It's indeed a blue moon when we have two Singapore films hitting the big screens here at almost the same time. Haunted Changi is now playing, but if family drama is more your cup of tea, then Clover Films' Love Cuts, starring the Queen of Caldecott Hill Zoe Tay, will be your choice as it sneaks this weekend. While we have a number of film production and distribution companies in Singapore, Clover Films is one of the rare few that does both, and being the relative new entrant (though founded by industry veteran Lim Teck, who also provided the story), its two mass appeal films made to date in the same year – comedy Old Cow Versus Tender Grass, and now with Love Cuts, prove that it's quite the force to be reckoned with, teaming up with production houses in Malaysia, as well as having clout to rope in regional stars for its films.
Love Cuts happens to be sort of the public service announcement type of film, with an undoubtedly clear cautionary message for all womanfolk out there to go for regular mammogram checks, lest there's something suspicious detected that can be treated early, rather than to discover a fourth stage cancer out of the blue. And the fact is that breast cancer doesn't come with a pre-warning, unless a checkup is done. With the support of the Health Promotion Board and the various cancer centres here, Love Cuts demonstrates how the public service do tap on the power of film now and then to drive their message through, and if you remember, Jack Neo's One More Chance also fell into the same genre to remind society to give ex-convicts another chance in life.
And such genre films somehow cannot escape the formulaic way its story gets told, relying heavily on melodrama, and this being a film that deals with an illness, hospitals, medicine, caregiving and the likes are only less than a stone throw's away. In essence it deals with how a terminal illness affects loved ones around, which will likely effect lifestyle changes to centre around the patient, and usually effect a positive mindset and character change for the better. Here, Sissy (Zoe Tay) the seamstress is the all round do-gooder, who finds her life turn topsy turvy with her discovery of fourth stage breast cancer, which effectively had dealt her a death hand. When her condition is revealed to family, husband Wai Mun (Kenny Ho) the restaurant manager shelves plans to return to Hong Kong to start up his own business, and turns into a full time caregiver rather than to OT at work (yeah, the condominium mortgage is expensive, you know?), while children Mabel (Regene Lim) and Howard (Edwin Goh) find that they have to grow up, fast, with the biggest change seen in the son, turning from the indifferent brat, to the filial young adult.
One story cannot keep an audience engaged for two hours, so a companion tale comes in the form of lingerie model Kristie Kong (Christy Yow, whom I think had her voice unceremoniously dubbed), who suffers from the same condition, only at the earlier stage where she can give up one breast to save her life. Of course this will mean an end to her career that's going to take off with being a brand ambassador for some overseas lingerie chain, and her fear of losing her filthy rich boyfriend Timothy (Allan Wu) since she thinks she'll be less of a woman. The two women meet and their stories interlock, which I find it to be stretching credibility (and thus dragging the narrative) since Sissy's friendliness extends to her family's acceptance of Kristie almost like one of their own (not that the rest know of her condition). Perhaps lingerie models do get a lot of doors open to them?
I've always been curious how the Singapore film industry always seem to not tap on the talent of its television actors. Granted not all are suited to make the jump to the big screen, but there are a few success stories, such as Qi Yuwu (881, 12 Lotus, Home Song Stories, 14 Blades, Painted Skin, The Leap Years) and Fann Wong (Shanghai Knights, The Wedding Game, Ah Long Pte Ltd, Just Follow Law, Happy Go Lucky), the latter who seem to be going overboard with her cutesy, kitschy antics in a series of comedies. Zoe Tay surprisingly, being one of the top stars of local television, only has one feature film under her belt (The Tree), but Love Cuts showcases her versatility, and this film doesn't play her as some femme fatale, but a regular middle aged mom who befits the “auntie” moniker. She carries her role with finesse and grace, being the perfect mom for her children, and juggling career and family which tells of the modern day family pressures in Singapore, necessitating a dual income in order to sustain that comfortable lifestyle as seen in the film.
Other television stars who got cameo appearances include Huang Shinan as a disgruntled restaurant patron, and Zhu Houren as a doctor, and I'm really beginning to wonder if we could adopt what Hong Kong has with its plethora of stars given the opportunity to make films and for production companies here to hire our own without costing an arm or a leg. But the top draw here will be Kenny Ho, a star who hasn't been seen for quite some time already (and not seemed to have aged!), making a big screen come back with Love Cuts which naturally is a casting coup for the fledging production company. We're heading in the right direction to not dub Kenny because that will be massively disrespectful (the trailer, with a dubbed Mandarin voice, was plain awful) and his character is allowed to straddle between Cantonese and Mandarin (in his own voice), alongside Zoe's Sissy when they communicate with each other. While this is more natural, I am hoping that a change can be effected in my lifetime that we do away with the ratio-rule, and allow for characters in film to speak in whatever language that brings a keen sense of reality, especially the Chinese ones such as Hokkien (for Taiwanese films) and Cantonese (for Hong Kong ones).
You can tell that the film has a limited budget to work with which translated to only modest production values, since Sissy's Seamstress shopfront rarely has anyone walking into it – it's an excellent business model she has in giving generous discounts yet having extremely limited walk-in customers – and the shopping mall seem to have nobody patronizing it. Kristie Kong's modelling shoots by her photographer (played by real life photographer Anthony Levi Kho who also had a role in The Days) also seem to revolve around the same locale (unless that swanky sea-facing glass house is his photo studio, then wow), and the cruise they take on board a ship, doesn't seem to be moving at all. The theme song however got played ad-nauseam, while its presentation seemed more suited to direct-to-video productions.
But of course, Love Cuts got made with an objective in spreading the message and awareness about breast cancer, and nothing more. If a narrative film cannot move you to get yourself a mammogram, then perhaps Jasmine Ng's Pink Paddlers, a documentary done three years back on the sufferers and survivors of breast cancer, may more successfully spur you to have those checks done.