Friday, September 14, 2012

Hsien of the Dead

The writing was on the wall, when the trailer came out, and tried to pass itself off as camp. But this is not camp. Hardly. In fact to try and label it as camp, or comedy, or a horror / black comedy, is to insult the genres themselves. In fact, to call it a movie is to insult all movies. Hsien of the Dead is a dead clueless in filmmaking, and at most, it's an experimental effort by first time filmmaker Gary Ow, who wrote, directed and co-produced the film, in finding out what works, and what doesn't, on film.

The miracle here though is how the cast and crew decided to stick around, and see how bad can this venture steer itself into. Think of the worst film you've seen, and multiply that by 10 times that same sickening experience. There's no semblance of a plot, no pace, no character development, no production values, with sheer neglect in aspects of acting which was non existent, sound which was atrociously bad, and all technicalities involved in camerawork and editing that even an amateur would have put in more effort. Basically if there was a real passion in sincerely making a film, that passion cannot be felt at all. It came across as a classroom effort, where students who have never dealt with film at all, decided to muck around with a camcorder, calling all friends and family, and perhaps friends of friends, to come together, conjure something out of convoluted imagination, and then laugh at the joint attempt that delivered a haphazardly assembled 72 minute concept of disparate scenes.

Opening with a cheesy credits sequence that doesn't set the premise, the story, if you can call it that, jumps straight into introducing the leading quartet of caricatures. There's Ah Huay (Vivienne Tseng) who had just lost her parents, and turns into a vengeful, swearing, laughably ass-kicking, cosplay warrior, the Ministry of Propaganda's censor board staff Edward (Ernest Seah) and gun-toting, bike-riding, tudung wearing clerk Hana (Nurhuda Choo), and the titular Hsien (Moses San Juan), a conscript in the Singapore army, an army where weapons are kept in unlocked wooden cabinets, and operating from the Goodman Arts Centre. Passing off as the chief villain is Mas Alamak (Darrell Britt), a knock off of the real life terrorist, complete with the iconic escape from toilet, and to "Johor", amongst plenty of recycled zombies starring the same non-actors you'll see pop up time and again, either in the same role, different make up and costume, or another throwaway caricature later in the film.

In case you're wondering, what I described as the background of the characters actually sounds more interesting that how the film introduced them in chop-socky scenes that would test the patience of the most forgiving, though curious, viewer, especially on how much lower the film can go after 10 minutes. Its attempts at jokes, satire, and funny scenes all fell flat. The forced laughter in the cinema amongst the small number of audience members, were clearly from friends, or friends of friends of those involved in production, tickled at the appearance of known people from within their own cliques.

And you can tell the lack of effort from the various distractions in the background of this movie where the rest of the world functioned normally, oblivious to the scattered numbers of "zombies" moving around, nor to this group of youngsters fighting for their dear lives, since after all, zombies are dispatched using CG gunfire, laughable blood effects, and amateurish martial arts moves, it's a surprise the cast don't end up laughing at the silliness they're put through. A better spot for filming could have been chosen, but I guess location scouting is a strange term to the filmmakers, if I can even call them that. The only saving grace is the makeup, but even that is confined to the face, and again, zero effort in making a zombie look more like a zombie in totality, rather than only having a zombified face.

Hsien of the Dead easily ranks as the worst Singapore film. Ever. It's one thing trying to be a B-movie, and another attempting to be so, but this doesn't even come close as it sure as hell tries very hard to come close. Don't waste your 72 minutes with this film; use it for some other purpose, anything such as watching paint dry, taking the dog for a walk, or even rewinding your grandfather's VHS tapes in his collection which will be a lot more pleasurable. The tagline reads Small Island, Big Problem. The chief problem I see is with filmmaker wannabes jumping onto the bandwagon with a fixation in wanting to be "first" in something, take on a never-been-done-before-here genre beyond their capability, just to be able to make a proclamation, publish credits in IMDb, and to pass off as a filmmaker, with total disregard to quality. If this was truly funny and satire, it would have been great, but it's a sad reflection especially if, like the end credits put it so seriously passing off as fact, this was supported by the Media Development Authority of Singapore.

It's better off being tagged with an advisory that this is strictly for cast and crew's private amusement only.

1 comment:

Keevo said...

F*cking spot on review!
I was at the cast and crew screening (closed door preview) and I felt exactly the same way!
Walked out somewhere in the middle of the screening cos taking a walk was even a more valuable use of my time.
I actually met the director during post-production and told him everything that was pointed out here and actually advised him to edit the film as a direct satire revolving around a film-maker struggling to make a zombie film in Singapore so that the audience would be laughing along with him and his attempts rather than laughing AT him but the apparently he didn't listen. Even his main actress advised him to go with an "Ed Wood" approach. Too bad he didn't listen to anybody but himself.

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