Making its World Premiere at the Bangkok International Film Festival last year, Chris Yeo's In The House of Straw finally makes its way back home for its local premiere at the Singapore Panorama section of the Singapore International Film Festival. This year's section only offers 3 feature films compared to the bumper crop of yesteryears, but one thing to take note is the emergence of 13 Little Pictures (13LP), which in my opinion is gaining strength from its slew of edgy, thought provoking films released around the world so far that is tangent from the mainstream local offerings, and serving up an eclectic mix of a showcase of what local filmmakers are capable of when they bandy together. Out of the three films at the Panorama, two are from 13LP's filmography, and a look at their webpage will whet your appetite with what's in store.
Those who have seen an earlier 13LP film called White Days, will likely know who Chris Yeo is – the actor giving the cockroach speech with aplomb and something that will unfailingly provide heaps of laughter. Now with Chris Yeo on the director's chair and coming up with the story, one will more or less know what to expect from his film whose title spawned from the tale of the Three Little Pigs. given a little spin with Chris' reimagination of the story that paints a less than rosy picture of pig helping brotherly pig, dealing with the reality that sets in once the evil threat of the Wolf is gone, and getting on one another's nerves since each bear different characteristics, and for the lack of a better phrase, a mountain cannot hide two tigers.
Such is the parallel drawn between what can be thought of as the narrative of the film, and that of the Little Pigs' brought to life solely by the grave narration and sombre soundtrack. Told in very episodic fashion with each episode lasting a mere few minutes before the intertitles come up to introduce the next segment, the film happens to be more fantasy as it moved along, especially since it's a tale told in two parts, with the second part lasting but a fraction of the first and more of a cinematic experimentation in going full circle back to where it all started. One of the rare times where an episode is given an extended run, is when it documents the Har Par Villa, accentuating its interior of deity statues and steep mysticism, which the film at times seem to want to align itself with.
The three pigs in question are namely the unemotional Zhi Wen (Daniel Hui) who decides to move out of his family home and away from a senile dad, over-concerned mom and manic depressive sister (Tian Low), for the greener pastures of independence through the bunking in with flatmates Mark (Eustace Ng), a priest in the making, and Ah Pin (Felix Huang), the bicycle thief with a secret past, and who seems to be the unofficial ringleader of the trio for his straight talking loud mouth. Part 1's the Soliloquay, which follows Zhi Wen through his rise and fall, introduced to us as being quite the robotic empty vessel without a backbone and waiting to be nourished and ripe for influences both good and bad. It's also a look at his relationship with his girlfriend Lee (Lynn Chong), which seems set for disappointment given one side's enthusiasm, and another's rather indifferent attitude, especially when there's no tinge of protection rendered when one party is put in a pretty difficult spot.
Now to make sense of the film will be a tall order, and what could be said are the story threads running quite independently throughout, each with scenes and dialogues which stand firm on their own. The people here spend time dancing, gambling, drinking and mimicking films, that you wonder if there will be anything more to it than the television series Friends without the comedy. It is multi-layered so much that frankly I am hampered by the notion of trying to unravel the series of mysteries in the film, that I think will be best left to film theorists to postulate. But that doesn't mean that one cannot simply enjoy the film on the surface, as there are countless of moments that will fascinate you, and one of my favourites happen to be a tense scene involving the three male leads around a table with cans of beer, playing a drinking game that has them provide insights about one another.
Part 2 puts the entire film on topsy-turvy and it is here that you'll get a mental workout. Aptly titled Discourse and explaining that it's with Characters played by Other Actors, it's narrated in Mandarin, and have the different folks partaking in roles that call for different attitudes. I'd like to reckon this to the aftermath of influence, which I think after you hung out with certain friends for a long while, there will be something that will inevitably rub off you, and the scenes in this part just amplifies this influence in attitude changes. It's a characterization merry-go-round, and of course this allows for the actors to flex their acting muscles.
Chris Yeo also put in some conversations about god, or at least a character having one with a higher being, and therefore may earn this film its adult rating, which also could have been brought on by a sex scene that you see nothing (as compared to what you can see in other commercial films with the same rating). I had always thought that local films have to face an uphill battle in film classification, and this one just reinforces the point. Still it was a full house at its local premiere at the Arts House Screening Room, and if you're up for a mental workout with a tale about escape and influences that mold us as a person, perhaps this is a house that you may want to enter!