Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Timeless Love (那个夏天 / Na Ge Xia Tian)

The Look of Disbelief

Be careful what you wish for. There are times when you'd look at the films coming out of Singapore, and wonder whether there is bandwidth for a wide genre of films, especially those that are more uplifting in nature. With the success of youth films, undoubtedly Giddens Ko's You Are The Apple of My Eye being one of the largest hits in recent years, one may think that Timeless Love may be it, a local film that features youthful characters who are not into gangs or getting into trouble with the law, but assembled to have fun with the sand and the sea.

Alas first time director and television personality Dasmond Koh, and his co-director Lim Koong Hwee, couldn't get Timeless Love to live up to its potential, finding itself firmly stuck in the sand and failing to feed on its inherent exuberance and youthful energy. Rather, it fed off the inexperience of youth since the film was an all round showcase of inexperience at all quarters, only for qualities of brashness, experimentation and boldness to do something different, becoming shining beacons for an otherwise lacklustre film that failed at the beginning with the lack of a solid, water-tight narrative.

The synopsis will read quite well, about a rich young boy called Morgan (Aloysius Pang) who inherited his family fortune with the passing of the grandmother - the younger spiritual version who pops up every now and then, played by Cynthia Ruby Wong - and discovers an old watch (Solvil et Titus product placement in full gear since watch shop City Chain has production credits) together with a lease of a resort island. With his best friend Sky (Xu Bin) in tow, who brought along Eden's ex-girlfriend Pepper (Josephine Chan) without permission, the trio journey to the said island and get acquainted with its youthful resort operators, the brother-sister team of Eden (Joshua Ang) and Xiao Wei (Kimberly Chia), who would hold the key to what their visitors would be seeking.

But first, with teenagers and their raging hormones, there's always room for romance, such as Sky's infatuation with Xiao Wei, and the triangle of affection between Morgan, Pepper and Eden, all finding their way into the storyline to contrast the love story of the present, with that of the past, involving a pair of watches, the island lease, and the inexplicable, painful separation which was never fully explored. Throw in some hasty subplots involving a shady real estate developer, a youthful photographer called Uri (Eugene Lim) and Morgan's servant (Michelle Tay) and son who get involved only to provide for some weak comedic moments, and this film had its hands full trying to resolve everything in a relatively short 80 odd minutes.

Which sadly it doesn't, and threw up a lot more questions that were left unanswered, or deliberately open-ended, which just didn't work given the lack of background and severe shortage of depth. In fact, there isn't much natural continuity, and character objectives became murky at best, and forgotten midpoint. Establishing shots and introductions were scant and thrown out the window, requiring plenty of frantic groping in the dark as to who the characters were as they appeared on screen. The story also had a scattered focus, which was a pity since if it had stuck to one primary focus it may just had pulled it off. But it decided to dwell on puppy romance, tough friendship and rivalry in the present brought on by gaming challenges, then flash-backed to the past that didn't bring out what could have been a essential and strong love story involving the grandparents to anchor emotions, and then deciding later on to include a spanner in the works to have the film turn into one terribly unsuccessful weepy.

One suspects that the film had probably been a lot more coherent if it was allowed a better length, but key omissions to link scenes and its hastily edited narrative became its bane, with the entire film and story feeling like they had been hastily and desperately sewn together with little thought about flow and pacing. There were shades of attempts to emulate the successful formula of sun-shiny films from the Japanese, Korean and even Taiwanese film industries, but alas what it had tried to do in spirit, didn't translate well to resemble the genre it had tried to live up to. The first sunken salvo fired was plot elements being conveniently utilized, and plot conveniences at every turn to make it all unbelievably coincidental, or worse, illogical.

But the other salvo fired that condemned the film to its depths, was the lack of an experienced cast to grab the weak narrative by the scruff of its neck and dragged it through with sheer powerful performances and chemistry within the ensemble to lift the film from its doldrums. For all the negative publicity surrounding this film's release with a very public spat between Joshua Ang and Dasmond Koh, in all honesty Joshua proved to be one of the most natural on screen given his experience and despite the material, standing out against a bunch of relative newcomers. Aloysius Pang is almost a dead ringer to Shawn Lee, Ang's frequent co-star in a number of Jack Neo films, and that worked to the film's advantage in having tapped onto its pseudo-established chemistry between the two male leads.

The camera fell in love with Kimberly Chia given her constant close ups, though wide angled shots didn't have an appropriate narrative to accompany her long walks from one side of the screen to the other, and the shift that passed off as character development was one of the highlights to showcase her acting range, only to have the mood torpedoed by Josephine Chan. The weakest link, Josephine was clearly regurgitating lines without emotion, making her character terribly artificial, and unbelievable that two boys would be fighting over her. She makes everyone else, including the cameos, look like multiple Oscar winners for acting. On the male side, Eugene Lim was a slight notch better than Josephine with his one-sided, forgettable caricature, while Xu Bin's light hearted role will be remembered for that less than muscularly tanned naked upper torso throughout the film. Cynthia Ruby Wang? Probably only had less than 10 minutes of screen time combined, in her own subplot that sadly got abandoned and unfulfilled.

Timeless Love is absolutely not timeless, and in all likelihood couldn't stand the test of time, though you cannot fault the all round optimism in embarking on a project that's experimental, not in the conventional film genre sense though, with misplaced belief in a fresh-faced cast and a first time director at the helm. Youths will develop over time and through growing experience, and so will the cast and crew hopefully learn from their effort here.

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