Saturday, July 12, 2008

[5th Singapore Short Cuts] 1st Week

Into its 5th Edition, the singapore Short Cuts remain one of our premier festivals showcasing the very best of short films that had been made the year preceeding it. Presented by The Substation with support from the National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Film commission, today marks the opening of the festival, with a lineup from some of the best and memorable shorts from the previous editions. I had seen about half the shorts here, and will rehash some of my older reviews for it, together with new thoughts having watched them another time today.

Lorong 27 - Kenny Tan

A short film about Geylang way before Pleasure Factory, while it's set in Singapore's red light district, it takes quite a hilarious look at its generalized inhabitants such as the prostitute, the loan shark, the coffee-shop proprietor, and pimply schoolboys who can't wait to savor newly minted pornography bought from a street corner illegal shop. Told through the eyes of a Caucasian exchange student, this comedy covers a lot of ground about the misconceptions that one easily has of Geylang, and the message rings through loud and clear at the end, reminding the audience about quite a cliche in never to judge a book by its cover.

Pontianak - Raihan Haarun
(Adapted from an earlier review)

Probably the only one with a poster-on-a-postcard, it's quite surprising to discover that Pontianak is a student-led effort. It had this all round creepy feel to it, and I had actually expected more shock-and-awe tactics to be used. However, it was more restrained rather than presenting an in-your-face all out horror movie with the usual cliches, though there is this use of a demonic kid, ever so popular these days.

Beginning with a funeral, the elements of Pontianak is adequately included here, like the nails, the banana tree, though what was I would have dug into was the actual appearance of the lady-in-white-with-fangs herself.

Lim Poh Huat - Lee Wong
(Adapted from an earlier review)

The title of this short film is the name of main character Lim Poh Huat. Some of you might have seen his photographs and interview with Sunday Times some years back, which was also featured in this film.

Poh Huat is a security guard, with a passion for acting. However, with his lack of looks (face it, it's reality), he only gets supporting roles or as an extra/cameo appearances in local television serials like Crimewatch and Frontline.

Besides acting, his hobbies are vast and varied, like donating blood and sperm - he's won a bronze award for blood donation you know? And dig this, the dude has also published a book called "Confessions of a Struggling Actor". How cool is that?

This is a mini documentary about a person with a simple outlook in life. He is comfortable with his lot, and that is what makes him happy and contended, despite his sparse lifestyle. Most of the footage features interviews with Poh Huat as he discusses about his life and work. It's not boring as he fills us in on little known facts, and his actions are comedic at times (like his kung fu practice at the rooftop of his workplace).

If anything, it is about optimism and about doing something in which you have the passion for. That's how life should be lived.

Embryo - Loo Zihan
(Adapted from an earlier review)

The clue to interpreting this experimental short is in the title itself. Having seen some of Zihan's earlier shorts and Solos (co-directed by Kan Lume), Zihan is a very visual person, and uses abstraction to bring his ideas across. Almost always without dialogue, he gives the audience space to interpret the images on screen, and here, there's only actress Ruby Pan as a schoolgirl in her pinafore, stuck in a courtyard, with red pails, eggs, red dye and plenty of water to rival Japanese horror movies. With a background soundtrack of bubbles underwater, how else would you interpret the short?

Zo Gang + Zo Hee - Jacen Tan
(Adapted from earlier reviews here and here)

From the writer-director who brought us the Internet cult hit Tak Giu, and Zo Peng, comes his latest short film Zo Gang, translated to mean "Go Work", which unlike most of the films in today's lineup, is a light-hearted comedy which will strike a chord in every aspiring creative person in the local movie or music industry. You can count on Jacen's brand on local humour to bring that smile to your face, and its breezy pace, coupled with nuggets of funny jabs, make this a definite crowd pleaser.

And if you thought that Merlion Tan was a complainer in Jacen Tan's previous short Zo Gang, Zo Hee starts from where the previous short left off, and he now redeems himself by actually setting out to make his own film, and does so of course with plenty of Hosaywood brand of humour. Commissioned by The Substation as part of its Moving Images 10th Anniversary celebrations to capture the essence of indie filmmaking here in Singapore, while Zo Gang had included some hilarious generalizations about local film audiences toward home grown movies, and featured some cameo appearances by local musicians, look out for the filmmakers that Jacen had given a go in the sequel, Zo Hee (Make Movie), and the creation of a new character - I'd say there will be someone emerging from the screening who will utter those words/lines made famous in the short!

Though relatively longer in duration, there were some scenes which somehow tangent slightly from the main narrative, but this is forgiven given the necessary Substation moments that the short seeks to pay a little homage to, and for some of the Moving Images programme (like First Cut) to be "advertised" rather quickly. For those who are not familiar with the programme, Zo Hee will serve to quickly bring them up to speed. And nothing really beats watching this short at the Guiness Theatre as things go full circle, making it a great companion piece to Zo Gang.

While it's not an open secret that Jacen's shorts have been making waves overseas and being programmed in festivals, there was like a 2-3 minute clip of a compilation of jubilant folks from around the world, whom I thought had enjoyed Jacen's works, and celebrated by exclaiming on camera "Ho-Say, Lah!". Hosaywood is more than best in Singapore, JB and Batam, and have fans now hailing from almost every continent in the world. If that is not Ho-Say enough, then I don't know what is! Someone fund him to make feature film, can?


As staple in the programme, a Q&A session was conducted with the directors, although today's session had only Loo Zihan (director of Embryo), Lim Poh Huat (actor, and subject of a documentary) and Jacen Tan (director of Zo Gang and Zo Hee), together with moderator Low Beng Kheng of The Substation Moving Images Programme. As always, here's the excerpt from this afternoon's Q&A session, and any inaccuracies are faults of mine alone.

LtoR: Loo Zihan, Lim Poh Huat, Jacen Tan and Low Beng Kheng

Q: Embryo was a short that stood out. Could you elaborate on your idea and the concept behind it?
Zihan: It was a collaboration with actress Ruby Pan, and it was actually meant as a theatre piece which she performed overseas. We decided to develop it into a film, and it ended up as a site specific piece at the location.

Q: When was your film made, and at what age were you when it was made? How old are you now and what are you working as?
Poh Huat: I'm still a security guard, and am now 43. The film was made in 2002 after the publication of my book. The director Lee Wong contacted the publishing film, and through them looked for me. The film was shot over a year, as it was difficult to find something interesting in my life; I've got nothing special! The book was published in April 2002, and the film was done between August 2002 to August 2003, which was when I received the Bronze Award (for his blood donation effort).

Poh Huat also went on to thank Eric Khoo for opportunities in his movies, like Zombie Dogs, Be With Me and the recent My Magic, which premiered in Cannes. He also revealed that he had a starring role in Zhao Wei Films' Invisible Children, directed by Brian Gothong Tan, and that the movie should be releasing soon.

Q: How different is the experience between making films for TV, and feature length films for the screen?
Poh Huat: TV takes a long time to shoot with a lot of waiting time. For features, the duration is much shorter, though you could be asked to reshoot something numerous times in order to perfect the shot.

Q: How long did it take to film Embryo, and how many takes did it take for the water pouring scene at the end?
Zihan: It was shot in about 2 days as part of a school assignment at the old police station at Pearl's Hill. The final scene was done in one take, and although I wasn't satisfied with it, I felt that the take still sufficed to convey the message I wanted to bring across.

Q: Do you think it's still a lose-lose situation to make a film in Singapore?
Jacen: I've essentially made my movies with no budget. I've gotten some funding for Zo Hee, but that was used to pay my cast and crew. So I've done it with no money at all, save for eating and taking bus to the Substation!

Q: Are what you portrayed your personal experiences from film making?
Jacen: I'm not for complaining, but I portrayed some of the topics as something funny. Many filmmakers have faced some of these issues discussed here, and some of the constraints have been kinda silly.

Q: How did you find your cast and crew, since I note that some of them are from local bands?
Jacen: Most of them are my friends, and I'm a keen follower of the music scene here.

Q: How did you make your "Hosaywood" logo?
Jacen: Photoshop! Actually I just had to replace 2 letters!

Q: To the 2 directors, John Woo was in town recently, and expressed interest in working with local directors. Would you?
Jacen: Sure, why not?
Zihan: I think it depends on the story I have to tell, and whether it is in line with his type of films.

Q: Forgive me for being dense, but I don't understand your film. Could you explain it to me?
Zihan: I'm always in a dilemma when someone asks me to explain my film, because sometimes talking about it or explaining it would spoil the fun!


Tickets for the 2nd week have already been given away, but I'm pretty sure that there will be those who have collected them but not turn up on the actual day. Next week's venue will be at the Substation, so please make sure you hit the correct venue! See you there (if I don't get recalled back to camp)!

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