Thursday, March 25, 2010

[HKIFF 2010 Review] Red Dragonflies (World Premiere)


As explained by the writer-director Liao Jiekai during the post-screening Q&A, Red Dragonflies happens to be a personal film which started off with a discovery of a home video tape containing a part of his life that's bygone, of a period when he was growing up, taking part in his school's outdoor activity club of which a trek down an abandoned railway track has been recaptured, which has in essence formed the bulk of moving images in his debut feature film.

If I may, I'll classify Jiekai's film as something which has to be felt, where like Time Traveller, had used film to express and explore memories, of the desire and longing of a time where life was more carefree, where immediate concerns was about making through a situation with friends without incident, and preparations for examinations, shielded from other cynical real world issues.

In his quest that probes and hopes to recapture such moments in his life, I felt the filmmaker had invariably shared snapshots of what life in Singapore had meant at the time, which will bring back memories for some, such as those around my age, of the familiar scenes that got featured and a reminiscence of the past. For instance, the childhood games of Eagle Catching Chicken played at the corridors of a HDB flat, and better yet, the making of "love letters" done in communal, traditional style, complete with eager beaver children all bug eyed and wanting to devour the next piece that gets rolled off the charcoal stove.

It is precisely these moments that triumph over the narrative that takes place over two different timelines, the present and the past, told in flashbacks, of the characters Rachel (Ng Xuan Ming), Tienwei (Jason Hui) and Junjie (Thow Xin Wei), and their younger selves played by students Oon Yee Jeng, Yeo Shang Xuan and Ong Kuan Loong respectively. I happen to prefer the youthful trio's idyllic trek along the mentioned railway track which seems to go on forever, without a sense of urgency to need to complete a mission, but one which is of exploration through bashed vegetation, and camaraderie forged through rewards such as a nights off at a night market, savoring quintessential tea eggs.

Through their trek, we are reminded of the serenity of the rare remaining forests amidst out concrete jungle landscape, which contains seldom seen sights such as the small makeshift temple that lies hidden from public view. Even then, modern infrastructure are already threatening to creep into the sacredness of untouched lands, as seen by the backgrounds of road networks, and one wonders truly how scarcity is going to decide that this film will contain a record of such places first rarely seen nor experienced in real life, and then forgotten in the name of progress and the prioritization of land use as they anonymously disappear.

The narrative also playfully merges the timelines together that will tickle your mind or even frustrate, as we touch upon the notion of how we sometimes see ourselves, or the people we know, in total strangers. I always feel that way when I travel solo, where for the comfort of being amongst strangers, the thoughts of familiarity get projected onto others, especially when strangers superficially look similar to people we know, and we form presumptions on what their characters could be like, as part of amusement.

Like The Little Tigers' song of the same title Red Dragonflies, this film happened to be a walk down memory lane for me, for those wistful little moments that got wonderfully captured.

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