of the scenes toward the end was quite cheesy, introduced to have its theme hammered home - that of daring to live your dream. I've always enjoyed outtakes when the end credits roll, but somehow for a pseudo-serious film like this with its sombre-like finale, showing the outtakes did feel a bit out of place.
Nonetheless, the technical aspects of this film is excellent, considering the team are first time feature filmmakers, and Becoming Royston is up for 3 awards at the Asian Festival of First Films -
Keep Originasian Pictures in your radar, folks.
The screening was rated NC-16, and it was because of a certain sexual scene. In my opinion, it's much ado about nothing, but I guess the censors here deem it otherwise. Whether having it shown explicitly, or implied off-camera, probably subjected it to that non PG rating by their standards. Still, it could also be because of the swearing.