Singaporeans are known for our passion for food, be it either great tasting humble hawker fare, or exquisite fine dining at various swanky restaurants. Food has been featured in a number of our local movies, with yellow flat noodles being the Mee Pok in Mee Pok Man, Chicken Rice in Chicken Rice War, and the ubiquitous coffeeshop locales in almost all of director Jack Neo's movies. The other passion we have is for shopping, no doubt with our most famous road being Orchard Road, for its malls and food of course, and the various generic shopping malls (with almost the same shops, that each mall seemed xeroxed from the preceding success story) that have sprung up in various neighbourhood heartland town centers all over the island.
It's only a matter of time that a movie like Gone Shopping will find its way to our cinematic screens, with its premise firmly set around our obsession with shopping, which some have said is one of our national pastimes. Writer-director Wee Li Lin, better known for her short films, makes her feature film debut with this movie, and it actually took her years to crystallize her ideas for the film. After all, if you want to incorporate a national pastime, you sure would want to do it right!
But what Li Lin did was a whole lot more. Gone Shopping, through its many characters, leading and supporting, all manage to touch on the psyche of Singapore. Having developed a keen eye in observing people, Li Lin managed to craft intricate characters for Gone Shopping, without the pitfalls of having caricature them into typical stereotypes. The first few minutes were pure genius, adding a subtle tracking of the evolution of our malls and its impact to our pop culture (remember the Centrepoint kids?) through the eyes of one of the protagonist, Clara (played by Kym Ng), a rich man's tai-tai (translated by the official website as "wealthy lady of leisure") who seem to have everything material, but yearning for a connection that is deep and emotional.
And starting with Clara, we get introduced to the various hopes and dreams of the characters in Gone Shopping, which I thought was interesting and intriguing enough to hold you attention, and want to make you find out more as the story unravels. Through three story arcs whose characters rarely interact with one another, they share a common thread, and that is the need to escape from the cold harsh realities of their unsatisfactory life, through, what else, their various periods of stay in malls, where they can enjoy some bliss in their respective fantasies.
Clara longs to be loved and run away from the superficiality of "tai-tai friendships", and bumping into an acquaintance, Valentine Pang (Adrian Pang), a sales person in a departmental store and old school classmate, may just provide that avenue. Aaron Ho (Aaron Kao), a young man stifled in his 9-to-5 job, seeks out friends in the mall, and slowly develops the hots for his best friend's sister Hui Hui (Magdalene Tan), a goth lolita. Renu (Sonya Nair), an 8 year old girl who finds herself abandoned and unloved by her parents, seeking out a new life in the world famous Mustafa Centre, a mall that does not sleep, enjoying the material goods she could possibly never possess, and being caught in a web of intrigue between a conman, and the store's security personnel.
Gone Shopping reveals a thick tapestry based on strengths of Li Lin's imaginative mind, and engages the audiences at different levels. Like a shopping mall itself, the movie is full of different components that will appeal to different demographics, but yet all coming together to make it a completely satisfying experience. Some scenes were just so cunningly full of wit, that you can't help but to crack up for its sheer brilliance and cheekiness. The actors too, from familiar TV faces past and present, flesh their roles with aplomb, and are a delight to watch. I only rue that the wonderful Adrian Pang didn't get a lot of screen time, and his moustache does make him look kinda serious, departing miles away from his funnyman persona.
What is superb too for a local film, are the cinematography and art direction. The colours are beautiful to look at, building upon those already available in the malls' surroundings, and scenes come alive with its many locations that audiences would find familiar. After all, we do visit these places from time to time for our dose of retail therapy. And for the overseas audience, you're in for a real visual treat as well, as Gone Shopping made the malls actually look sexy, and for those who have been here before, take a look if you can recall where they were. While it is obvious these places are touristy and would make Singapore Tourism Board beam with brimming pride, it doesn't, not for a minute, look like a huge "Come Visit Singapore / Come Shop in Singapore" commercial, which is great.
Retail therapy might pay off to chase those blues away, but Gone Shopping certainly is well worth the admission ticket, being able to straddle the arty film realm that most local movies seem to fall under, and having the commercial legs as well. If Singapore movies are growing from strength to strength with each output, then Gone Shopping has certainly stamped its mark on 2007! Highly recommended!
In attendance today was director Wee Li Lin and producer Fazila Zainol Abideen during the blog aloud session after the screening to share and discuss some items of interest with the audience. Both were in high spirits and in a chatty mood, so what's below were some of the things that were shared. Please take note of mild spoilers before you proceed.
- The movie was shot in 31 days. It took 3 years to develop and 2 years to produce
- This could be the start of a trilogy of Gone Shopping movies
- The 1st script had several stories, and Li Lin had to whittle it down to what you see on screen. Several characters were also developed, and she had to zoom in on the characters she liked for this one
- She might resurrect those characters omitted for the next movie
- One of the editors of Gone Shopping also edited Eric Khoo's Be With Me
- Li Lin was interested in the "tai tai" character, which she explored briefly in her short film - what do "tai tai"s really do, and to examine the space where their lives probably unfolds
- She's also intrigued with the ecosystem of people found in shopping centres and decided to dwell into the background, drama of these characters
- The drag queen character was based on a friend's SMS which mentioned there was a guy going around selling fake perfume, before drugging and robbing his victims
- Initially the movie is supposed to be in English (ed: see the teaser trailers). Translators were used to translate the script into its respective language used by the characters. It also seemed more real to adopt parts of Kym's role in Mandarin
- It was an opportunity to be different, to have the film with its many languages to reflect our society
- The filmmakers fell in love with Mustafa the shopping centre, and the management was supportive of their making the film in their premises. Many extras were actually real staff of Mustafa
- The filmmakers had an amazing time with the Indian actors, and "Uncle Menon" was actually related to Sonya Nair
- The mannequin segment is totally open to interpretation, though the concept of it was a deity of sorts for the shopping centre
- The movie is rated NC16 for the following reasons - The use of the Hokkien word "cib*i", and the scene which mentioned Ipoh, KL and JB, which worried the censorship board
- That gossipy scene which mentioned the Malaysian cities was actually the only scene which survived from the initial script, and it was based on eavesdropping the gossips and cursing made by real salespeople
- Li Lin had done a lot of research on the "tai tai"s by talking a lot to them (she grew up with them too), and jests that after the movie's released, they probably wouldn't want to talk to her again
- The first cut of the movie was about 2 hours long, and the final version was structurally changed during editing, with some scenes dropped and others shifted around
- The first scene shot was of Sonya crying, which was a nerve wrecking experience, and on hindsight, they shouldn't have gone ahead with the shooting of this scene first
- Aaron with his sword in the carpark is a direct homage to The Highlander movie, which Li Lin is a fan of
- Gone Shopping was made on a S$650K budget, and they had location sponsors like Marina Square
- The crew did break some stuff during production - look out for a shattered glass panel which made it into the shot, when Kym is seen lying down in a shop
- One of the filmmaker's favourite scenes was the bitch fight within an upmarket shop outlet, which a lot of retailers approached didn't allow them to use their shops
- On 14th Feb 07 where they shot the love scene between Aaron and Magdalene at the Shaw Centre roof garden, there were a lot of couples who were taken by surprise that their favourite love making haunt was used by the production team, that they stared daggers at the cast and crew