My personal measure of an excellent comedy, is whether or not it reduces me to tears that roll uncontrollably coupled with some really deep-felt hearty laughter. While I'd like to pride myself with a good sense of humour, it does take some effort to really elicit that kind of a reaction from me, and Sell Out! does that by the bucketload, and through a variety of methods ranging from slapstick to the wry, from the staring-in-your-face obvious to the wink-wink-insider-jokes too.
Yeo Joon Han dug deep into his plethora of talent, wearing the hats for producing, writing, editing, directing and, check this out - writing the songs (lyrics and music composition) as well! And the songs are a definite highlight of the film, while not so much a musical per-se, but does have characters breaking into song to move the narrative forward. And in true, witty nature, look out for that moment that calls for YOUR participation! Jack Neo may feel threatened that Joon Han's Money song easily rivals those he oft feature in his Money No Enough series, but my personal fan-favourite amongst the tunes would be "You're Not My Type", with Jerrica Lai and Peter Davis delivering a duet that has to be experienced with proper sound on the big screen for its wonderful accompanying visuals that capture character emotions just perfectly.
From the get go, Joon Han delivers every step of the way, all the way to the final frame, without condescending nor making the audience feel stupid. Rather, he turned the tables on himself first, in self-deprecating fashion to introduce himself as an arty-farty director and pokes fun at question-and-answer, art and commercial films, and you'll even be treated to a screening of his award winning short with some really innane dialogue. From that point on with your attention arrested, Joon Han throws every subject into the narrative almost effortlessly, with themes that are easily identifiable, but always keeping an eye out to ensure that the fun factor in every scene is never lost.
Sell Out! boasts some superb "mo-lei-tau" scenes coming in from the blind side to tickle that funny bone of yours, capturing little things that irritate in life and provide a fun spin to them, from pop culture to SMS reality shows, and who would know that Death could be so funny as well. There's a really brilliant scene in the film alongside a deathbed that encompassed plenty, and makes it all the more worthwhile for repeated viewings just to catch every possible punchline from that scene. Those paying close attention during the film will be richly rewarded with plenty of funny nuances that we would immediately guffaw at, and sly subtitles also have a life of their own, to hilarious effect.
But it's not always all fun and games, and that's why this film is such the gem that it is. There's a clear commentary about doing work with heart, and wanting to be appreciated for a job well done, versus gritting your teeth and doing something that betrays your moral conscience. There's also a sharp underlying critique on modern society in general, and on corporate governance (or the lack thereof!) since what more could you expect from a conglomerate that calls itself FONY and has a one-liner, though succinctly easy to understand mission statement, to "make money", which is after all, the basic reasons for corporations to exist.
The cast too are gutsy enough to trust the debut feature filmmaker, lending their vocals and performing the songs many themselves. I'd like to think that this could have also been a romance, with Eric Tan (Peter Davis) the honest and un-business savvy engineer with his 8-in-1 Super Soya Maker, being infatuated with Rafflesia Pong (Jerrica Lai) the ruthless, uncompromising go-getter who cannot wait to show her rival, the hot pan-Asian Hanna Edwards Leong (Hannah Lo) a thing or two about the ratings game. Then we have the scene stealers with Kee Thuan Chye and Lim Teik Leong as the Smoking and Forgetful CEOs respectfully, encompassing what we dread and probably hate most about corporate bosses who think they can get away with anything in the name of profits. There are some wonderful characterization amongst the leads, with an ensemble supporting cast to add colour, which reminded me of Citizen Dog when the man in the street joins in for a chorus about Money.
Rarely has a film captured so much in under 120 minutes and making sense of it all through well-placed humour. As such, Sell Out! has my firm vote as a personal favourite and the best of the Festival thus far, being the breath of fresh air amongst many stuffy entries that had misplaced artistic merits, alienating themselves from audiences who feel that in depressing times, we can't help but reject yet another self-indulgent movie. Sell OUt! has nothing of that, and has set itself as a contender for my year end roundup of the best offerings in 2009. If it was left up to me, I'd give this film both the Best Film and Best Director prizes at the Silver Screen Awards at the SIFF. The commercial release is due soon on May 7 on both sides of the Causeway, so whatever you do, please make Sell Out! your must watch(! - I must exclaim this) movie this year!
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