This month alone sees two first time feature filmmakers tackle genre films that haven't been done before in Singapore's short filmography, and the results are as expected, drastically different given the level of experience going into production, and how indie filmmakers pale in comparison to a proper studio backed and funded product, complete with support from the Singapore Film Commission. Gary Ow's clueless zombie-comedy film Hsien of the Dead became an insult to the genre, while Ng Say Yong's inspirational dog drama My Dog Dou Dou attempted to take on the formula that's been perfected by the industries in Japan and the USA, that it was a film just waiting to be made, once the right dog can be found. I guess this is it.
However, My Dog Dou Dou suffered a little from what I call the unfortunate plot elements that have been synonymous with local films of late - gambling, gangs and plenty of family bickering. Outside of the horror and/or comedy genre, it's quite tough for a film to peel away from the temptation to add these into the narrative, and this film is no exception, especially when it's thought to be safer to stick to norms and formula, than to try something bolder.
There's a need to make the dog special? Well, let's have it predict 4D numbers naturally. Need a family squabble? Make a family member a gambling addict, and for the mom to walk out because of condition. Need to induce some tear jerking moments? Well, let's put in a kid, and have him bond with the titular dog, with the inevitable to happen to wrench at the hearts. No less than three script writers got involved to craft the storyline, and one can probably ask for a little more variation and freshness put into the tale, rather than for one of the writers to sneak in a 2359 inside joke. And for a dog movie, the dog's really quite peripheral, which is a pity.
That said, My Dog Dou Dou can still lift its head high up amongst its peers, since it contained a well thought through story despite the genre cliches it can't rid itself of, or worst, relied on the antics of the dog to carry it through. The main characters are Ming (Jason Wong), a single parent forced to bring up his kid Xing (Ivan Lo, last seen in Jack Neo's We Not Naughty and continues his good performance here), because his wife left no thanks to his gambling habit. That vice is still not kicked, and father and son spend occasional days on the run from loan sharks. Serendipity strikes when the runaway Dou Dou (Flapper the dog) gets rescued by Xing, and despite his dad's disdain for canines, brings him home, and through a series of oh-so-cute-inducing scenes, finally gets to keep his current best friend.
Not before long, it's soon discovered that Dou Dou can predict 4D lottery numbers, and Ming gets on the act to coax the dog for more, becoming the family's golden goose, much to the unhappiness of Xing to support his father's vice. Then there's Ming's long time acquaintance Ginny (Malaysian actress Cathryn Lee) the reporter who provides an unauthorized expose on the fantastical abilities of the dog, leading to the primary loan shark of the movie (played by television actor Zhu Houren) wanting the dog for his own money making needs. There's a little twist in the tale that you can see coming that provides that emotional sucker punch for the finale, but otherwise the narrative is peppered by perfunctory supporting characters with the likes of Henry Thia as Dou Dou's original owner, Liu Ling Ling as Ming's car workshop employer, and Yvonne Lim, who plays Xing's mom, with the story shifting toward family reconciliation, thanks in part to how everyone had been affected positively by the dog.
And the story did show flashes of brilliance, especially when, again, for a local film, it becomes almost a necessity to have subtle subtexts criticizing the social landscape. There's foreign talent/workers in the country engaged in vice activities (with some attempt at comedy here), under the payroll of rich locals no less whom the law cannot touch, a commentary on big brother's compulsory savings schemes and preachy talk about productivity and bonus, the shift to the service industry, and the vacuousness of reporters in state run print media where broadsheets are actually as good as their tabloid counterparts in thrashy news coverage. Or how about the mentioning of floating corpses that have been the talk of the town of late? These hot topic issues date the film to this era, and one surely didn't expect them to creep into a family film.
It's understood that for a family friendly film, the villains can't pose any clear and present danger that's really threatening, and censorship worries see how certain scenes have to be reined in. It could have offered a more sinister villain, since it there was potential in Zhu Horen's character to be a little bit more menacing, and even bordering on the psychotic. And Karma, while obvious as closure for the villain, could have been better developed and pronounced, rather than to have it end too abruptly, since by then, audiences would have been worked up.
But as mentioned, it's kid friendly, so as long as good things happen to good folks, we can't really show much of the just desserts that the villains are deserving of. My Dog Dou Dou has elements that makes it a safe family movie, even if it's cliched with its sub plots and television melodrama, but at least it didn't botch it up.