Wednesday, August 31, 2005

[Screen Singapore] 15

15 gained its film notoriety locally for its content, about the lives and angst of teenage delinquents in Singapore. However, after watching this film, one might think a little deeper about the trials and tribulations that these teenagers face, from the angle that director Royston Tan presents.

The opening credits was stylishly done, and this is very surprising actually, for a local film. The feel of the movie was like a series of short snippets of set pieces, be it gang fights, body piercing, the etching of a tattoo on one's body, body mutilations, the swallowing of condom filled Ecstasy pills, etc. And stringing it all together were manga inspired transitions done Japanese documentary style of huge words smacked across the screen.

While these stylistic techniques drew attention to themselves, the main leads were also infamously rumoured to be in similar dire straits as the characters. The street wise teenagers actually looked sincere in their acting (or were they?) and it's a wonder how Royston managed to coax them into starring in his movie.

The plot, as mentioned, consists of short stories which fell into 3 acts. The first, being the brotherhood between 2 friends who ponder the meaning of their aimless lives. They know that they are condemned in the eyes of society, and find solace in the company of themselves. The second act was a bit comical, as 2 friends helped an ex-enemy to look for a building to commit suicide in. And the last act continued with examining the lives and friendship between the same 2 friends.

Sure, peppered throughout the dialogue are constant swearing, smoking, drug-taking, porn watching, lip piercing (which irked the audience), hokkien song singing, but there's a limit to how much these novelties can disguise a lack of focus in certain parts of the story, especially towards the end. I felt the strength of this film was in the first act, where you could actually feel the desperation and crying out for direction in life, and eventually the succumbing to the belief of what Fate has dealt them.

Nonetheless, for its stark and pointed commentary, this is certainly a departure from the usual stories that one might associate teenagers with. It's gritty, dark, melancholic to the point of despair, this is a glimpse into the troubled lives of the local misguided youth.

This film was the closing film for Screen Singapore 2005, thus ending a month long showcase of Singapore films.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Eric Khoo Night, Not

Went to the Arts House yesterday for the Eric Khoo night screening of Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys, which I had actually watched earlier. Something took me by surprise at the entrance, I thought I was gonna get married:

I mean, what are the chances eh?

The bride and groom turned out to be an ang-moh couple. Wanted to take a picture of them as they neared the entrance, but their entourage don't look all too friendly - too many big sized ang-mohs with pony tails in mean looking suits, better not play play.

Anyway, to Stefan and Caroline, I wish ya both the best!

I was early though, and I thought everything was cool until some dudes decided to form a queue in front of the Screening Room. What gives? And soon enough, a relatively long line of people is formed.

My friend Overider arrived and congratulated me (eh!) and the good seats were already taken up. We sat along the aisle, but I thought it was strange that there were not reserved seats for Eric Khoo and his entourage (like Cleo Wong's).

I was showing Overider my new 12 Storeys Soundtrack (which I bought from MLR) and telling him I was going to get it autographed, when this announcement was made over the speakers: "Due to unforseen circumstances, we regret to inform that Eric Khoo will not be joining us at the Screening Room tonight".

You could literally hear the disasppointed sighs amongst the audience, some whom I guess were secretly harbouring the thought of getting a refund. I thought that most would be satisfied with a more detailed explanation other than "unforseen circumstances" anyhow.

Oh well, perhaps he's busy with the promotion of his upcoming film Be With Me. No matter, I'll get to see him tomorrow at the launch party.

*Fingers Crossed*

Sunday, August 28, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Mee Pok Man

This is probably the movie credited with sparking a comeback of Singapore films, and watching it, you can probably spot various influences this Eric Khoo film had on the other more contemporary attempts by the various local filmmakers like Djinn and Jack Neo (whom of course, were in Eric Khoo movies).

Joe Ng (of local band Padres) front the cast as the title character, and Michelle Goh, in her debut, stars as Bunny, the prostitute he is infatuated with. Being a dim witted noodle seller, he's naturally shy and worships her from afar, as she's one of the regulars at the coffeeshop where his shop is at. Bunny, on the other hand, thinks lowly of the mee pok seller, and in your usual SPG character, goes for the ang-mo Jonathan, some sleazy photographer played by David Brazil.

The storyline's pretty basic, and you might think that at the point when Bunny became a victim of a hit-and-run, that the plot might pick up. Actually it sort of went downhill from there, as the mee pok man carries her injured body off to his home to care for her, to be with her. Alas, you should know what happens without proper medical attention.

Towards the end of the film, it drags with mee pok's man soliloquay, and Bunny didn't have much to do except be there to complete the scene. Somehow with the forced dialogue, it lengthened a scene which should have been shortened to improve the pace, which was quite erratic throughout the movie.

In its day, the language might have the audience taken aback, with characters mouthing off profanities in different dialects. But like I mentioned, it probably had made others sit up and notice that perhaps local movies should feature swearing to give it more street cred? Something else which stood out - while featuring many languages in the movie mirrors our multi-racial / multi-language society, having characters converse in different dialects (like the Fortune Teller scene) sometimes doesn't cut it too realistically.

Another point of controversy at its time was the nudity, or perceived nudity. The opening credits had still shots of a boob, butt and the female pubic region. You might wonder if it's necessary actually - doesn't really serve any purpose or facilitate the plot. Or the fact that Jonathan shoots nude photos. Given today, it'll probably be glossed over without much thought, and given an NC-16 rating.

Characterisation called for attention, as the main characters Bunny and Mee Pok man didn't really have much of a motive, the former seeking inner peace and to leave Singapore, the latter just wanting to be with her until the morbid end. Other characters, like Lim Kay Tong's Mike Kor the Pimp, was stereotyped, as are many of the minor characters in the movie. Cameos were plenty too, like X'Ho, Djinn, S.M.Ong etc.

But I still reckon it's a pretty decent first effort, and marked improvement can already be seen in 12 Storeys. While awaiting eagerly for Eric Khoo's latest offering Be With Me, this movie would allow you to appreciate how much things had changed for the better.

Those interested, there is still one more screening at the Arts House tomorrow 29 Aug 05 at 2130hrs.

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36 Quai des Orfèvres

The opening in 36 has got to be one of the more arresting (pun not intended) starters in a movie I've watched in some time, especially if you're a fan of Euro-electronica, where a catchy tune paces the multiple action happening on screen.

The French police is stumped by a gang of armed robbers whose fast and brutal methods leave no witnesses. Of course the politicians are pissed and want immediate results in the capture of these criminals. The stakes are raised when a vacant seat in higher office is opened to the officer who manages to do so.

Leo Vrinks is a decorated cop with questionable methods. Toeing the line that separates cops from thugs, his team of officers and himself are tasked to bring these criminals to justice. His rival, Denis Klein, also a celebrated cop, wants the case for himself, but unceremoniously gets his team and himself relegated to a support role in the sting operation.

Naturally, unexpected things happen during the operation because of Denis' callous behaviour, and lives on both sides are lost. But no, the show doesn't end there when the thugs are captured, as the rivalry between the men spill over and provides more than sufficient fuel for the second half of the movie.

I guess it's the same at most offices, where promotion's at stake, the struggles and intense rivalry may get into the way of the greater good in getting the objective achieved. Methods are questioned, where morality and ethics are put into the spotlight - does the end really justify any means necessary?

Like memorable HK police thriller Infernal Affairs, it is the powerful relationship between the main characters that this drama explores and excels in, with excellent acting from Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu as the bitter men with ambigious methods and morales.

It's a relatively tight storyline, and you'll have to pay close attention to the subplots in order to be able to piece together how and why the ending was as presented. Highly recommended stuff.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Red Eye

If you've seen the trailer for Red Eye, it's one of the most misleading in recent times. It started off with serendipity romantic type moments of boy meets girl at the airport, then meet each other again at the airport lounge, and yet again they find themselves seated side by side on the aircraft. Until Cillian Murphy's eye goes red, and the trailer ends.

You think it's horror, or something to do with air-rage, or an airline hijack. How terribly wrong. Wes Craven, of Elm Street and Scream fame, weaves together an intriguing story of personal terror and a fight for survival.

Rachel McAdams (last seen in Wedding Crashers) is Lisa Reisert, a hotel manager who bumps into Jackson Rippner, played by Cillian Murphy (last seen in Batman Begins, who seemed to have migrated his Jonathan Crane persona over) at the airport. While everything might seem lovey dovey and nice, it's when Rippner starts to reveal his true intentions that will leave you at the edge of your seat.

The plot might be simple enough, but under Craven's masterful vision, he manages to engage the audience throughout the relatively short 80 minutes with adequate set pieces, most of which happens on the Fresh Air airliner, and the main leads of the movie were convincing enough in their roles. The supporting casts are forgettable with no real characterization, only there to facilitate the plot with specific roles when called upon for.

Perhaps the only flaw of the movie is the long drawn out finale, which, while exciting, seemed a bit too long to make it plausible. But nonetheless, if you're up for some thrills, Red Eye will suit your taste.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Innocent Steps

Na Young-sae was once touted as the best dance trainer in Korea, and was in contention for another trophy during the national dance competition, until dirty underhand tactics by rivals ruined it all for him. Seeking a comeback, his manager and him hatched a plan to import a foreign talent from China, Jang Chae-rin, to partner with him and reclaim his spot at the top.

Alas, Chae-rin turns out to be the inexperienced teenage sister of the real mccoy, and Young-sae goes into a frenzy as the championships is only 3 months away. Reluctantly, and realizing the lack of time, Young-sae has no choice but to make do with what he has, and put his training skills to the test in turning a rookie into a professional ballroom dancer.

The storyline sounds familiar, like Dirty Dancing's, exploring the situational device of having a teacher and his protege go through their lives together experiencing new found relationships through the language of dance. They start off awkwardly, and most of the time the plot focuses on the rigorous training in which Young-sae puts Chae-rin through. There is an unnecessary subplot though, of the marriage investigators who probe into the fake marriage between Young-sae and Chae-rin (that's the rouse used to get her to Korea), just to add to some laughs.

Dance has always been associated with passion, feelings and love. This movie doesn't stray from these themes, and the main leads heat up the screen with their sensual dance moves, albeit too little screen time. Just when you thought it's time for them to take on the championships and arch-rivals, the plot takes a twist, which I thought was probably an attempt to avoid being predictable.

Ladies might want to prepare your hankies for the emotional scene towards the end, where Young-sae and Chae-rin declares their love for each other indirectly at the marriage bureau. Extremely touching that, especially when you think back on their attempts to fabricate a fictional story on their relationship, which has taken on for real.

It is of course helpful that the two leads are eye candy. Park Keon-hyeong as Young-sae seemed to have the easier role of the mentor, snarling most of the time with a diva-ish, yet tender attitude towards his protege. Mun Guen-yeong has the tougher role to flesh, transforming herself from simple naive girl into chic professional dancer, with a heart pining for Young-sae. The chemistry between the two is superb, and their dances together once they got their groove right, just magical.

Which of course brings me to my main gripe - I want more! But the attempt to make the story unconventional turned my request down, although the end credits featured a clip of them dancing, serving as some kind of compensation for the lack of dancing screen time. It's not the partner, but the partnership that mattered, said Young-sae. It rocked, and left me wanting more!

Some might find it "been-there-done-that", but I recommend this for those who which to get jiggy with it on the dancefloor. I found myself tapping to the soundtrack as we get whirled around the ballroom, and I'm sure ballroom dance lovers, or romantics at heart, will do the same too.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Perfect Catch

If you're game for a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and funnyman Jimmy Fallon, or if you're a local Red Sox fan, you can check out my review of The Perfect Catch, contributed exclusively to

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

[SFS Screening] Man with a Movie Camera

This review of a Singapore Film Society core screening brought to you courtesy of

This is a black and white Russian silent movie, made in 1929, which the director Dziga Vertov cites as an experimental film without intertitles (which are common for silent movies), or real actors.

It plays like a montage of city scenes and life, without a central plot or theme, or any protagonists. It's as random as it is, and the unifying element is perhaps the "Man with a Movie Camera" as he journeys in and around the various Russian cities to put together this film.

More like a sight-and-(orchestra) music extravaganza, not all will appreciate this film for what it is though. Many pioneer camera tricks and special effects feature in this film, which makes it very unique in its presentation style back in the early days of cinema, and even up till today.

For something different, really.

[SFS Screening] Land of Silence and Darkness

This review of a Singapore Film Society core screening brought to you courtesy of

What if you were without sight. Could you function? What if the sense of hearing was taken away from you? How would you feel? And how about both senses robbed from you?

This 1971 German documentary focuses on Fini Straubinger, a 56 year old blind and deaf woman, and traces her attempts in helping those whose plight is similar to her own. You see, she was not borned without the loss of sight and sound. Rather, a misfortunate fall atop a flight of stairs, not treated and detected properly (only after 3 opinions), rendered her with this fate.

She realized that she couldn't see when her teacher advised her to write between the lines of her exercise book, and gradually lost her sight. She lost her hearing all of a sudden, when she realize she couldn't hear her mother calling out to her one fine day.

Imagine yourself in this situation - close your eyes, and cover your ears. You get the idea. However, as Fini described, that isn't exactly correct. Sometimes you see colours, but that's all, and most of the time you hear strange buzzes or constant crackling sounds in your ears, buit that's it.

For someone who has lost their senses, the other senses try to compensate, like the sense of touch - communication now is via touch language on the palm, and heavy reliance on such interpreters when she tries to communicate with others in the same boat.

But what about those who were borned with this condition? What is the real world to them, without being able to see, and hear? We journey with Fini as she visits children with this condition, and at times, you'll feel a tug at your heart, especially the one on Vladimir, a 22 year old whose Dad was not able to school him the proper way compared to the other children. It's a sad case to watch, a 22 year old, in a lonely world of his own, unable to bring across or understand abstract ideas.

This documentary, given its age and content, isn't like most documentaries we know of today, which come with sexy themes, in your face commentary, and sometimes fabricated evidence. It's honest and forthcoming, and one which will make you ponder about the simple riches in life which you may, at most times, take for granted.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

[Screen Singapore] A Night with the Original Pontianak

When Maria Menado arrived at the Alliance Francaise, she was greeted with numerous camera flashes. Dressed in a beautiful red baju, everyone was eager to get a photograph of the star of the original Pontianak.

As with all special appearances in Screen Singapore, the invited guests are to say a few words to the audience. Maria (she's part of Malaysian Royalty btw) exclaimed that she was extremely happy to see many people attending the screening for Sumpah Pontianak, especially when the film was close to 50 years old, and some members of the audience were not even around when it was screened for the first time (i.e. people like me).

She went on to recount the days of making the Pontianak films, and lamented the loss of the films when the director got rid of them, as she had planned for her children/grandchildren to watch some of the movies. Luckily, Cathay-Keris had this one in its archives, which she joked was the best of the trilogy, since there was no way we could've watched the original two.

Pak Wahid Satay was also amongst the invited guests who graced the occassion, and he too gave a light hearted account on how "Satay" became part of his name (no doubt, he probably is synonymous with it given his screen time with the food, as well as the catchy song sung)

During the screening, they were seated 2 rows diagonally in front of me, and from time to time, I glanced to see them nodding/laughing/shaking their heads, probably reminiscing the good old days which those not involved in the production wouldn't know about.

Maria was swarmed by fans and autograph hunters alike, and she was gracious in signing autographs and posing for pictures. Alas, I didn't manage to take a picture with her (ok, somehow I thought I would look as weird as my Perth pic with Lim Kay Tong, and also, no one to take picture for me leh), though I did get an autograph

Maria Menado Autograph

and a far-away picture when she posed with cast/crew/organizers/current TV personalities.

Maria Menado

Didn't manage stay for Djinn's (Perth) version of Pontianak (Return to Pontianak), though on hindsight, I probably should. Oh, Djinn was there too.

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[Screen Singapore] Sumpah Pontianak

Sumpah Pontianak is the third in a trilogy of Pontianak films directed by B Narayan Rao (the first two being Pontianak, and Dendam Pontianak) and starring Maria Menado in the title role. For the uninitiated, Pontianak is a female spirit whose powers are similar to a doppelganger, able to shift shape into various animals (in this film, an owl), and of course, a beautiful woman.

The movie, for the first time in those days filmed in CathayScope, opens smack in the middle of action; Chomel laments her ill fate of being cursed to have the blood of Pontianak coursing through her veins, and a nail hammered into her neck by the villagers have rendered her powerless. Chomel has a daughter Maria (not Menado by the way - another actress, Maria Menado plays Chomel the Pontianak) who is married to the son of a village datok.

Maria pines for her Ibu (mother), and leaves the village, sparking a frantic search by her husband and his gang of comedic friends, who add humour and folk songs to the narrative. In other news, there are various mysterious deaths in a neighbourhood kampong, and all fingers point at Pontianak.

There is nothing horrific about this show when viewed today, with Pontianak's rubbery face mask, with massive scarring, hooked nose, long and white ungainly hair, and two vicious stuck on fangs, and it didn't diminish the fun factor when watching the show. Many of the other monsters, like the cave savage (bad makeup), and the Hantu Raya (a zombie which can turn into a human sized bat complete with wings and the ability to fly) are also made up similarly, but the bottomline is, it's real fun, and real cheesy.

Pontianak plays like Frankenstein, one of its contemporaries in the 50s horror black and white movies, with the gathering of villagers/mobs in search of the monster with their torches and pitchforks/farm equipment, and of course, when chanced upon Pontianak herself, they will turn and run in all directions.

However, in this film, Pontianak is not the villain, but rather the anti-heroine who must use her powers to defeat all evil doers and protect her daughter at the same time, who has a knack for getting herself into trouble. Sort of like Godzilla Vs (whoever it is).

For horror buffs who want to revisit the classical monsters of yesteryear, don't miss this one - it's a tale from this side of the world!

Those interested, there is a last screening this evening at The Arts House at 1900hrs.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

March of the Penguins (La Marche de l'empereur)

This film is a celebration of life, love, danger and death, as seen through the eyes of Emperor Penguins in the Antarctica. Most people will come to know of this documentary from its quiet successful ascension on the American Box Office.

** For those who do not want to know the story, you may skip this part **

We follow the penguins in their annual ritual in making life, beginning with long marches on ice to their mating ground. There, there look for their partners, and begin their "one night stand". The eggs are laid, and the moms go off to gather food their future chicks, while the dads stay behind to look after the eggs and shield them from the cold.

When the chicks hatch, the moms will have returned, and begin their feeding, while it's dads turn to go fish. It's like an interchanging of roles between mom and dad in taking care of the little one, until such time when they've grown and can hit the ocean waters to begin their own life.


3 different narrators tell the story from different perspectives - the father, mother and child, Peppered throughout and assisting the narrative are the English songs (in a French movie, which seemed a bit odd), and the stunning cinematography will leave many speechless.

You will ponder at the wonders of nature and life itself, with these penguins undergoing their rituals and knowing exactly what to do during certain times. Instinct? Probably. The theme of Danger and Death lurks at every corner, ever ready to pounce. As in the movie, you'll never know when to expect when Death strikes, though most of the violence happen off screen, and probably not as violent as what you can view on the Discovery Channel.

It's a refreshing change to watch a documentary during this busy August and fall in love with the penguin chicks. I know many in the audience did.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D

The Lavagirl inspired 3D glasses was given out for the screening of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. You can read my review by clicking on this link, contributed exclusively to

[Screen Singapore] The Premiere of Perth

Thanks to my friend AT for obtaining a ticket for me, he commented that this is his first "paid premiere". While the Screen Singapore booklet stated that the Perth Premiere is by invitation only, it turned out that they got tickets on sale for the event too.

But alas, in my opinion, it was a bit chaotic at the lobby of the Alliance Francais before the show began, 1/2 an hour late, threatening to eat into the showtime for another run of They Called Her... Cleopatra Wong. I didn't realize that I got to get a seat number (it says "Free Seating" on the ticket), and noticed a lot of irate and blur patrons, some queuing to collect their ticket, and others, like me, queuing to get a seat number.

As I learnt from the usher, it's because those who were invited were given assigned seats, and of course, those who paid for the ticket aren't allowed to gatecrash into those choice seats, right? AT got a seat at the aisle, first row (!), and I, the opposite aisle, second row. It's lucky that the screen was recessed quite a distance on stage, so we needn't crane our necks.

The organizer Raphael quipped that sponsors sometimes don't turn up, and therefore the choice seats were available for those who wished to move into them. Too bad I was sandwiched between two other folks, and had to make do with what I had. But lucky for AT, the cast and crew were called up to give a short speech (well, only director Djinn and lead actor Lim Kay Tong did, after some persuasion), and were standing right in front of him. Good opportunity for pics though, and from where I was seated, the angle would not provide a decent shot anyway.

After the usual kudos and thank yous, the show started and ended with a short applause. Naturally, the lobby was crowded with many headed for the reception (read: food, catered from Nouvelle). I was looking around for Mr Lim to get my autograph and pic.

A lady went up to him to autograph the Perth poster (they were giving a lot of them away), and wow, would you have guessed even Cleopatra Wong was there to take a photo with him (I wouldn't dare cross Cleo's path, in case I kana smack-downed by her... :-)

Congratulated Mr Lim on his wonderful performance, and requested for an autograph, which he obliged and asked who should he make it out to:

Lim Kay Tong

and a picture (I look like a bloody alien)

Lim Kay Tong as Harry Lee

You'd never guess that the above picture was taken by local actor Gerald Chew, who gladly offered to help me when I didn't manage to find someone to do so at that moment. Thanks Gerald! Though I reckon we were worried when someone bumped into you the minute you snapped the picture :-)

Djinn was extremely busy that day, so I didn't manage to sneak an autograph. Instead I picked up one of the many leftover posters and as it was getting late, left Alliance Francaise, but when I got home, lo and behold!

Perth Poster

An already autographed poster by Djinn! Alrighty, my evening was made! :-)

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Perth

Perth is Harry Lee's retirement plan. As an ex-army commando regular turned security supervisor of a shipyard, he leads a nonchalant life, where he regularly exclaims to others that he's a simple man with little materialistic desires, and harbours a goal to settle in Perth, Australia, where life down under is said to be good.

When retrenched, he seeks employment as a taxi driver, but ever looking for that break in life to earn more cash to achieve his objective. However, things turn out more complicated for Harry. When sober, we see the empty facade Harry exudes to others, but we learn of the true state of his life when in drunkenness, pouring out his woes to his friends - he's separated from his cheating, gambling wife, and his son refuses to acknowledge him.

His is a lonely sad life, and this movie takes a look at the life of the forgotten pioneers of Singapore's materialistic success. We follow his path to the seedier side of the Lion City, into the world of pimps and prostitutes, where he has a lucrative job to ferry the girls to their customers, no questions asked. A depression-proof job, says his friend Angry Boy Lee.

Somehow, coffeeshops feature prominently in Singapore movies of late, and Perth is no different, where characters sit around and rant about the authorities, give subtle jibes on the army, and the eventuality of army regulars after their retirement from the uniformed services. They go on about how a better life in Singapore equates first to having a good education, how materialism has crept into society's moral fibre, and the greener pastures available abroad for the lowly skilled. The jibes on the ang-moh's are not subtle though, them being cursed at and assaulted.

We know Harry is a violent man from his inner thoughts, but early in the film, it's like his bark is deadlier than his bite. The occassional rant aside, Harry is a man who values faithfulness and loyalty. He fails to see that though his family might not exhibit these values (probably due to his inner violent nature which led to domestic violence), his friends like Angry Boy and Selvam, actually do.

The subplot on love and his budding relationship with a Vietnamese callgirl at times drags the movie, but it is necessary to lead the movie to its extremely violent finale. The language used throughout is colourful, and I could not think of a local Hokkien expletive not spewed in this film.

Perth looks like a one man show from its trailer and poster, with Lim Kay Tong putting in a wonderful performance in shouldering the movie, but gladly, a cast of familiar (and perhaps stereotypical) supporting characters help add some depth and sometimes, dark humour. You'll see familiar faces from local TV productions too, like Channel 8's Liu Qiu Lian as Harry's wife. From the laughter amongst the audience, Angry Boy Lee and Selvam are easily favourite characters of some.

It's a dark and gritty film, some might consider a local adaptation of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. But perhaps expectations will be set too high if benchmarked against that classic. This is the story of Harry Lee, not Travis Bickle, so put the comparisons aside, and enjoy the ride.

Perth opens islandwide this week.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Jefri Zain - Gerak Kilat

Touted as Singapore's own James Bond, it's of no surprise that this movie borrows heavily from Dr No. From plentiful buxomy bikini clad babes, to the familiar signature tune (yes, it is played, and so easily identifiable), you must view this movie in the same nature as Cleopatra Wong and Ring of Fury to enjoy it thoroughly.

The first time we see Jefri Zain, secret agent extrodinaire, is at Changi Beach, where he is having a great time frolicking with beach chicks. He chances upon his compatriot Ali, whose lifeless body is washed ashore. Picking up Ali's lighter-camera gadget, he returns to his home in his Mercedes sports car (no, no Aston Martin here, but the number plate's JZ1, dig it?) to investigate further.

And yes, his home is the local headquarters of their organization (we're never told what it is, neither which country do they work for), with the secret entrance beneath his bathtub! We see the equivalent of Q and Moneypenny, who doubles up as a Bond girl in the second half of the movie. There's even a similar scene to Ursela Andress' famous bikini emerging from the sea, though you've got to trade the bikini for the baju here.

However, the villains are where the laughs are at. A clandestine terrorist cell living in an extremely large undergound bunker lair (stretches with entrances from some offshore island, and the mainland), with minions by the hundreds. Their motive is strangely unknown, and their commander is no Dr No or Blofeld though. Actually, there are quite a number of scenes which doesn't explain themselves, like leading Jefri around their lair in a tour like manner (to show off their training doctrine?) With subordinates like Number 4 and Botak, they take pride in their various plots to defeat Jefri Zain.

As with Bond villains, they have a torture chamber (Room X) with elaborate devices (water, freezer, heater, etc), but gives our heroes some 30 minutes of free time as they presumably go for a smoke break. There's a funny scene here though, with the female bra used as a plot device, hiding a miniture gun, and a homing device.

Speaking of devices, this movie is no short of gadgets like pen-guns, exploding cigarettes, flash-bang lighters, tracking devices, bracelets that spew acid, and extremely huge radio communication devices. They might seem low tech today (even the old Bond films seem low tech), but back in the 60s, they must have been a blast with the audience.

The acting's cheesy by today's standards, but you can see that the actors do take their roles quite seriously. The character and suaveness of Jefry Zain models after Connery's Bond, as he bitchslaps woman around, and in one swift and rough motion, can rip off their dresses (gee...). What digs also is the premise of the film, as we get to see Singapore in the 60s, with foot chases around town (Capitol theatre anyone?), the old vehicles, Clifford Pier, and the various characters used in this film - Chinese, Malay, Indian, Ang Moh too.

Extremely campy to watch these days, it plays out like an Austin Powers meets Get Smart movie, but nonetheless, FUN!

Those interested in catching this film, there is one more screening at the Alliance Francaise on 24 Aug 05 Wed 1900hrs.

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[Screen Singapore] Free Outdoor Screening

How could I forget to bring along a camera yesterday night to capture the atmosphere of the free outdoor screening of short films at the River Promenade, next to UOB Plaza? A picture tells a thousand words, and in the lacking of one, allow me to attempt to describe it.

I guess it wasn't planned that the event coincided with The Heritage Walk competition held that same afternoon, which culminated in performances cum lucky draw, at a stage set up behind the screening area. You can imagine the surprise that greeted many of the audiences: "How would we hear the dialogue with the pop music blaring in the background?" Alas, like the delieberate setup, a projected screen with plenty of benches, it supposedly brought back the old days of communal movie screenings, with stage performances, a flea market, and various road side food stalls lined up around the same area. The chatter of background noise were part and parcel.

Starting about 30 minutes late due to technical problems, not all the short films for the festival were screened, and this were the select few:

Old Parliament House Remixed
The short music clip which opened the festival, opened the free screening as well (if you don't count the sponsor Kodak's Keep-Me-Show-Me-Protect-Me clip). Using the old Today In Parliament music score from the TV news, it's given new life with quick cuts into various different scenes - breakdancers, NPCC cadets, a taxi-driver, of those humming, dancing to, and having the tune as a ringtone.

The Secret Heaven
A little girl dislikes and has no interest in her piano and her piano lessons, and devices different ways to try and skip classes or play her piano at home. But things don't go smoothly with a strict disciplinarian of a mother, and a hen-pecked father. Her only happier times are with her sister as they make pit stops to play when en route to their lessons.

Desperate to end her suffering, she unwittingly gets ideas from her Dad, the film Romeo and Juliet, and starts questioning about Death. Will she do it, and join the various happy people in Heaven?

What most audiences will find enjoyable is the adorable little girl's antics, definitely the star of the show.

The Usher
A poor little boy sneaks into a movie theatre to watch his favourite chinese martial arts films. He can only afford the kacang putih, never the price of a ticket. However, a cinema usher finds out about this boy's presence, and though at first chases him away, he takes pity and turns a blind eye. Things got discovered by the cinema manager, and he loses his job. But does this jeopardize the relationship built?

This touching story tells the tale of friendship amongst two unlikely characters, with an obvious generation gap. It also brings back memories of the days where cinema tickets were made of thin and huge pieces of paper and written upon by the box office's crayon to indicate your seat - which sometimes you can't read as it's scribbled.

Capturing long lost/disappearing but never forgotton icons, it features the Kacang Putih man who was once synonymous with movie-going decades back, as well as the painted movie posters where the actor's faces are a far cry from the actual persons (of course it's not intended to be hilariously so).

Ah, nostalgia!

Moveable Feast
Click on this link for a review.

The tai-tai in this filmlet narrates a day in her life to a penpal, and likens her lifestyle to that of a housewife, erm, make that "homemaker" (must sound more high class mah). Her actions and her narrative are in subtle contrast to each other, highlighting the uneventful life she is leading.

Hock Hiap Leong
The title of Royston Tan's short film refers to a coffeeshop by that name, which has since closed its doors. Like an ode to the shop and its owners/stallholders, memories of the 60s heydays are brought back in a song-and-dance routine which includes the beehives and a-go-go moves.

The beginning looked similar to Moveable Feast, with its protagonist taking in the sights and sounds of the aged-old coffeeshop, and laughter abound when he breaks into a song, complete with high pitched girlie voice, kinda like a bollywood movie with numerous male and female dancers going through their paces in the cramped setting.

Enjoyable short clip, leaving you wanting more.

Lunch Time
Directed by Wee Li Lin, who also did Homemaker, we explore the life of a female chicken rice hawker stall assistant, who wonders about how things are different at the other side of the spectrum - the airconditioned, well dressed and made up women working in an office environment.

She also longs for a relationship with a man from that world, a yuppie who frequently patronizes her stall with the same order. There is a break into a funny dance routine which somehow marred the film, though it was hilarious. The interesting twist at the end redeemed it however.

But what caught my attention was how the narration in the first few minutes described the hawker situation, and comparing that with the lifestyle that most office workers are accustomed to.

I thought the organizers would be screening Lee Wong's Lim Poh Huat, which would have been a blast and given the title character instant recognition, as he had graced the occassion with his anonymous presence. But instead, the first 3 films got another run, before the night ended with a complimentary fireworks courtesy of our nation's 40th birthday.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

George A Romero's Land of the Dead

The maestro of zombie films, George A Romero, is back with his latest offering for the Dead series - Land of the Dead.

The Universal Pictures logo also underwent transformation back to the good ol' days (the 20s), and the film opens with a quick news monologue montage to update the audience that it's basically zombie land out there in the world (set in an unspecified time after the last movie of the trilogy - Day of the Dead). One of the final remaining human enclaves is a city which is electric fenced to keep the Walkers, or insultingly, the Stench, out.

Both man and zombie are kept busy in the movie with its own plot. Man's plot is to reclaim The Dead Reckoning, the high powered, impenetrable zombie killing machine on wheels, which is hijacked by rouge entities. Zombie's plot on the other hand (if they're using their brains to begin with), is basically to chomp its way through to the city center. Ok, make that looking for a place to call their own. Along the way, they evolve, learning how to use weaponry, no longer mesmerized by fireworks, and no longer being stopped by bodies of water.

Being a fan of zombie films, this movie doesn't disappoint, with it ample splattering of fresh human blood, and standard gore fest with the ripping, chewing, mangling, dismembering of body parts, either on screen, or through the creative use of silhouettes. With human retaliation, we add to the (undead) bodycount with bullets to the heads.

I got to admit though, I watched this film also because it stars John Leguizamo and Asia Argento (eye candy you know), and count me in for any splatter-fest. The make-up department also did its job superbly, otherwise how can you account for the different looking zombies by the truckloads.

Themes like politics, stereotypes are touched upon, but thrown out the window. It's rip roaring, screaming fun (at least the couple sitting beside me did shriek and leap in their seats) for most audiences who knows what to expect in a film like this. Leave your brains at the door, and get ready for some mindless zombie action.

Now can someone lend me a limb to chew on?


Lending his voice to an animated feature film the second time this year, Ewan McGregor "stars" as the title character Valiant, a pee-wee little pigeon whose aspiration is to join the Allies' Royal Homing Pigeons brigade in WWII. You see, it's not the size of your wings, but the size of your spirit, the mantra in which he subscribes to.

The opening credits is creative (like the board game Risk), but the storyline is plain and simple, a "I-wannabe-in-the-army-sent-on-a-mission" fare. Valiant and his team of misfits (aren't they always?) enroll in the Corps when they hear the plea for fresh blood to populate its ranks, as the war wears on and casualties are high. The usual army training scenes with the usual funny antics plug the story while a subplot goes on with The Falcons (Axis Powers - presumably the Luftwaffe), their mortal enemy, torturing a POW (pigeon-of-war, duh) to obtain information on the origins of the pigeon's messages.

The war cuts short our squadron's training, and they're thrown into the deep end of things. The trailer featured 2 French rats who are part of Le Resistance, in hilarious moments and thrilling set pieces, but alas, it seemed a tad too short. The joke's on one of the rats too, whose called Charles De Girl (she's female you see).

With a notable British cast, like Jim Broadbent and Tim Curry, the language and the usual dry wit might not be familiar with the local audiences. There is a distinct flaw in the script however, when one of the pigeons quoted the Geneva Convention, which was non-existent during the movie's timeline.

That aside, the animation itself is flawless, and I think there is a deliberate attempt to steer clear of drawing the pigeons in an overly cutesy manner (probably, perhaps extended to only Valiant). The backgrounds are beautiful though, with the realism seen in the depiction of the choppy waters of the English Channel, and the scene at Trafalgar Square. I wonder who's stylish idea it was to adorn the pigeons with a pair of Ray-Bans though.

Unlike many animated films in recent years, there is a lack of "adultness" in the story of Valiant. Strictly an animation targeted solely at the kids, even its duration runs at a child friendly 70 minutes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Labu dan Labi

I've never caught a P Ramlee film, and what better opportunity than to do so with one of his best comedies Labu dan Labi (Labu and Labi). If you had to ask the question "P Ramlee who?" I urge you to Google him, or to click on his biography on He's one of the early pioneer entertainers in Malaya, with a flair for acting, directing and writing.

Labu dan Labi tells the tale of the cook (Labu) and the driver (Labi, played by Ramlee himself) of a stingy poker Haji Bakhil (and translated as such too). Each harbours affections for Bakhil's daughter Manisah, but the main obstacle is of course Bakhil himself, who'll only approve his daughter marrying a rich man.

While the beginning was at risk of sliding into boredom, the movie picks up pace when the two servants start to day-dream (and often cross into each other's dream) about the good life, one as a magistrate, the other a doctor. And some dreams were fantasy and zany, like the Cowboy and the Tarzan scenes. At this point, it sort of reminded me of the various set pieces in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the way the narrative progressed.

There's a hilarious touch on the supernatural as well, like the engaging of bomohs, and watch out though, there's gonna be a rug pulled under your feet if you're not alert :-)

The introduction is shot in an earnest way, with each character narrating their backgrounds straight at the camera, engaging the audience, as if it was a play. There are moments in the film too, where this technique is being used.

Speaking of plays, besides the introduction where actual scenic shots of old Singapore were captured (like Middle Road, Capitol Theatre, Victoria Memorial Hall), film sets were obviously built for Bakhil's house, complete with fake backdrop, and the interiors for the nightclub scene. Transitions were tacky, using the clock at the Victoria Memorial Hall tower to tell the time in which the next scene takes place. Compared to movies of today, you can tell how much this film has aged from the sets built and techniques used. However, these do not take away the enjoyment of the film.

So for those new to P Ramlee's works, perhaps Labu dan Labi will be a good introduction to his films, with other films like Ibu Mertuaku (My Mother-in-Law) and Penarek Becha (Trishaw Puller) also being featured in Screen Singapore.

Those interested in catching Labu dan Labi, there's one more screening at The Arts House on 23 Aug 05 Tue 2130hrs.

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PostScript: The screening at The Arts Hous today was particularly bad, not sure if it's due to the DVD disc used, as there were some obvious digital jerks and blocky skips during the movie.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Napola - Elite für den Führer

Napola refers to elite military National-Political Schools, set up to train promising young German talents into potential future leaders for the Third Reich - Man makes History, but Napola makes the Man. Set at the peak of Hitler's Nazi regime in 1942, this film explores the very different lives of two youths enrolled in such a school, and exposes some of the difficult training programme that these youths are put through.

Friedrich Weimer graduated as a Hitler youth, and spends time juggling work with boxing. Impressing a talent scout with his boxing skills, he gets recruited into one of the Napola schools, to be trained as an athlete to bring the school glory. Coming from a poor home, he sees this as a chance to bring wealth for this family, although they disagree with his joining the Napola.

Albrecht Stein is the son of the governor. What he lacked in the brawn department, he makes up with his gift for the written word, which often goes unappreciated, even with his parents.

Two youths from different backgrounds bond together as good friends, as they undergo the tough regimental training the school has to offer. At times, it's like Dead Poet's Society in a WWII German military setting, where they challenge and subtly question the establishment and their methods. Even though the school is made up of a recruited pool of the privileged few, basic evils of man persists, like corruption and jealous rivalry.

The different subplots and set action pieces unravel our protagonists' characters, and we see them develop in depth. From a wide-eyed promising talent, we journey with Friedrich as he slowly comes to terms with evaluating if one should sell out one's beliefs for fame and wealth, blinding the disappointment faced in the system. Albrecht, while meek looking, held on to his ideals, especially after a sad episode in the fields, and when being forced into a corner to renounce this ideal, found untold courage to actually do what he did, at the expense of everything else - friendship, family.

Which brings us to question, how many of us, if knowing what's right, will do the right thing, or take the easy way out and turn our backs towards the truth? We are also exposed to the highly fanatical training methods of the Nazis, of showing no pity, and signs of cowardice are treasonous.

Those who've undergone some form of army training will appreciate the nature of military training - from the physical exercises, punishments, and stand-by-bunks, to the bonding of bunk mates and "suffering" under the hands of sadistic superiors.

It is no surprise that Napola won various awards for film, acting and direction, It's rich cinematography and haunting soundtrack brings to life Nazi Germany of 1942, and highlighting the horrors of the training of an elitist school of soldiers and future governors, with its expected training tragedies.

This is a movie with powerful themes, with an introspective look at the development of man under difficult fanatical regimes revealed in a moving drama.


"I'm a witch!" and with a wrinkle of the nose, an updated version of the classic television sitcom hits the big screen with the pairing of Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell as screen couple Samantha and Darrin Stephens respectively.

Well, just not quite, This version of Bewitched is actually the making of the sitcom within the film, where screen life mimics art life. Will Ferrell plays a down and out Hollywood actor Jack Wyatt, who after a series of film bombs, relegates himself to TV land to find an opportunity to make a name for himself again. He chances upon Nicole Kidman's Isabel Bigelow, a real witch with low self-esteem, naive to the ways of the world, who wants to lead a normal life without the reliance of magic.

Jack, being the self-centered arrogant jerk that he is, and with the support of his agent, recruits Isabel as Samantha for his new TV show, a remake and updated version of Bewitched. And with creative tweaking of scripts, makes himself the star and relegates Isabel's role to one with little or no lines. The remade opening credits is also hilariously done, with all co-stars names appearing in black smoke, masking their caricatures' faces.

Being a romantic comedy, this film aptly has elements of both - needless to say Isabel falls for Jack (well, he actually hit all the right buttons in the beginning), and Will Ferrell, a comedic actor, brings along most of the laughs as the bratty actor. However, the narrative seemed contrived especially when Isabel goes through some Ally McBealish moments and scenes are literally erased with her magic powers of "Rewind", taking with it the narrative flow as well.

Kidman is beautiful as always, bearing some resemblance to the original Samantha star Elizabeth Montgomery, and is a real clothes horse too, as her Isabel has countless of wardrobe changes in this film. But some might cringe at her overly cutesy performance as the innocent Isabel. And in my opinion, Will Ferrell's short performance in Wedding Crashers seemed funnier than his role in Bewitched, which is a pity, given the potential of his role.

Carrying the film along are the many supporting characters like Michael Caine as Isabel's flirtatious father Nigel Bigelow, Shirley MacLaine as the TV show's Endora (Samantha's mother), and Jason Schwartzman as Ritchie, Jack's agent, a role which I think is an obvious jab to Tom Cruise's sports agent Jerry Maguire (heck, he also bears an uncanny resemblance).

But what actually lifted the film is its fantastic soundtrack, from the Bewitched theme, to evergreens from Frank Sinatra, The Police's Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, to R.E.M,'s Everybody Hurts.

And thank goodness for that, as the storyline becomes extremely predictable as the minutes tick by towards the end. If not for Nicole Kidman's glowing presence, many audiences will do what she said most witches will do when they face problems - they disappear.

Monday, August 08, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Ring of Fury

Ring of Fury was Singapore's answer to the Kung Fu craze sparked by Bruce Lee in the 70s. As a homage to the legendary master, Ring of Fury stars Singapore's very own eighth-dan world class karate master Peter Chong, whom I did not have the opportunity to meet, given that tickets sold out on the first screening, and I had just managed to buy the last ticket for the second. I reckon this is one very popular genre film like Cleopatra Wong, given the intense focus of the media on these 2 films.

The Tao symbol is prominently featured in the tacky opening credits, before the audience gasped at the Esplanade bay of the 70s, and the old Satay Club. The story tells of a gangster racket out to extort protection money from the hawkers. But Fei Pao (loosely translated as Flying Leopard, starring Peter Chong) refuses to pay, and is badly wounded by the gangsters.

However, his sense of justice prevailed, and continues his refusal, even after he's aggresively threatened. Eventually, the gangsters, led by an Iron Masked Man, took drastic actions and broke the last straw, which led Fei Pao to learn martial arts from his uncle.

Like in most martial arts flick of the time, revenge is always a motive for the pupil to learn and undergo hardship in order to master some pugilistic skills. Fei Pao goes into seclusion, and returns a changed man. But the baddies kidnap his lover Mei Mei, and gives him an ultimatum - to join them or never see his lover again. What choice does our hero have?

Needless to say, he eventually saves the day, and the mystery of the Iron Masked Man is revealed (well, sharp eyed viewers would have guessed it midway through the film). As with Cleo Wong, we are also treated to numerous kung-fu with exaggerated sound effects. But the charismatic Peter Chong brings forth an earnest appeal and what you see up there is actually the real deal.

Acting abilities are limited, as we have stereotypical characters like the gangsters, the damsel in distress, the kid brother, the blind mother, the mysterious uncle, etc, though Peter Chong at certain angles, looked like Bruce Lee, with his lightning quick reflexes and fighting stances and postures. Not that he's imitating, or wanting to on purpose though.

This film was actually banned in Singapore for more than 20 years, given its storyline on gangsterism and vigilante self-defence. However, when you view it in the context of today, it's nothing really, compared to the trash some films are generating today. Perhaps it has to do with the plot having the police doing nothing with the gangsters?

Age has caught up with the print shown in the Arts House, with the pinkish/purplish hue and loss/skipped cuts in certain scenes. The soundtrack was loud and soft at times too. Did I hear someone say digital restoration please?

Those interested in watching this film, my advice is to book/buy the tickets early, with additional screenings on 11 Aug 05 2130hrs at the Arts House, and 17 Aug 05 Wed 1900hrs at the Alliance Francaise.

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[Screen Singapore] 12 Storeys

12 Storeys is Eric Khoo's follow up to Mee Pok Man. The opening montage of various scenes around the residential estates prepares the audience for things to come, that the focus will be on the everyday man, and their supposed challenges they face in their daily lives.

We start off with lingering shots of a man, who commits suicide, and we explore and glimpse into the lives and relationships of 3 heartland families through his eyes, in one 12 Storey block.

There's the abusive mother and dutiful adopted daughter. With her acid tongue and no holds barred rude comments about almost everything about her daughter, the old lady rants on and on about the way she looks, dresses and hurls about almost every abusive (non vulgar) Cantonese insult. You emphatize and feel for the daughter, going through with comparisons, and wondering what will eventually make her snap, if she could.

Jack Neo plays a buck-toothed henpecked hawker husband to Quan Yi Feng's sarcastic China bride, bringing to the screen every conceivable prejudice against Chinese women, with their perceived gold-digging and flirtatious ways. She hits back though, with stark comments about Singaporean society, and offers an introspective look into the way the Ugly Singaporean behaves.

Koh Boon Pin was excellent as the protective and authoritative brother Meng, to Lum May Yee's rebellious and independent Trixie and Ritz Lim's Tee. The Meng-Trixie relationship undergoes the most changes in this film - the start which shows a rather happy family, which progresses into destruction as one member forces his opinions and perceptions onto the other, resulting in an unexpected revelation too difficult for one member to fathom, like a blow to one's pride.

Although each storyline is distinct, the narrative intercuts between the three, and sometimes gelled together with subtle humor, or witty coffeeshop banter amongst regulars. I particularly enjoyed the coffeeshop talk, where they talk cock about current affairs of the day (Michael Fay, 4D, etc), or poke fun or insult the other characters of the story, like the adopted daughter, and the henpecked husband. It's these scenes that make this film so real, these rumours and gossips of idle chatter, something which most Jack Neo movies seem to feature too (perhaps picked up from here?)

Prominent local actors like Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin, Lim Kay Tong, etc make cameo appearances, which added additional flavour to the movie. Songs sung by Lum May Yee and Humpback Oak were also nice touches throughout the film.

With a snapshot of a cross section of society, we end off without really having most conflicts resolved. Perhaps that's a reflection of life, that when challenges occur, sometimes you have an answer, and sometimes you may not, but life, will always go on.

Those interested in catching this film, there will be additional screenings at The Arts House on 16 Aug 05 Tue 2130hrs and 28 Aug 05 Sun 2130hrs, which has a special appearance by director Eric Khoo himself.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

[Screen Singapore] A Night With Cleopatra Wong

It was a full house eagerly awaiting the appearance of Cleopatra Wong in person. I went in early in order to get a prime seat, but alas, there were already some persons seated in the middle of the theatre (those who have been to the Arts House Screening Room will know what I mean). But I managed a row behind, and to my wicked glee, those in front were told to make room for the special guests. They were unhappy of course (there were no "Reserved" signs), but given no choice anyway. So there I was, with Cleo Wong potentially sitting in front of me during the screening.

Thunderous applause greeted Cleo Wong when she appeared, and before the film began, she was invited to say a few words to the audience. She thanked everyone for being here, and shared with us interesting insights to the making of the movie. It was shot on a shoestring budget of S$70K, still considered quite low budget in those days, but they managed to do on location shoots in 3 countries - Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and also post production in Hollywoord. Cleo Wong the movie was always intended for an international audience, and she reminisced about the highlights of filming in Singapore with her family and friends, some of whom were roped in for cameo appearances.

Cleopatra Wong!

The picture above is a bit dark as I thought it might be rude to have a strange flash go off in the middle of a theatre, so I turned the flash off.

She was close to tears at times, but managed to regain her composure. The microphone was a let down, going on and off, so true to her on-screen tough as nails persona, she spoke to the audience sans microphone.

And yes, she was seated right in front of me (those going for Arts House premieres/special appearances might wanna take note when the VIPs sit) when the film started, and stayed through until the end. It was interesting to watch the film with the main star in front of you getting all excited as well when it came to scenes in which she had something extra to tell.

When the lights came on, I wanted to grab an autograph but was a bit slow in getting my pen out, and deciding where to get the autograph signed. As expected, many of her friends and fans crowded round her outside the Screening Room. One of them even got the Life! front page cut out, for her signature. Some even had their Kodak shots autographed too (there are plenty of Kodak Easy Print machines around the foyer). So I could only wait patiently, until she noticed I was standing there, pen and film festival booklet in hand.

It was a blur, I asked her for an autograph on the page where the movie was featured, and she asked my name. I didn't know what she wrote until I got it back, and it said:

Cleopatra Wong Autograph

I went one step ahead and asked for a photograph too, which she was happy to oblige:

Cleopatra Wong and I

I gotta thank the gentleman who took the photo for me, whoever he was, I just grabbed the nearest person I saw. I told her it was a fun film and I enjoyed it a lot, and she thanked me for the support.

How cool is that, my shoulder rub with Cleopatra Wong, Singapore's very own international female super-spy!

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[Screen Singapore] They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong

"She purrs like a kitten, makes love like a siren. This side of the Pacific, she's the meanest, deadliest, and sexiest secret agent"

That's the tagline for the movie, and it's Singapore's answer to the 70s female action powerhouses like Charlie's Angels. Cleopatra Wong (Doris Young aka Marrie Lee) is an international Interpol agent whose mission in this film is to crack an illegal counterfeiting group whose sole objective is to destabilize the currencies of ASEAN countries Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philppines.

Sounds diabolical, doesn't it? And it's a job only a cosmopolitan agent like Cleo Wong can handle, as she jet sets from Singapore to Hong Kong to the Philippines, hot on the trail of these crooks, manufacturing fake currencies in a convent. She even shows her leadership qualities in leading an all male group of agents on the attack of the crooks hideout against machine gun-totting fake nuns.

Shown as the "Female Big Boss", the montage at the beginning shows the abilities of Cleo Wong as top fighter and archer, whom even Robin Hood is no match for with her simultaneous firing of 3 arrows, blowing up a helicopter in the process (yes, they did blow up a helicopter, back in the 70s for this show!)

With older films, what catches the eye is usually the environment and the state of development of Singapore at that time. Here, we viewed the Paya Lebar International Airport, an old 70s Mercedes Benz, and the city skyline which has many buildings noticeably absent. We go from the mainland to Sentosa via cable car, following Cleo's footsteps, and come across vastly different and sparse beaches that we're unfamiliar with today. Local actor/DJ Brian Richmond also had a role in this film as Cleo's Singapore boss.

I overheard the people around me laugh and shake their heads on the impossibility of some scenes - like Cleo Wong single-handedly taking on 3 wrestlers (one of whom is local famous wrestler Mehar Singh), and leaping (yes, leaping without aid) over tall walls in escape. Or the scenes in which the raid on the hideout using guns resulted in prolonged and painful (no pun intended) death scenes. I suppose one must take into context the sign of the times, where kung-fu action was punctuated with exaggerated sound effects, and where the slightest punch will effect in maximum flying damage.

All in all, it's a fun film which one shouldn't miss. This was the film that was produced for an international audience, and one which resulted in catching the eye of Quentin Tarantino! Cleopatra Wong definitely lived up to her tagline.

Those interested in catching this film, there will be additional screenings at The Arts House on 22 Aug 05 Mon 2130hrs and 23 Aug 05 Tue 1900hrs.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl wrote countless of books, many of which I grew up reading in secondary school. There are many of his works adapted for the screen as well (The Witches, Matilda), but none so far given the Tim Burton treatment.

The opening credits/scene has Burton's fingerprints all over - the imaginative sequence, the gothic soundtrack (done by long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman), mammoth weird looking architecture and snow filled landscapes.

In the beginning, we are brought to the small world of Charlie Buckett, whose family find difficulty in making ends meet. As Wonka announces the 5 Golden Tickets (for a special visit to his factory) hidden in his chocolate bars, we are introduced to the backgrounds of the other children's family and stereotypical character, like the German glutton, the English brat, the American go-getter, and the Television (Wonka accused of mumbling) boy. And no doubt, the audience will definitely root for the time when Charlie actually gets his ticket and join the rest.

Willy Wonka is the number one Chocolateer, but he certainly has issues relating to people, and I guess nobody can blame him after having his "Secret Recipe" hijacked by corporate espionage. We are told of Wonka's background in a series of flashbacks throughout the plot, and one of my favourites is when he journeyed and stumbled upon the Oopma Loompas.

As the narrative gets predictable, it actually turned it into its advantage, as the audience expects to see some innovative room in its spectacular imaginative splendour, the set pieces in which the children get themselves into, and the performance of the little Oompa Loompa people, whose hilarious spontaneous song and dance routine will definitely leave you laughing out loud.

Towards the end, after the side-splitting zaniness of the factory excursion, the theme of Family is highlighted, and nicely wraps up the movie, both for Wonka and Charlie.

Johnny Depp is class, but really though, I thought his Willy Wonka actually adapted Michael Jackson's look and nuances. He managed to highlight Wonka's freakiness and child like nature to a T, and Depp has shown he has done no wrong with diverse roles in Tim Burton's visionary movies. Also remarkable is his recommendation of Freddie Highmore into the role of Charlie. If you'd remember, they worked together before in Finding Neverland, and their on screen chemistry was brought into this film as well. Many touching moments featuring Highmore will tug at your heartstrings, and I suppose besides Dakota Fanning, he's one of my favourite child actors of today.

I can't rave enough of the sets created for this film, with its wonderful use of colours. And besides scoring the film's soundtrack, Danny Elfman also provided the unique sounding voice of the Oompa Loompas, and purist of the book will be glad that the lyrics for most of their performances were from Dahl himself.

Although adapted from a children's book, this is one movie I'd recommend to adults as well. I guess Roald Dahl would have been proud of this effort! Bring out the Wonka bars!

[Screen Singapore] Zombie Dogs (Eat Shit Fuck and Die)

Will we ever see a snuff film (one in which sex/rape/murder filmed actually takes place) made in Singapore? This is the provocative theme in which director Toh Hai Leong wants to explore, and make a controversial film out of. Zombie Dogs is his title of this snuff movie, with as sick a storyline as you can think of - incest, sex, rape, murder, necrophelia.

However, Zombie Dogs is a actually a mockumentary. The film never gets made, and you'll get to see why. It makes some obvious swipes at the (boring) Singaporean Lifestyle (the subtitle of the film - Eat Shit Fuck and Die) and the Singapore Film Commission, as we follow the footsteps of director Toh Hai Leong. He brings us from the beginning, right from the conceptual stage of the movie, to its final (and unfinished) product.

Some truly funny moments include casting scenes for the Pornographer, where aspiring actors are shocked to hear Toh's pitch of the film, and calls them "wimps" and "arseholes" for having no guts to push the envelope with him. He finally gets his actor though, and also recruited Lim Poh Huat (see other short film) as one of the leads. The female "star" was intended to be a random Geylang hooker, one whom when murdered, will not be missed. It's chilling too to listen to Toh explain to Lim how to murder the hooker in the manner he wants to capture on film.

Peppered (no pun intended) throughout the film is Toh's monologue, as he explains to us the premise of the plot, and through this, we learn the difficulties faced with aspiring filmmakers - the pitching, the recruiting, the inspiring, and of course, the cash flow problems. And what makes it more difficult is when the film is intended to shock and provoke.

The movie almost loses its steam towards the end, as the style used does get repetitive, but the finale manages to get through satisfactory as we get to see Toh's intended vision of the film within the film, even if it's mostly made of film stills and stick figure diagrams (crude ones in fact), with orgasmic moans as its primary soundtrack.

Why "Zombie Dogs"? I won't do justice by explaining it here, you've got to watch how Toh explains it himself!

Those interested in catching this film, there will be one screening at Alliance Francaise on 14 Aug 05 Sun 2130hrs, and two more screenings at The Arts House on 20 Aug 05 Sat 1630hrs and 26 Aug 05 Fri 2130hrs

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[Screen Singapore] Lim Poh Huat

The title of this short film is the name of main character Lim Poh Huat. Some of you might have seen his photographs and interview with Sunday Times some months back, which was also featured in this film.

Poh Huat is a security guard, with a passion for acting. However, with his lack of looks (face it, it's reality), he only gets supporting roles or as an extra/cameo appearances in local television serials like Crimewatch and Frontline.

Besides acting, his hobbies are vast and varied, like donating blood and sperm - he's won a bronze award for blood donation you know? And dig this, the dude has also published a book called "Confessions of a Struggling Actor". How cool is that?

This is a mini documentary about a person with a simple outlook in life. He is comfortable with his lot, and that is what makes him happy and contended, despite his sparse lifestyle. Most of the footage features interviews with Poh Huat as he discusses about his life and work. It's not boring as he fills us in on little known facts, and his actions are comedic at times (like his kung fu practice at the rooftop of his workplace).

If anything, it is about optimism and about doing something in which you have the passion for. That's how life should be lived.

This short film will be screened together with Zombie Dogs (see other review), and the next screen times are

Alliance Francaise: 14 Aug 05 Sun 2130hrs (special appearance by the director Lee Wong and Lim Poh Huat himself)
Arts House: 20 Aug 05 Sat 1630hrs, 26 Aug 05 Fri 2130hrs

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Friday, August 05, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Eating Air

Lim beh gar li kong, ji eh hi hor, sibei tok kong, mai kua si li gong ah!

That's the gist of most of the dialogue in this made-in-Singapore film, and it is the earnest dialogue that kept this film "real" and not cringeworthy if it had been polished English language skills used instead.

Following the chronicles of Ah Bengs, Ah Boy, our anti-hero protagonist played by Benjamin Heng, introduces to us his gang of arcade playing, motorcycle riding, and rooftop gathering friends. While street corner gangs are not as sophisticated as organised hoodlums, they too practice their own brand of honour. Petty fights are common, and so are motorcycle challenges. But when his best friend Ah Gu chances upon drugs and borrows from loan sharks, what will happen to their friendship, as the challenges that they face become more and more dangerous.

Romance is in contrast to the reality and ugliness of street gangs, With Ah Bengs, there surely is their Ah Lians hugging their torsos on bike rides (jiak hong in Hokkien, for joyrides). Alvina Toh plays Ah Girl, Ah Boy's main squeeze. The moments together are bittersweet, boy-meets-girl, falls in love, boy-loses-girl, punctuated with an excellent soundtrack done by local acts like the Boredphucks. It's back to the old days where mobile phones are not as prevalent, and calls are made to each other using early technology like pagers and voice messages, which was nostalgic (brought back some memories lah).

Heng brought life to Ah Boy, with his crazy kung-fu imagination (think Ally McBeal style), as he evolves from an aimless wanderer, to crazed street kid with a huge dose of "yi qi"/honour. Toh too plays her role convincingly, as a schoolgirl seduced by Ah Boy's carefree ways, to becoming someone with inner strength.

This film manages to gel its subplots together, adding much to its depth. While its protagonists are street gangsters, it makes no attempt to glorify nor condone their actions, and therefore doesn't feel preachy on what's right or wrong.

Adding the comedic touch are Michelle Chong, in her heavy accented mandarin as a lao chio photocopy shop owner, and Mark Lee, veteran TV beng who plays, what else, a dua kang lao beng who pines after a mysterious lady (played by singer Kit Chan).

It's always a blast to see familiar locales, and more so in a Singapore film. Places recognizable are Lucky Plaza and Katong Shopping Centre, and of course, the CTE takes a substantial chunk of the narrative, the location where we start off, and end.

For some reason, I didn't catch this film when it was released in 1999. Perhaps it's because of the unfamiliarity with local productions, and now I kick myself for being a tad myopic back then, but glad to have caught it during Screen Singapore. Think I'm gonna have one heck of a fun time as Screen Singapore progresses.

Those interested in catching this film, there are 2 more screenings at The Arts House at the following times: 13 Aug 05 Sat 1630hrs, 19 Aug 05 Fri 2130hrs

Oi siao eh, ai kir kua hor! Mai zoh wa lau kui leh! Must go jiak hong ok?

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[Screen Singapore] Moveable Feast

Who would have thought that this 1996 short film directed by Sandi Tan would begin my venture into Screen Singapore. And it didn't help that it featured gastronomical food when I hadn't had my dinner prior to the screening.

Narrated by a teenage boy, he brings us through to the various sights, sounds and characters ranging from a coffeeshop, to a Chinese wedding dinner in a traditional Chinese restaurant.

Sprinkled with a generous dose of comedy, this filmlet will touch you in many ways. The bustling scene of the coffeeshop captured its essence, and the wedding dinner scene will surely be familiar territory to those who have attended one before. My only gripe with it will be the tacky narrative, but the sight of food will set to satisfy.

This short film will be screened together with Eating Air (see other review), and the next screen times are

Arts House: 13 Aug 05 Sat 1630hrs, 19 Aug 05 Fri 2130hrs

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Mob Sister

Featuring a stellar cast, Mob Sister is the latest out of the HK film industry to put the spotlight back on the triads.

You can click on this link to read my review, brought to you courtesy of

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

[Screen Singapore] Advice

Unfortunately, this entry isn't the review for Ring Of Fury, which I very much wanted to watch. When I reached The Arts House this evening to purchase tickets, I was told it was already Sold Out *faint*, since last Thursday! *double faint*

I should have seen it coming, given the widespread media coverage of Screen Singapore. So my advice is...

1. Purchase your tickets now, especially if you intend to catch films with special appearances (by directors, stars, etc), or premieres. Ring Of Fury satisfied both criteria, and I was also told the screening of 15 by Royston Tan on 11 Aug, was sold out too.

2. The Arts House only seats 75!!! Which means you'd better be early in getting your tickets. Given the hype and number of film fans in Singapore (yes, I assure you they outnumber 75), tickets are expected to be hard to get.

3. DBS Cardmembers have 15% off the ticket price of $8. I am a cardmember, but I don't use my card (for reasons known to myself), and I don't like to watch my movies on credit. So there.

Ah well, back to re-scheduling my plans for Screen Singapore. Good thing I managed to get my ticket for Special Agent Night: Cleopatra Wong, this Saturday.

Watch for my Screen Singapore reviews, akan datang in no particular order, and subject to availability of tickets, are Ring of Fury, Cleopatra Wong, Zombie Dogs, 12 Storeys, Mee Pok Man, Jefri Zain - Gerak Kilat, 15 and a host of other short films.

Send me an email if you'd like to join me yeah?

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Wayward Cloud

Tsai Ming Liang's highly controversial film, featured in this year's Berlin International Film Festival.

You can read my review about the film by clicking on this link, brought to you courtesy of
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