Between these 3 years, the Singapore short and feature film landscape has changed dramatically, with increasing output on both the commercial and independent fronts. Carefully curated from its ever expanding archives, this collection features some of the most exciting lineup of creative works from established filmmakers, as well as the up and coming rising stars that one should start to take note of.
Why? Well, we've seen how the filmmakers from Volume 1 have continued to develop their craft and proceeded to the feature film front - Royston Tan now has a few well-travelled features under his belt - 4:30, 881, 12 Lotus - as does Tan Pin Pin with her acclaimed documentaries Singapore GaGa and Invisible City. While his short The Call Home was dramatic material, Han Yew Kwang has begun to establish his brand of comedy with Unarmed Combat and 18 Grams of Love (watch out Jack Neo!) which will make its theatrical debut at Sinema Old School come December. Wee Li Lin had Gone Shopping and Sun Koh dabbled as producer-director of the exquisite-corpse film Lucky 7 which made its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival early this year.
If the Archive's collection is an inkling of things to come from the filmmakers featured, then it shouldn’t be too long before we see them become more prolific. Already Loo Zihan and Brian Gothong Tan had made their feature films, with the former having co-directed Solos with Kan Lume, which was nominated for the running at the 20th Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) Silver Screen Awards, and the latter making his feature film debut with Invisible Children, which had its world premiere at the Bangkok International Film Festival last month. Boo Junfeng is another star in the making to look out for, having gone full circle to bag yet another SIFF Best Short Film award for Keluar Baris this year, his earlier win in the same category being included in this Vol 2 collection.
But that’s not to say that only those who have gone on or going to be making features are given that extra credit. From this collection alone, one can safely attest that we’re not short (pardon the pun) of varied talent in our filmmaking space, from documentaries to even stop motion animation. Nicely packaged with excellent extras incorporated, an informative insert as well as commentaries by those involved in the production (more on that later), one can see that no effort was spared in ensuring a quality DVD befitting a release from an Archive, and this time with a feather in the cap with a restored audio version of Rajendra Gour's 70s film Labour of Love - The Housewife.
Curated based on the theme of Family, it’s a collection of shorts made from the 70s to today, shot in-country and even abroad, and some seldom seen outside of film festivals here and overseas. Now they’re all packed into one nifty collection that you can own, and also perhaps take a glimpse into how the notion of Family has evolved for our young nation still grappling with finding a national identity in her relatively short history.
To date I still cannot fathom how anyone can choose someone to spend one's life with through an unsettling selection process such as a “buffet train”, akin to a flesh parade, and how with methodical, clinical, business-like demeanour, everything gets settled in less than 4 days, including the marriage itself, the meeting of the in-laws etc. The documentary did ask certain probing questions to the matchmakers - the agency as well as their local agents, in trying to find out more about the shortlist process, but while the answers are forthcoming, you do feel a sense that there is more than meets the eye. The ending though felt quite rushed, especially in the interview back in Singapore - the audience just gets a few cursory responses from the interviewee, and nothing else. Perhaps it is the nature of privacy, that the ending, wrapped up in inter-titles, tells of a lot more pain behind the scenes that the subjects did not wish to be further interviewed on camera?
One can only speculate. However, Match Made had done its fair share in demystifying the machinery behind these matches made in foreign lands, and becomes an interesting revelatory documentary that manages to garner your undivided attention, despite its flaws.
There were also a couple of scenes that set the era - the trishaw, and the outdoor wet market, but one thing's for sure, the issues of the housewife faced in those days, are almost similar to the ones faced today. Time and again you do have the spotlight set on discussing how can one quantify, in monetary terms, the value that housewives contribute to society and economy, and perhaps, this short allowed for the reminder that they are important in "shaping the future generation", and that "her work must be appreciated".
The Region-Free DVD is presented in varying formats depending on the formats that the individual short films were shot in. From anamorphic widescreen 16x9 to full screen 4x3, visual quality on the films was excellent, except for Gour's A Labour of Love, which is clearly in need, as the appeal from the Archive, of restoration. Proceeds from the sale of the DVD go toward the Archive's fundraising effort to support the preservation and cultural mission of the Archive. And this is an important mission since our local films made in the 70s, such as Rajendra's short, and films like Ring of Fury, are in dire straits and in need of proper preservation and restoration, lest they become just a faded memory to our future generations.
Standard extras are provided in each sub-menu consisting of the selected short, a text based synopsis of the film, a photo stills gallery and text based director's notes section, except for Absence, Autopsy and Gourmet Baby. Subtitles are available for all the shorts not in the English language, and they are removable for Imelda Goes To Singapore, Autopsy, Match Made and Wet Season.
The other valuable extra in each sub-menu is the provision of a commentary track, usually with the director, or with cast and crew. The standard for each commentary differs though, and I guess it depends on how articulate each filmmaker was. Sandi Tan was unfortunately absent to comment on her short, but lead actor Lim Kay Tong proved to be a capable stand-in as he described the myriad of restaurants the film was shot at. Actress Nora Samosir also had an additional commentary track in Imelda Goes To Singapore, besides one provided by director Brian Gothong Tan about the inspiration for his short, and granted that with the relatively shorter running time of their films, inspiration, rationale and background were also shared by Michael Tay and Ryan Tan in their respective commentaries.
Loo Zihan seemed to be having a runny nose, but his commentary served as an extension to his documentary film with plenty of nuggets contained within, as does Rajendra Gour's as he shared many insights to life during the 70s era, and information on the making of his film, especially that about his wife and kids during production. K Rajagopal was brutally honest about the flaws and gaffes in his movie, and I thought the chemistry that Boo Junfeng, Sharon Loh and Cleo Clara (producer) of A Family Portrait shone through in their lively recollection about how their film was made, and the difficulties faced. I guess there's certain advantages with a group commentary given anyone could join in anytime to share their thoughts, as opposed to Mirabelle Ang, who had to struggle to provide additional insights to her film, and unfortunately remained largely silent and descriptive, and doesn't further explain her apprehensions as voiced out in the commentary. One saving grace of course is her sharing of her email address for viewers to get in touch in the event that one decides to contact her for further discussions.
With a stellar selection of films contained within, the Asian Film Archive's Singapore Shorts Volume 2 makes itself a must-have for any film aficionado with a thirst for Singapore films. Will we see Vol 3 hit the shelves? You bet, and I personally hope it will be soon!
The DVD can be purchased now at all good DVD shops and bookshops, and those who are not in Singapore can get your copy of the DVD online at the Asian Film Archive's Online Shop.
More information about the DVD can be found here at the Official DVD Website.