Friday, August 15, 2008

[e’Tzaintes] + A Wicked Tale: Double Screening

If you need an example of how a local filmmaker's works have garnered international acclaim but yet to be screened theatrically in Singapore, then look no further than the movies from Tzang Merwyn Tong. While travelling the film festival circuits to critical praise, audiences here only had the DVD (which I heard has gone out of print, given only 1000 copies made) on which to watch his movies, that is, until now.

Screening at Sinema Old School as a limited release "Grindhouse" double bill in a salute to pink, goth and rock, I'd say to take the opportunity to watch Merwyn's movies on a decent big screen, though of course being somewhat experimental, his movies will push your boundaries, but more so, you'd start to realize that we have talented filmmakers in our midst who do not allow themselves to be constraint to what is socially acceptable or sticking to a formula, and willing to go the extra mile in tantalizing an audience with their own brand of storytelling technique.

A Wicked Tale
I guess there are at least two sides to a fairy tale. On the surface, it's for the children to fantasize in the realm of the make believe, with magical creatures and powers that appeal to impart good morals and values. On a more mature level, there are layers where adults get to enact their own fantasies, and from seemingly innocent texts, there comes the darker themes that show their true colours, depending on how unconventional one's thoughts are when re-interpreting the same story. Stories like Alice in Wonderland will be a whole field day excursion, as would The Little Red Riding Hood.

The Brothers Grimm's Little Red Riding Hood gets an updated treatment in Tzang Merwyn Tong's A Wicked Tale, and this was already done back in 2005, before the likes of Hard Candy coming into the picture, in an exploration of power play. The girl here gets dressed in virginal white to represent her innocence, while yet doesn't do without the quintessential red hood, which hints of something more powerful and sinister perhaps in her discovery and experimentation, as suggested by her dalliance with Death through her proxy fish pets.

If Beth (Evelyn Maria Ng) is the riding hood object of lust, then the hunter comes in the form of Louis Le Bon (Johan Ydstrand), a charming long haired man spotting a gruff sexy voice who prey on innocence, and has a mind of perverse thoughts in marking his conquests, never mincing his deep dark intent as he explicit describes in innuendos his every move and desire. Added supporting roles include Catherine Sng as GrandMama, who added some spunk Into her character, rather than the meek, ailing senior citizen that was canon, and Wolf Danker as Uncle Charlie, the necessary woodcutter, who's also given a new spin.

Tzang gets to play with plenty of different techniques in this 45 minute film, from puppetry in the opening credit sequence, to recreation of the look and feel of the silent film era through skipped frames and intertitles replacing dialogue, and colours or the lack thereof. In presenting the story, Tzang pushes some boundaries into the blood and gore (which has been superceded by the likes of Kelvin Sng's Kichiro), infusing some cheesy B-grade horror and exploitative elements on purpose, thus giving a very raw and edgy feel to the entire film.

It's filled with enough sexual perversion and at times, religious references, as it pushed boundaries of asking the perennial question, in the games people play where the mark and the player gets interchanged and blurred, as do the line between the hunter and its prey. But as a cautionary tale like Hard Candy, it again reminds everyone to be prepared for the unexpected when deciding to play with fire, which Is a good servant (oohlala) and a bad master (then you'll get to face the music), that there's almost always something more than meets the eye.

I suppose with each viewing you'll see something new in A Wicked Tale, and with each iteration, depending on the mood and viewpoint you want to adopt, the textured story clearly cements this as a cult classic to be and can be enjoyed by a larger audience.

Running slightly longer than A Wicked Tale, e'Tzaintes is an experimental debut video where the rawness of the creative team shows on the sleeve, but that doesn't detract the team from forging ahead and making something of a cult hit out of this film as well.

It's your classic college school life where students do everything else but study, along the same veins like Crow's Zero, with different clichéd cliques rule sections of the turf in the school known as Faeryville College. We follow the life of Wynn, a newcomer (as they always are) and he serves as the proxy to introduce to us things like the glamour pusses and the #1 gang in school known as the Backside Boyz, whose dance routine is just as bad as their attitudes and tempers.

Inspired by the sayings of Faeke, an enigmatic Bohemian-styled slacker, lamer and wanker, he soon gets roped into a gang of misfits who call themselves the Tzaintes, as they etch towards securing a foothold of their own within school, but of course not without ruffling the feathers of the Boyz. It's guys, girls and guns, where experimentation by the filmmakers is the order of the house. The story might not be something to be wowed by, but there's a certain cultish like philosophy that Faeke preaches that may make you go hmmmm….

Being a first film, this movie does have its shortcomings such as the non-existent acting skills by a large number of the cast, but as a platform to experiment, then this would provide perfect opportunity to test out waters, which of course led to the more pointed A Wicked Tale.

After the screening, directors of A Wicked Tale Tzang Merwyn Tong and Selvam Dass, and producer Armen Rizal Rahman had a short Q&A session with the audience, where they shared about the influence of the visual atmosphere, which is inspired by dream like images, and that the story had been intriguing because of the moral behind the Little Red Riding hood syndrome which they wanted to explore. Selvam also recounted that they had to try analyze the different layers in the story, and Tzang wanted to explore the question of seduction in a game of manipulation. He also added that he liked the style of silent movies, and the intertitles employed helped to allow an audience to pause and think a bit. He tried not to rationalize the styles used, but uses what he feels natural to present the story in that particular way.

And for fans of Faeke who wanted to know if he's based on a real life person, the filmmakers chuckled and explained that the name probably answered the question!

The double bill screenings will continue to screen at Sinema Old School at the following showtimes. Check the website to confirm screening schedules:

August 16, 2008 - 7:45 pm, 9:15 pm
August 22, 2008 - 7:00 pm
August 23, 2008 - 7:45 pm
August 24, 2008 - 2:30 pm

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