There are a number of Singaporean filmmakers who have stretched their wings and gone out there in the world to make their films, from documentarians such as Lynn Lee, James Leong and Tan Siok Siok with her upcoming film Twittamentary, and others such as Pearry Reginald Teo and Jonathan Lim. with the world being their oyster and playground. The cinematic road brings writer-director Yong Mun Chee back to Singapore with her debut feature Where the Road Meets the Sun having premiered in the USA a few weeks ago, before making it back here to premiere it during the ScreenSingapore event.
There could have been slight ruffling of the feathers for Singapore Night given the showcase of two films that weren't made by any of the regular established names in the local film community, but after watching both films, I thought this could spur the entire community forward to realize that we have talent both within and outside our shores, some already establishing a beachhead overseas that perhaps could become springboards for others to follow. Idealistic, but worth a shot in my opinion.
Mun Chee's film tells the story of immigrants in the cosmopolitan city of Los Angeles, which in a way reflects both the reality of the city's make up as well as tapping onto Mun Chee's own real world experience of someone from the outside looking in. This is a character driven narrative in a slice of life fashion that snapshots a moment of confluence, but not before a rather long winded introduction that spanned a fast forward of months to introduce characters from various countries.
There's Blake (Eric Mabius), a man estranged from his ex-wife, and now running a cheap hotel where the characters all find themselves in, the Brit playboy Guy (Luke Brandon Field) being the rascal of the group with a penchant for all ladies, an illegal Mexican Julio (Fernando Noriega) who gets to LA in order to find work and sending back his money to his support his family, and Japanese gangster Takashi (played by Korean American Will Yun Lee) who wakes up from a coma and a steep memory of the woman of his life, but getting himself to LA with a pistol where its smuggling got casually explained away, the quintessential and literal Chekov's gun.
The foursome bond together and in itself creates two contrasting pairs in an opposites attract fashion. Julio and Guy provides the comparison between one carefree and without responsibilities to others, with the other being the all round family guy out to look out for better opportunities in order to make a living and support his family back home. One travels to strange lands for pleasure, while the other out of family necessity. Blake and Takashi are the more deeply reflective type, where they get together over a meal, or over music by the late Leslie Cheung whose Canto-tune The Wind Blows On forms the background of protagonists each searching for purpose and meaning in their lives.
Production values for a first film is superb, and perhaps it's because of the technicians behind the production that hail from a very mature industry, so much so that one's debut feature need not be a cheesy, laughable affair in terms of look and feel. Sure it may look like a typical indie film, but I suppose this will help the creative part of the production to focus on direction and fleshing of the characters, leaving aside the technical aspects to experts. Hence a film that worked on both fronts, with Mun Chee weaving very powerful backgrounds and narratives for each of the four male protagonists that sucks you into their lives and predicament, vesting your interest into what life dishes out to them.
This is a drama through and through with slight comedy that balances out what would be a rather bleak though evocative tale about friendship, hope and the struggles of the emotionally downtrodden, all in search of that magic air in a new environment to look for live-changing directions.