Perhaps the only way to enjoy this particular variant of the carrot cake dish is to imagine a fantasy Singapore of sorts, one where prostitutes look like an ex-Miss Malaysia, where people are generally unhappy with their present lot (ok this might be true after all), and all seem to have lack of avenues to vent their frustrations and angst, keeping it all pent up inside.
It's quite daring for writer-director Michael Wang to dive right into his feature film debut with a talkie piece. Then again, with the market conditions over here, you don't really expect one to try and make anything other than compelling drama or comedy to stamp your mark in the industry. While the attempt is bold and courageous, unfortunately the story isn't compelling enough to carry the whole movie through, instead relying a lot on veteran actors Adrian Pang and Alaric Tay to deliver their roles as two of the four protagonists in the story, both of whom seem to be the strong and mostly silent type, who hold their own in banter only when in the mood.
The female leads turn out to be fresh faces on film, with Danielle O'Malley and Andrea Fonseka being the ladies who meet both men over the course of one night, discovering for themselves (and unravelling for an audience) that local men can be quite... troubled. Well in fact every single one of them has a load of emotional baggage that they hope to work through, and unknowingly through the conversations with one another, some demons get exorcised, and new courage found to take the bull by the horns, or to stop and smell the roses.
Told over one night of the eve of Christmas eve (that's the 23rd of December for the slow ones out there), we follow a quartet through the next 12 hours where they meet by chance and spark off some chit-chat over late night supper of, you guessed it, the titular delicacy, in Newton and Geylang. However, for a conversational piece, there were a number of moments of silence, where characters sit and ponder, given the immense weight of their troubles, but for the most part, they all seem somewhat distant and hard to connect with. It's difficult to sympathize or empathize with these characters (perfect spoken English language doesn't help of course, except for the movie to travel overseas), and hence this alienates the audience, so much so that, to quote a character, do you mind talking so that I don't doze off again? (Not that I did of course)
I felt the actors did their best, and delivered where it mattered for their roles, but were somewhat let down by the script. There were flashes of brilliance in some of the conversational pieces, but unfortunately it was generally dull, serving at times as a mouthpiece for the director on his observations of local life, that you're likely finding yourself questioning if it's really the case. But I thought the real question came more than midway through the movie, where you're challenged point blank, as were the characters, on what you actually want in life. It's not something easy to answer, and the movie doesn't try to offer you any solutions, but what it does is to spark off some soul-searching to the million dollar question, which some spend a lifetime to discover.
And what about the much talked about gripe on Andrea Fonseka's character Ruth? Perhaps the most unreal character crafted here, a woman who decides to sell her body to make enough to see through her dream of becoming Singapore's first Blues singer. She's chatty with her clients, and is full of spunk, and speaks proper English as to boot. Naturally there are quarters who find this quite a fantasy figure to begin with (and at that price?!) but Andrea did her best in fleshing out this character, flying expletives, (ok just one), and cheekiness in the same package. So did O'Malley too with her performance as Kate, the free-spirited girl who left California and is in transit in Singapore en route to New Zealand to set up her cafe. For someone who's escaping her life to start another, I thought she was the pluckiest, in her ability to inspire those (men) she comes into contact with, despite having zero material wealth and nary a clue on what to do next.
Make no mistake this is clearly a film that would appeal to a very niche audience, but for those who are willing to give locally flavoured movies a go, The Carrot Cake Conversations offers something that's quite different from the usual set menus and local diet of comedy and horror. It might not have the most interesting conversations in a film, but it sure does have one of the better ensemble performances around.
Despite the official programme stating that director Michael Wang and cast member Andrea Fonseka would be around for the Blog Aloud Q&A Session this evening, it came with the bonus of having another cast member Alaric Tay in attendance too! So without further ado, here's a series of videos on what transpired during this evening's session. Enjoy!
Director Michael Wang on His Feelings of Singaporeans
Advice on Dating By Michael Wang
Andrea and Alaric Talk About Their Roles
Stereo Sound Only
So You Prefer Ruth To Speak Liddat Ah?
Andrea Fonseka Researching Ruth