The second part of James Lee's love trilogy, Things We Do When We Fall in Love is more of the same. If you're frustrated with the presentation of the first, then my advice is not to bother with the second, even though the stories are not linked. For me, I thought the colour made it slightly more bearable, but if you're not a fan of his auteur minimalist style, then you're likely to have impatience get to you.
There are many shots and situations which just are, without much incident, and totally up to you to interpret. Inside the car, in a motel, dancing on a quiet street in the dead of the night, walking around in a padi field, the list goes on. It is likely that there are deeper meanings to be studied from, but the shaky handheld camera gives you a wild spin, often following from behind the characters, or peering from behind inanimate objects. They eat, sleep and talk about the most mundane things. It's not a romantic film per se as the title would have you suggest, but rather a very unromantic one dealing with the ordinary, stemming from insecurity, and the constant craving to be wanted.
I thought there was a little hope for me to enjoy this movie when the introductory scene before the opening title showed flashes of things to come, of some comedy infused in its dialogue, but that was not to be. Instead, it went back to dialogue that was slow, non-purposeful, and excruciatingly repetitive, especially the cries for acceptance and the pleas to be understood, which get on your nerves. The constant arguments between the couple, ever so often, makes you wonder when they'll eventually part for good.
It tells of the relationship between a man and a woman. One's a computer programmer, the other a teacher. They decide to take a trip around nearby, and spend much time driving around, from which we follow like a "lamppost" at the back of their seats, watching silently as they eat, quarrel, and sing. We spend quite some time on the road, before we decide to end up in a motel, for more of the same. I thought Loh Bok Lai was decent in his role as the all suffering man who cannot seem to appease his lady love (or so we think), and Len Siew Mee, showed a different perspective with her female character here, compared to her love-them-and-leave-them Ling Yue in her previous movie. Here, her clingy character just gets to you and frustrates.
And following them won't be bad if not for the NYPD Blues styled camerawork. If you're one who suffer from motion sickness, bring a bag along. The story develops at a peculiar pace, and in the end, a hastily thrown epilogue of sorts is included, which I thought would have been unnecessary, if not just to show that pair of mammaries in a pool.
Despite the complaints, will I watch the concluding movie? For sure, given that I want to complete the trilogy, and that I'm such a sucker for pain.
Writer-director James Lee was present this evening to introduce his latest work, as well as to field a Q&A session after the screening. Although the screening was a full house, I counted at least 6 persons leaving the auditorium, and more than half left before the Q&A started, which James mentioned was about affairs and the complexities of relationships. The moderator Philip Cheah added that he thought it was very much about the faithlessness of love. Do note that the following is not verbatim.
Q: There were a lot more landscape shots in this film, compared to your other works?
A: This is the first time I based my movie out of KL, because I'm quite lazy and I like to shoot from within the city. The cast and crew were happy that for the first time, we'll go outstation for the shoot.
Q: What made you create that scene in the desert?
A: I wanted to show the state of mind of the guy in an absurd way, and it was an extremely different landscape from where they began. He's lost, given that he doesn't have GPS (a throwback to the introductory scene), and it cuts back to the field when he calmed down and managed to find his way back.
Q: There were a lot of handheld shots in the movie. Was this deliberate?
A: In my previous works if you noticed, most of the shots were composed and still, usually on a tripod or on a track. I wanted to move away from what I do best, and didn't want to stick to one form. In this movie I gave a lot of creative space to the actors, and also relinquished control to my DP, who also suggested shooting from behind the characters in those handheld shots that you see.
Q: Could you share with us the production details?
A: This is my favourite work to date, and it was shot on 16mm on a shoestring budget of RM30K. I've become quite well known for shooting low budget films and shooting them on schedule. This one took about 11 days. I find that with less money I got, the more challenge I face as a filmmaker. I averaged about 3 to 5 takes per shot, and had a self imposed rule to work more precisely, as compared to my DV days where it can be quite indisciplined as you tend to just roll. I didn't have a script, but had a 19 paged short story from which to work with. The dialogues were done during rehearsals, and much of it was improvisation, with more space given to the actors. The DP here is the same one as (SIFF Closing Film) Opera Jawa.
Q: What was the intention of the last female character, who was introduced extremely late into the film?
A: She's a one-night stand, and it's to show how the guy treated other strangers.
There were some questions related to the earlier movie of the trilogy, Before We Fall in Love Again, and the end which was shot in colour, was used to show awakening, and of course, to make the audience sit up and take notice of how the characters have moved on. This movie and the previous one were designed separately, so although there were no names mentioned, and that the lead actress is the same person, the characters are not, though since it was not explicitly mentioned, some would naturally think that this was what happened to the same woman from the first movie. Even the actors, when they looked at the script, thought so too.
The actors are not professional actors by training. The guy is a painter teaching in a college, and to date is quite well known as an indie actor. The girl is a teacher of dance, and actually has only acted in my films, though I constantly encourage that they venture and work with other directors to broaden their experience.
The title for Things We Do When We Fall in Love was deliberately chosen (from a children's song), and it was a conscious effort to film the unromantic moments. The third part of the trilogy is still in the development phase, and James hopes to show it by end July. This time, it's from the point of view from a woman, as the other two were from the perspectives of men. Given that it's a loose trilogy, it will be similarly focused on situations about relationships. The title will be "Waiting for Love".
Will you be watching the final part of the trilogy? I think I just will, for completion sake :-)