Although the protagonist in this film is a filmmaker wannabe, Kan Lume when introducing the movie said that it's not an autobiography. It was shot in 8 days and less than S$5000 apart from the actors' fees, and has a more assured feel to it relative to the earlier features The Art of Flirting and Solos. Broadly speaking, I thought it was made up of 2 separate tracks, one which deals with Leon the filmmaker (played by Leon Yong) trying to carve a niche for himself when experimenting with filmmaking on a shoestring / no budget, and the other examining the more pertinent real issue of potentially losing his wife from his bumming around.
The first section was perhaps the most fun. Keong Saik Road, on which Kan Lume had directed a short film before, opens the movie, and we see the protagonist mulling around. There's a scene involving a discussion with a friend which stood out, not because of the different dialects used in conversation, which I suspect Western audiences won't be able to tell the difference anyway, but the content which highlights a certain degree of pragmatic woes amongst those retrenched - either to drive a taxi or become a property agent - and the sentiments toward local movies, which generally are prejudiced against, and likely to be from those who haven't even watched any of late.
But Leon goes ahead anyway with a leap of faith in making a movie, though he's clueless how to go about doing it, until he's approached by a prostitute (Edgealle S), and from there turns her into his muse, with only payment in kind with packeted food, and hand-rolled cigarettes. Usually dressed immaculately with a movie camera, he decides, given his constraint, to make a soft-core porn movie, and Kan Lume playfully does this through sounds and off screen, off focused shots, a very clear indication of a throwback to Solos.
Leon's wife (played by Marilyn Lee) dominates the second arc. Obviously well-to-do, the marriage shows signs of severe strain because she can no longer stand her husband bumming around, and unable to secure a regular paying job. Her constant judging doesn't seem to have an effect on the nonchalant Leon, and we bear witness to how things turn out in the end. Strangely though, we don't feel an iota of pity or sorry for Leon, as he seemed to have what is coming. It's quite painful to watch this segment because attempts at reconciliation doesn't seem to lead to success, and while it takes both hands to clap, the hands are clenched tightly as fists.
The part probably most difficult to grasp, is the ending scene at Batu Caves. Here's where the audience have to do a lot of work in reflecting, perhaps meditating upon what the key messages are from the movie, if any. But don't let this short section get you riled up. On thw whole, I thought Dreams from the Third World looks and feels uncannily like Malaysian James Lee's Love Trilogy, and can fit in great in similar styles and sensibilities. The acting in this film is deliberately robotic and wooden, and I can't help but to chuckle each time I see LEon at a certain angle, because he resembled Hong Kong actor Cheung Siu-fai.
There are plenty of cheeky moments in the movie, which showcases Kan Lume's wry sense of humour absent from his earlier movies. Anti-establishment jibes get put on display here with smoking in prohibited areas and the more obvious littering issued, coupled with probably a here's-coming-at-you visual gag involving a strategically placed water bottle. Watch out too as the director hams it up for a cameo appearance, which strangely enough I was the only one laughing!
In the running for the SIFF's Silver Screen Awards, this is probably Kan Lume's more mature work to date, and as observed, if the three films to date serve as any indication, he still has a lot of mettle and material within him to challenge conventions and provide an interesting alternative and addition to what our local film community dishes out.
There was a Q&A session after the screening with director Kan Lume. As usual, in the interest of (my) time, this is only an excerpt, and I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned.
Q: I found the actions of the characters wooden, and they were speaking different languages. Was it deliberate?
A: It's a difficult film to watch because the protagonist is a different character, with flaws and a loser, so well done in sitting through it! I was close to not making the film, or to go ahead with what I had. It was supposed to be a female protagonist who suffered a loss and going through the pain of loss. It was going to be an exploration of spirit, soul and body but I cannot find an actress who was willing to be naked throughout the movie. I prefer to go about on a free fall and making a film without a script, and in early Nov, I had the location confirmed. The girl who played the prostitute had no acting experience at all, so the best way for the cast was to script the film. In all my films so far, it's centered around the protagonist's life.
Q: Is this a companion piece to Solos?
A: The three films I have made so far havebeen about jerks and the ones they hurt the most. The ending for Solos is about Karma, and the ending here is about Grace. We make mistakes but we treat ourselves to either Karma or Grace. Here, he gets a revelation at the end, but it doesn't mean he had changed his ways. He tries to justify himself before nature.
Q: Why was Batu Caves chosen?
A: It was supposed to be in the Philippines, but the actress was scared of bandits and climbing mountains. Batu Caves was about 1/2 hour away from my assistant's home, and we needed a spiritual place for the exploration of body and soul.
Q: What is the message you are trying to convey at the Batu caves?
A: There are many ways of reading that. For me, the rock / nature was regarded with the revelation of truth in his life and marriage. When we take time to be away in nature, we seek truth within ourselves and come away with revelation.
Q: What was the revelation?
A: It was a revelation at which point his marriage fell apart.
A lot of what I've done in this film is experimentation., such as the exploration of sounds you don't see on screen. It represents different things for different characters. My theory is that non-diegetic sounds make up 51% of a movie, and the image 49%.
The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca