Between today's local film offering, A Big Road which is in the Asian Feature Film Competition, and White Days which is more of an experimental feature, putting these two side by side makes the latter seem like a masterpiece. And the irony here is that it's raw, unscripted, is shot in black and white and like all most independent filmmakers here, enjoy liberal use of the still camera coupled with long takes. That, compared to what would seem as more polished production values in the former.
The film tells the story, or more like a snapshot in the lives of its three protagonists - Chris Yeo, Vel Ng and Daniel Hui, in what would be art imitating life, with some fictional elements thrown in as Daniel would admit in a Q&A later, about being "depressed" throughout the film, walking around aimlessly leaving flowers on the roadside, or burying himself in a book, as negative reactions toward a friend's passing. Fans of Daniel Hui the director will also spot (or more accurately, hear) one of his short films being used in this one.
These disaffected youths spend the entire film searching for something, but I think they all realize is that the baseline they could fall back on is always their friendship with one another. Nevermind if they don't necessarily subscribe to the view points of their friends, but their comfort in ribbing one another, makes light of the gravity of their own unhappy situations. While Vel harbours the thought of leaving her translator job to go to Taiwan, just because she's inspired by Tsai Ming-liang films, Chris seems to want to bring his friends over to Jerusalem after a trip there, for them to touch base with God, and spends a good part preaching his brand of comical gospel and on the meaning of life. This, and the sharing of his dream for a job which pays good, is near home, and has plenty of opportunities to interact with hot chicks.
White Days is a heavy talkie movie, and while it worked with compelling monologue/dialogue in certain scenes, just like how ramblingly interesting that would be in a Tarantino film, sometimes it felt like there was a need to reign in the actors rather than to allow them too much freedom to go on like, forever, with topics floating in piece meal fashion. Editing could be tighter if not for that long take technique employed to try and get natural action/reaction.
For instance, sentences and talks could have been shortened as some bits did drag out too long sometimes no thanks to repetition, and because it's basically unscripted, you can sense from time to time the actors tend to go way out of point like friends having a field day just chilling and talking about everything under the sun. More engaging topics would have been appreciated, and there are expected gems along the way, just like the cockroach topic, which is as irreverent as it is genuinely funny!
Acting wise, everyone was bordering on the giggly, and Vel Ng was probably guilty of that most of the time, sometimes being a little too self-conscious about the camera. Outdoor scene also had curious bystanders wondering what these folks are up to, but captured wonderfully how life just passes you by nonchalantly, with millions of folks out there just conducting their everyday lives in individual silos, reinforcing the need for communication and friendship, and reaching out.
I'm still waiting to watch the rest of the local offerings, but so far White Days had relatively impressed with its raw quality. Watch for that Exit sign above the open window of the apartment, which I felt had always emphasized to the characters that there's a whole new world out there waiting for the characters to explore, rather than spending time indoors and moping around.