Friday, July 17, 2009

Female Games

Friends and Foes

"The female of the species is more deadly than the male" - Space, Female of the Species

Kan Lume continues to push the boundaries involving relatively taboo themes that Singapore narrative films have traditionally steered clear from. While one may seem to think offhand that this film centers around lesbianism, this film is anything but solely that, though obviously it's an easy selling point, but presented here in this pared down version is still a keen observation into the psyche of females, which you'll hear or experience yourself from time to time with regards to girls checking other girls out, in a competitive sort of fashion.

Evelyn Maria Ng stars as Alex, who opens the film with a video confessional, introducing herself and basically setting the stage, talking (or complaining!) about all things Singapore, and the want of venturing overseas for opportunities because the perennial grass on the other side is always greener. Hence her road trip with Sandy (Shen Qiaoyun), an acquaintance whom we only get to know more about along the way to Malaysia. The stage is set for two aspiring model wannabes to meet up with a casting director (Dean Kuan) across the Causeway. Alarm bells would ring by now if you have followed the synopsis of the film, but the end result is anything else but that.

The relationship between the two girls began quite cordially, where they seem all sugar and spice and all things nice. I guess as friendships go in a trip, we tend to make concessions, have fun, and basically have a good time. The first act before they meet with their professional sugar daddy (I say this because of the promises and potential of opening doors that a casting director can bring) consists of plenty of niceties, and all the foundation upon which a strong friendship can be formed. Even a trip to a fortune teller ends up with executing together the advice of packing all their troubles in an old kit bag, and getting rid of it.

However, I'll be extremely curious to know what the original cut would have looked like, because a key development in their friendship got pushed to the epilogue in a sort of a flashback and reminiscent of better days, especially when we see the events that happened upon return, with a tinge of domestic violence being quite painful to watch. If I may indulge, I would have thought having the scenes included proper, rather than relying on the trailer to fill in the blanks, would have resulted in a more emotional punch between the two female protagonists, as they turn against each other, one subtly and one none too subtle. Thing of it as watching the proper and complete Ang Lee vision of Lust, Caution, versus the castrated one which we also got to hit the screens here. Different emotional impact, period.

That aside, the film still works to a certain degree, thanks to both actresses being really daring and fleshing out their competitive characters really well, even though their physical relation really got subdued. If you could put that aside, the film continues to explore that more competitive nature of the female psyche, especially when you have two attractive girls vying for similar opportunities, all it takes is a little casual (and of course deliberately damaging) remark thrown in by the casting director's assistant, and suspicion soon brews into contempt, as every little action is perceived differently and blown way out of proportion. Like an M&M, they become friends on the outside, foes on the inside, trading little gossips, laughter at the other, saying belittling mean things behind the backs, and the likes.

And if you could not believe that the closeness of the characters didn't complicate matters, well, I share the same sentiments. The characters' sexuality isn't clear from the start, which I felt the full version would have, as mentioned, really socked in the emotional impact. It could have the potential of an additional dimension of severe jealousy, when one party decided to forgo their relationship just to advance in her career, and also that sense of betrayal having felt by the other, translating to rage that becomes a back-street brawl (which was awesome by the way). This version didn't really bring that out too well, as it became one brawl without the emotional component, just at a professional one.

Not to say that the guys here get forgotten as well, though they don't get put under so good a light. We get to peek into the guys' discussion in a bonding session over beer, which reveals their strategy and motives that I thought was simple brilliance, exploiting weaknesses for personal gains through the sharing of tips like how punters do. Fish Chaar also gets a small scene that highlights the possessive nature of a relationship such as that seen in Closer, and may make you shake your head at how he couldn't keep his temper in check, though in a situation presented, it's extremely difficult to keep a cool and level head.

Technically, this was Kan Lume doing almost everything himself in an intimate shoot under tight schedules. Natural lighting was opted and there was a conscious overexposure of images as if to center your focus on the characters and not care very much of the wider world, which the characters seem to exhibit in their bold relationship, and the nonchalance of the consequences of their actions. To avoid being too dark and gloomy, a light hearted, breezy bossa nova soundtrack was selected to accompany our experience in viewing the latest feature film from one of our boldest filmmakers in Singapore.

The original cut of the film meant for the Singapore International Film Festival was 78 minutes long, before it got withdrawn because it was passed R21 with cuts and therefore conflicting with the SIFF policy that they only screen uncut films. The version that Sinema Old School is screening will be only 70 minutes long, so if you do the math you know that you're only watching about 90% of what was. Going by the scenes in the trailer which you can watch online, the bolder, more explicit scenes between the characters obviously got the axe, but don't let that detract you from the themes that the film sought to explore.

As for film censorship issues, well I guess it's suffice to say we're still stuck at an age where screen violence is more tolerated than characters mouthing off, or sexuality, in that order of decreasing tolerance.

Related Links
One of the leads in the film, Shen Qiaoyun, is also a prominent blogger who goes by the moniker Sheylara, and she documented a very detailed Makng-Of the film Female Games over a series of blog posts which you can access here, giving you a look at what went on behind the scenes:

God is a Woman (Working Title)
Getting Ready
Day One
Day Two
Day Three (Oh yeah the cat fight is as real as it can get!)
Day Four
Off The Set

[World Premiere Screening with Cast Q&A] - Sinema Old School 22 July 2009 8pm - Details, and for other timings, find out here.

[Update 20 July 09]'s Interview with Evelyn Maria Ng

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