Friday, October 14, 2011

Fairytales (童话 / Tong Hua)

Who You Calling Girlie?

Despite being meant for children, there's a fair amount of horror in fairytales, with Evil that has to exist to be battled by Good, which almost always come out triumphant, but not before a bruising fight. In Kelvin Sng's Fairytales, the princes and princesses – children - of today's society face that question head on whether to obey the rules put forth by authorities, be it the teachers or their parents, or to be seduced by the constant lure of comradeship, and the quick path to some form of material wealth. Like children let loose into the paradise of Eden, which in this case the trio of Jason (Royston Ong), Amanda (Siona Wu-Murphy) and Guna (Yogendra Santhiran) are enticed by the devilish owner, friendly, charismatic and all round nice guy at first of course, operating the LAN game shop aptly called Promise LAN, which is in truth a front for a whole slew of clandestine activities such as movie piracy and loansharking, as well as being the hunting ground for a shady modelling agency.

Granted that films involving troubled youths are nothing new in Singapore's film landscape, with movies such as Eating Air, I Not Stupid and its sequel, and The Days all touching in and around similar themes, and continues to be a keen reflection of today's reality where we're always focused on grades, results, paper, and material wealth. There's a short interlude that took off midway with the ubiquitous taxi-driver character, a given in local films, to talk about rising costs of living and how it impacts everyone save the filthy rich here, and how foreigners (of the well heeled variety) are in constant praise of how glossy everything on the surface looks. It's an interesting theme to explore but I guess this probably served as a teaser to Kelvin's next film, hopefully a feature length one after two mid-length movies, with The Gang being more of a showreel containing the more interesting scenes in what would be a feature length film concept.

Being an educator himself in the past, I suppose it's Kelvin's way how art decides to take the bull known as the educational system by the horns, and present stories more often than not being heard around tables to recount experiences by family and friends. In this case the youths all come from dysfunctional families, such as Jason who's a studious latchkey child with good grades, but without the attention given by busy parents whose focus is on their careers, the constant nagging of Guna's who measure the kid solely on his grades and not for the person he is, and Amanda's constant changing of boyfriend like her underwear, coming from broken home, with the mother (Leena Salim) who doesn't bat an eyelid to move onto new husbands so long as they're wealthier than the previous.

These are the deep undertones and issues Kelvin Sng brought up in his medium length feature, boldly entrusting his cast of relative newcomers to the big screen with portraying kids they know exist, and trying to give them more than one-dimension as characters, which the runtime didn't work in its favour. The narrative moves at a breezy pace, constantly shuffling from scene to scene with the story developing in very much expected turns, with cameo appearances by industry veterans and stars such as Chen Shu Cheng as a coffeeshop uncle dispensing last minute advice, and Maia Lee doing a complete turnaround as a geeky looking, and very frustrated teacher both in class where she commands little respect, and from the pressures of juggling the needs of her own household.

Perhaps the more poignant scenes come at the end – I dig the one at the dining table - where we usually tend to wake up from our dreams and ideas and desperately try to make good a situation that is already spilled milk, in dire straits. The film turns it around and looks pointedly at the parents, who always have that primary role to play in shaping their children's principles and values, but negligence, and wrong focus and priority in their lives, only serve as stark reminders to viewers being parents themselves, not to wait until it's too late to do something they know needed their attention on. It's a film that deals with and is about choices presented, where there's almost always a light at the end of a tunnel of a wrong turn, but only available to those who decide to become and stay engaged early on. Recommended!

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