Friday, September 07, 2007

[7th Asian Film Symposium] S-Express Singapore & S-Express Chinese

This evening was a screening of short films from Singapore and Taiwan, as curated by Zhang Wenjie+Yuni Hadi, and Maggie Lee respectively. Some filmmakers themselves, like Boo Junfeng, M. Raihan Halim, Chai Yee Wei, and Hou Chi-Jan were present for a Q&A session after the screening, as was Maggie Lee (for some translation work as well), and Kristin Saw from Substation, who moderated the event and stood in for the Singapore shorts curators.

I'll just give my humble take on the short films that were screened, presented together with the nuggets of information shared by the filmmakers and curators themselves during the Q&A session.

S Express Singapore curated by Zhang Wenjie + Yuni Hadi

The Mole - Victric Thng
Watching this short brings me fond memories of listening to fairy tales through those audio books and tapes, and The Mole had crisp narration provided by Daniel Jenkins. The visuals were captivating, adopting animation, shadow puppetry and combining live action, no doubt a lot of hard work had gone to produce this imaginative short film. The narration was in rhyming couplets too, providing a very lyrical feel to a surprisingly sad and dark tale about a physical defect, and how hope can actually be detrimental if one cannot let go. Victric has done a number of shorts, but this is the first time I'm watching one of his, and am way impressed by the quality.

Blood Ties - Chai Yee Wei
I thought it worked more as a thriller rather than an outright horror, and the plot development was actually quite predictable. Those who have spent some time watching the English drama series Triple-Nine will recognize Loke Loo Pin who stars in this short as the mother. Simple cops and robbers story combined with some supernatural and gore elements, with an added dash of mystery. While finely executed, I thought the coda at the end was quite unnecessary.

Stuff the director shared:

  • A precursor to a possible feature length movie, of which the proceedings in the short is but a small portion of the bigger scheme of things.

  • The art director was credited for the many sets and props used in the movie. The room the movie was set in was fake, and they had to actually paint the room (green). The altar was also a created prop. They did film in a real cemetary however, but the particular tombstone featured was fake as well.

  • First horror short of out 5 that he's done so far.

  • Script was written in English with the thought that it will be shot in Mandarin. However the main actors didn't sound right in Mandarin. Loo Pin sounded more natural in Cantonese, and therefore the scenes were re-written in that language. The little girl sounded more natural in Mandarin however, so her lines remained in that language.

Remember Me - Benjamin Tan
Like an edgy music video with many quick takes and time lapse, it tells a story of a Beng and a Lian (in my opinion anyway), a romance set against a seedy backdrop of crime and vice. The visuals take a while to get used to, but once you do so, you'll get hooked onto its style and no doubt be engaged enough to follow through its story.

Sunat - M. Raihan Halim
Circumcision - a rite of passage for every Muslim boy, and Sunat is an autobiographical story of M. Raihan's own experience in turning from boy to man. It's a breezy comedy with plenty of down to earth characters that you would have experienced in your own childhood - the uncles, aunties, neighbours and friends, and played like a slide show funneling through one's memory for treasured episodes.

Stuff the director shared:

  • The cast were made up of mostly family and friends.

  • The Dad and Mom characters were played by Suria artistes.

  • It took 5 years to get this short made, during which 2 other films on the same subject were released.

  • 2 scenes that M. Raihan wanted to be in the short film definitely were A) the horror stories montage, and B) The peeping under the sarong.

  • He got the kids for only a half day shoot, and thus the actual fight scenes were not shot (not that he wanted to anyway).

  • He wanted to make a Malay film in Malay, but the script was done in English. The voiceover was also done in English but somehow didn't sound right. So it was redone in Malay, and the subtitles done in English, but then the translations and meanings in both languages weren't exactly the same or accurate.

Stranger - Boo Junfeng and Adrian Tan
I enjoyed Stranger for the simple fact that it contained keen observations of the location, as well as various misconceptions about the place, while serving to debunk some myths as well. Essentially, it's an eye-opener to a different culture, and in the way it was shot and narrated, had a wistful like quality to it all.

Stuff the director shared:

  • This was made 2 years ago for the Canon DV Fest.

  • The inspiration was based on Junfeng's impressions of Little India.

  • They basically shot things that were colourful, and went for crowd scenes.

  • It was short during the period near Deepavali.

  • Adrian followed Junfeng around when he did the shots, to think of the words that accompanied the visuals.

  • It was written about 1-2 days later, and was translated into Mandarin. Junfeng was the narrator in the short.

Dream a Rainbow - Ming
This one minute short contains beautiful visuals, but the best part comes in the form of a one-line sentence. That punchline at the end is to die for, especially when taken out of context.

4 Days 3 Nights - Ming
The Subaru Impreza challenge that happens annually (to date) have seen scores of people gathering around the Ngee Ann City open atrium for a shot at winning that all-wheel drive vehicle, or to gawk at its participants. The last man (or woman) standing with his or her hand placed on the vehicle, will walk away with one. Usually lasting 3 to 4 days continuously with very little breaks in between (something like 5 minutes every 6 hours), this short compresses the entire competitive timeline into a minute's worth, like a CCTV camera watching the madcap proceedings from afar on extreme fast forward.

S Express Chinese curated by Maggie Lee

Street Survivor - Lin Jing-Jie
When the curator Maggie Lee introduced the shorts, she mentioned that director Lin Jing-Jie had already gone to make his feature film, and his films have characteristically included socio-political commentary. That can be observed from this short as well. Tackling the story of a street walker and the hardships that she face in a challenging economy, it also looks at the flip side at a cop and his predicament with flip-flopping legal policies as well, and the unorthodox entrapment measures that he had to resort to. The short film doesn't judge, but casts a sympathetic eye on both sides, providing an avenue to voice his opinions on certain issues as well. Excellent soundtrack by the way.

Shopping Cart Boy - Hou Chi-Jan
I feel inspired after watching this short. Inspired that I could do something better, or come up with faux pas imagery like these to test the patience of an audience. There's a 10 minute version cut for television, which has the boy interact with a girl, which I think could more palatable to my tastes. Long takes, still shots that don't serve any purpose other than to linger longer in scenes than they are welcomed, Shopping Cart contains no dialogue, and tries hard to emulate the Taiwanese Masters. The story also veered into the absurd with a 10,000 days timeline, and doesn't seem to have a compelling story to tell, besides being a platform to feature some of the scenic visuals.

Stuff the director shared:

  • This was made as part of a Poetry in Motion project with government grants. The project is to marry both the poetry and film mediums together, where the filmmakers collaborated with the poets, usually to adapt poems (or a string of poems) into films for television.

  • He found a half written poem and was inspired to make the film from that point on. So while the film was made and completed, so was the poem, in tandem.

  • The poet was inspired by a real life incident which happened to a male friend. He was late for his date with his girlfriend in a supermarket, and as punishment, he was made to sit in a shopping cart while she wheeled him around.

  • While working on the film, Chi-Jan developed some other ideas for the character, and made him a worker in the supermarket.

  • The original story had a girl in the story, and the 10 minute version of the short contains interaction between the boy and this girl.

  • The 20 minute version which was screened today omited the girl altogether.

  • The actor (who was a Taiwanese Idol) was allowed to improvise his scenes.

  • Many scenes outside the script were shot, and Chi-Jan took a liking to these shots during editing, and included many of them in the short film.

Waterfront Villa Bonita - Lou Yi-An
A fractured timeline with characters interacting independently with one another, centered on a moment in a bank robbery and its aftermath, the most recent reference would be a similar treatment as seen in the early scenes of Crazy Stone. The opening scene was gripping, and the follow up scenes in the first storyline wickedly fun. However, the subsequent storylines, with Biblical verses from Genesis (the first book) serving as bookeneds, seemed too contrived, and contained scenes which were a tad too convenient, and so unfortunately, lost steam. Not a bad effort, but too bad it tapered off as it wore on.


The Asian Film Symposium (AFS) continues over the weekend, and until Monday evening where the Closing films will be screened at The Picturehouse. Visit the Substation AFS website for more details on ticketing and film schedules.

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