Friday, July 09, 2010

FPS Productions Double Bill: Dilated | Steadfast

Who Am I?

The gamer in me thought the FPS in FPS Productions could have stood for First Person Shooter, given that the majority of films that the production house churns out are of the action genre. The Film & Photographic Society (ahh, now we know) is a collection of filmmaking enthusiasts who are spread over the Americas, Australia and Singapore, with the Singapore outfit producing Steadfast, which had its gala premiere two days ago at The Grand Cathay, while the Los Angeles team was responsible for Dilated. Sinema Old School has packaged two films together, so you can watch both at one sitting.

Directed by Brian L. Tan, Dilated at first seemed to be The Transporter meets Crank, with a bald Jasyn Jefferies (taking a cue from Jason Statham who was the protagonist in both of the films mentioned) playing DIC, a creature of a man supposedly dead from an infliction of a strange disease. We come to understand that a certain Dr Meridian (Lydia Mullaney) tried to revive him after what she thought was an unsuccessful attempt at curing him, only for DIC to break out of a military lab facility, and making his escape in an armoured Audi (or at least it deemed that way) in hot pursuit by the military in two Hummers.

Billed as a satirical action comedy, much of the laughs, intended or otherwise, came from the usual cliches of the pursuers possessing such lousy aim that they'd never be able to hit a moving target even if it was to be the size of a huge truck, and given weapons firing at a million rounds per minute. Then there's the heavy guns being brought out, but it takes forever to give the Audi a scratch. Bullets never run out, and the hero well, gets blessed with the perfect aim to take out his enemies even when greatly outgunned, with time for a cigarette smoke or two.

Presented in a non-linear narrative with flashbacks to give a little bit more character background and development, Dilated suffers from its kinetic editing and shaky cam technique, the latter which I feel is quite overrated as a means of presentation, and almost always used in place to cover up shortfalls, which in this case a steady number of continuity errors that arose from the chronology of damage inflicted, where broken items appear to be intact before being broken again, which in this case, a car's windows and windscreen being tell tale signs.

But granted for any action junkie, it has enough weaponry on display here for the enthusiast to point out, and ends with a bang somewhat with its surprise shift in genre which worked well, and let you wonder how different a film it would have been should this be a feature length film instead, and whether it had enough of a unique selling point to differentiate itself from the tirade of modern day monster movies out there.

Go Go Go!

In the case of Steadfast, well a film like this is quite the rare gem to come about. There will be those who lament and wonder if Singapore can ever produce an action genre film without making things look cheesy and cheap. We've only but a handful of films that dare venture into this genre of high expectations, with Leonard Lai's The High Cost of Living being the rare feature film in recent years to be an action based one, with others such as Blood Ties featuring a scene or two involving shootouts.

Perhaps it's difficult to do so, since action based films usually involve blowing things up for that feeling of shock and awe, or to have blazing guns and stunt crew ever ready to perform deft-defying feats to thrill audiences. Given the kind of endless budget these days in Hollywood productions, this genre is having its bar raised ever so often with a new action flick coming along, that it takes something quire unique in order to wow an audience, especially jaded ones.

Compounding the issue of quality, you can imagine the kind of logistical nightmare to be shooting action in Singapore, especially one involving weapons where we have strict gun laws against. The challenge here is to produce something that is of good quality without looking silly or unintentionally comical, with as much authenticity as possible without coming across as amateurish. Backed by the Singapore Film Commission, writer-directors David Liu and Linus Chen managed to accomplish this through their latest short film production Steadfast, which was one year in the making.

The gist of the story involves a corporate type executive (Amit Nagpal) being the target of an assassin (Lau Yu-Don), only because he decided to squeal and own up to his corporation's wrongdoings, and sacrificing to become the fall guy through a public whistle-blowing. Even with the employment of armed bodyguards, a sole justice department agent (Marcus Lee) tracking the assassin's year long trail of victims finds himself caught up in the middle of the crossfire between opposite sides.

I suppose for an action film, the plot is but a means to hold a series of action sequences strung together, and both Liu and Chen didn't stinge in packing this 36 minute film with sequences such as an extended office shootout cum fisticuffs (which I was begging for focus rather than to intersperse it with scenes from another narrative thread, and the fisticuffs came with an over-enthusiastic sound effects that Kollywood loves), a simple carpark hit job, a street ambush spilling into the inside and the rooftop of a factory, and a bungalow defense. You have authentic looking weapons (again, for enthusiasts to ID) and countless of shots fired enhanced with post production muzzle flashes and loud enough surround sound effects to allow you that feeling of being caught up in the thick of the action.

As a proof of concept, there's no doubt Steadfast offered what the filmmakers could do with a shoestring budget as far as action film budgets go. They had a multi-national cast to play with, decently filmed action with costumes inspired from the Counterstrike game (some decked in Counter-Terrorists garb, and others with balaclava headgear). If there's any area that needed sprucing up, it'll be the creation of heightened tension as there wasn't much sense of danger during massive blow ups, or to take the necessary measured pause with just the right time allowance to accentuate enmity during stand-offs, which preferred to veer into talky territory for a tad too long.

Still, Steadfast managed to offer a glimpse that an all out Singapore action film is not something far-fetched, or something that cannot be done decently. With all the right ingredients falling into place like a charismatic cast, a good story to tell, and as important, filmmakers like Liu and Chen with a passion for the genre and who believe such films are a possibility here, I'd say it'll probably not be long before we see something that'll make us sit up, take notice and be proud of!

Those interested to catch these 2 films in one double bill feature, then take note of the following at Sinema Old School:

Screening Dates & Times:
09.07.10 Friday – 7.00pm & 8.30pm
10.07.10 Saturday – 3.00pm *
16.07.10 Friday – 7.00pm & 8.30pm

* Steadfast Directors David & Linus will be present at a special screening of the films on the 10th of July, 3pm, to conducting a Q&A session after.

Related Links
- FPS Productions Singapore Website, with the filmography available for viewing
- Dilated Official Movie Website
- Steadfast Official Movie Website
- Steadfast FaceBook page
- Schedule and Ticketing Details at Sinema Old School
- Production Talk at SINdie

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