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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