Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Smell of Rain

I have developed a new fetish for local movies, just to see how our sunny little island is captured on film. I smiled when I identified with the initial scenes - the view of my town from inside the MRT train. The view which I see every day, but with a romanticized quality to it. This year will probably be a bumper year of local movies making their debut, and I would consider this probably one of the rare arthouse chinese movies to be done here.

Don't be put off when I mention "Arthouse" (I felt that it leaned away from "commercial" through its style and narrative structure), though audiences will have to get accustomed to the way the story is told. Plenty of beautiful images, of the sky, rain, sun, river, bridges, basically the entire HDB heartland gets the romantic treatment, courtesy of DoP Terris Chiang. Images that will make you go "wow, this is Singapore, told through another camera angle". The characters speak relatively little, and most of narrative gets told through the voiceover of the protagonist, Xiao Qi (Nathaniel Ho), as he reflects upon his life, and his personal philosophy in living life.

Xiao Qi is an interesting character, though he gets developed really slowly through the course of the film. Partially deaf in one ear, he's an insomniac with a penchant for rummaging through discarded knick-knacks. He lives with his best buddy Kong Long (literally meaning Dinosaur, played by Trey Ho), who spends too much time in front of the television watching Korean dramas, or napping. They're quite opposites, but remain the best of friends.

But this movie is also about the budding relationship between two strangers who meet in the middle of the night. One an insomniac, the other, an attractive girl Li Er (Leah Low, check out her manga-comic eyes). Sparks should fly, but somehow each carries an emotional baggage, so you can be sure of the mega obstacles in place for them to overcome, especially since one of them starts off with an "attitude problem" of being zoned-out.

The pacing of the movie is slow, and deliberately kept so, because Xiao Qi is one who abhors the hustle and bustle of life. He takes things as they come, although you would want to strangle him for his indecisiveness, stemmed from early childhood experiences (though some might think that it might be a tad over-dramatic). Throughout the movie, you would come to question certain things and aspects of character (which I will not reveal here) as the story unfolds, leading you to the all important finale-twist-revealing-ending which should answer obvious questions. Sit through it, persevere (don't be like the two persons in my screening who walked out just before the "showhand"), and you'll be duly rewarded. "First bitter then sweet" - as the chinese saying goes.

Commendable effort is shown by the newbie actors - given little dialogue, they had to rely on developing and fleshing their characters through subtle nuances. But somehow, I thought that the overall cinematography overshadowed their performances, as your eyes will probably fall in love with the setting and environment, so that might take your attention away from the characters, at least for a short while.

It's a movie about finding oneself, letting go, and giving oneself a second chance, with the subtle message to find time to stop and smell the roses, and of course, to experience that smell of rain.

Having seen but three of the selection of six movies which are part of the opening of the Picturehouse, in my humble opinion, this local film should have been selected for the premiere. It's fairly experimental, raw, and why not let a local film fly the flag, instead of a regional dud.

There will be 2 more screenings outside of the Picturehouse opening festival. If you're interested, you can go check out and book tickets for the shows on 1st April Sat, at 0210am (yes, meaning Friday after midnight that is), and 1150pm. This film is yet to be commercially released, so don't let this opportunity slip you by.

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