It's a Friends and Family Affair
An anthology of love stories is what kickstarts the Singapore Panorama in this year's SIFF, with the world premiere of a series of shorts produced by 20 year veteran (who doesn't look his age at all) actor turned project director Edmund Chen's Mission Easy intiative which gives opportunities to budding talent who wish to make inroads in the local film community, mentored by experienced professionals who also serve up the star power to help boost market acceptance and open doors. Some 30 rookies get to try their hand at making a series of 6 shorts all strung together by a common theme of love, think of it as Paris Je T'aime and a whole host of other similarly popular projects around various film industries and you get the drift, with the difference being a relatively rawer output since most are first timers.
Conceptualized as a series of 10 short stories initially, only 6 have made the grade to be compiled for this screening, which boasted a rather lengthy post screening lineup of activities such as certificate of participation/completion/appreciation to almost everyone involved in the making of each filmlet, an awards ceremony of sorts (yes, there's a competition amongst the participants) plus a lucky draw with fabulous prizes given away by sponsors of the project as well. Each short consists of a handful of not more than 2 to 3 leading characters, with a rookie director assisted by a more experienced veteran (although not necessary holding the same capacity in the industry) to come up with stories that are simple, and brought to life with remarkably reasonable production values despite obviously being modestly budgeted.
And with all anthologies, it's a sort of a mix bag of results, some which worked, some which didn't, some containing ambitious potential, while others made bearable or got broke because of its raw acting. Using the theme of Love was ideal to enable a flurry of story ideas that span a wide emotional spectrum, but I had hoped that these ideas stayed within the different stories, instead of interludes of filler scenes ranging from single scenes to single lines, coming in between the shorts to not only add some glamour since they're starring recognizable stars, but in some ways backfiring when they look as if they become lessons and declarations on love done in very preachy, talking heads documentary style.
Stars Gerald Chew and Jessica Tan as James and Amy, a customer and a massuer respectively, where the guy obviously falls for a pretty lady and making small talk throughout their session, and the latter being all the more wary of advances from customers since she's in this line, and being pretty means no lack of advances. But James is adamant in furthering their friendship although sometimes things get doomed due to exaggeration and worst if it's build on a foundation of lies. Staying within PG guidelines, this is a tale about pretence and fear, and how in Hollywood and Taiwanese melodramatic fashion comes closure that's a little bit convenient.
(2nd Short Title Eludes Me)
The second short film in my opinion was the best of the lot, setting the bar of expectations high for the films that follow and don't reach its heights. Starring television veteran Kwan Sek Mui as a grandmother tasked with looking after her grandchildren, played by Edmund Chen's own children no less, the real life family ties stretches a little further when wife Xiang Yun helms this segment as its celebrity director. What made this short film excel is its excellent performances all round – take note of the Chen children, they have it in them as natural performers – and a story that's comedic, romantic and dwells on family relationships, care and concern despite generation gaps that exist. And to top it all off, it revolves around a single event with a playful take on the different perspectives of its characters.
This film had big shoes to fill coming in the aftermath of the best in the series, and a comedic filler by actor Vaidi. In a stark contrast from the previous short, the story here was pencil thin sketchy at best, revolving around a love resort that the broken hearted escape to and find solace in the activities organized, and with constant goading and encouragement from friends and family, everyone gets a second stab at a relationship. Pryanka meets hunky fitness instructor Nick and the two hit it off, is as bland as the story can get.
(4th Short Title Eludes Me)
Keeping it within the family extends to the fourth short film, with Ericia Lee directing her sister Ezanne as a woman stuck in a relationship with a married man (just what she sees in him baffles me) who makes the decision to break up. For quite noble reasons too if I may add, urging her lover to go back to his estranged wife and cancer-stricken child who need them more than she does. It's a tale about selfless sacrifice where the monologue narrative never fail to remind you that love is never about possession, and how ugly love triangles can get. Probably tells about how one's love for another is best exemplified by actions rather than words, with a narrative that tangents off into two separate threads as the couple splits up, with a twist at the end. Strong ideas with potential if not for a rather choppy delivery in its finale.
Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps
Twists in this anthology seemed to be the norm, although in this case it was rather obvious when Chekov's gun got cocked so early and loudly, you're just expecting it to turn up when the time is ripe for the big reveal. Alaric Tay is the celebrity director of this film with Amy Cheng starring as a cougar (very popular character archetype of late) out on the prowl for younger, fresher meat, and her obvious come-hither tones finds a suitable prey from a bar's hot musician who's about the age of her son. Two stories in one here with the other dwelling on a boy's fear of declaring his affections for the girl that he's been infatuated with for years, although this arc obviously takes a backseat and got left hanging for the main act.
(6th Short Title Eludes Me)
The last short film in Echoing Love had a decent story and I would have rate it highly if not for shades of the Korean weepy Il Mare found in its basis and premise. Vincent Ng is the celebrity director of this film starring Tomato Lee (who won an acting award for her role here) and Edwin Goh as unlikely lovers who find each other transcending time and space thanks to a fortune gemstone. One can see the other it's kept one way for the most parts in this inexplicable science fiction romance that brought out many whimsical, romantic moments befitting of any love story, although succumbing needlessly to melodrama for its finale that isn't unexpected, but could have been avoided for a more chirpier finish since it's the concluding episode.
Echoing Love is ambitious when you think about the conceptualization of the project and how it gathered a whole network of people coming together with a single objective to fulfill their film production dreams in various capacities from acting to screenwriting to directing. Hopefully this becomes but a catalyst to kick off more projects from Mission Easy, and for those who had missed tonight's screening, keep your eyes peeled as there are plans to have the films screened at places such as malls, theatres, public spaces all free of charge, as well as on ECTV's internet platform at http://www.ectv.sg