Wednesday, September 20, 2006

[Cine.SG] The Teenage Textbook Movie

Hi I'm the School Buaya

I was in secondary school when there was this local book that was the rage of the moment. Kinda akin to Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole Diaries and having word about it spread as fast as The Da Vinci Code (eh, you got read or not?) , The Teenage Textbook, written by then NUS law student and (excellent) debater Adrian Tan (now hotshot lawyer you know?) told a story about the lives and loves of a group of junior college students, all under fictional settings of course, like Paya Lebar Junior College (despite the increase in the number of JCs, there still isn't a Pee Jay Cee).

In fact the book was so popular, it spawned a sequel called The Teenage Workbook. I've read both books when I was a pimply teenager, probably buying the idea that JC life is damn happening. And true, life in JC had some of those moments described, but of course in far less dramatic and comedic fashion. Given the books success, it didn't take long for someone to decide to make a movie out of it, during the mini revival of sorts in the 90s filmmaking in Singapore.

Although the characters were caricatures, you can probably identify and classify some of your friends into the many stereotypes like the goody girl-next-door Mui Yee (Melody Chen), her best friend and school flower Sissy Song (Lim Hwee Sze), the nerd Chung Kai (Caleb Goh), his obnoxious only friend Kok Sean (Chong Chee Kin, who actually stole the show, in my opinion), the school hunk Daniel Boon (Steven Lim), his teacher sister Miss Boon (Vivian Wang) and her air force pilot fiance played by Darryl David, who actually never got out of his Alpha Romeo at all. Rounding up the cast included Neo Swee Lin as Mui Yee's conservative mother, and a cameo by local filmmaker Royston Tan.

It's a teeny bopper puppy love romance movie which incorporated plenty of experimental ways of translating the novel into a film (always a challenge), like the voiceovers and intertitles, and ended up having it look more like a series of short episodes glued together to form one long 100 minute narrative. Think of it as the local version of any American high school movie, with the usual teenage love issues, triangles and misunderstandings. The acting's really nothing much to shout about, but I guess it's secondary considering the cast looked their part, and for a commercial movie, having eye candy stars is important in order to draw the crowds - the movie did well by local standards.

If there is any gripe, it will be the incessantly long road scenes, from Orchard Road, to Simei, to Holland Village, and even one at Marina Bay. Used as fillers, the scenes did look like a cheap trick, and having some road travelled repeated, also made it look like a desperate attempt to apologize for the lack of resource and ingenuity.

There were many easter eggs and cameo appearances in the movie as well which more than made up for it, like the director Philip Lim's photograph a For Dummies book, author Adrian Tan appearing in Borders under the "Famous Authors" banner (and lending his voice too in late night radio shows), the little blue bin (don't ask, this one you must see for yourself), and Mui Yee reading the Teenage Textbook, amongst others. All these little touches added to the general fun factor when watching the film. For folks in my generation, who could forget local shock jock Glenn Ong's Ego Trip in the wee hours of the morning on Perfect10 98.7FM, the Q&As taken on his showed, together with the faked boo boys and canned laughter. Adds nostalgia, now that he's moved on to Class95FM.

Locations too were a hoot to spot, since the fictional Pee Jay Cee did not exist. It's pretty surreal watching some school's facade being used, and within walking distance is an HDB estate and the port (!). Doesn't look anything like the Tanjong Pagar Estate too :-)

It's a bubblegum movie, so don't rack your brains trying to come up with something cerebral about it. However in my opinion, if both the book and the movie were to be compared, the book remains superior. Read it, if you can get your hands on a copy!


The Cine.SG screening today had in attendance the director Philip Lim and the author of the book Adrian Tan, and their trading of barbs with each other, and with the audience, was totally out of this world! Probably the best and liveliest Q&A session! I've gotten it down and might stream a podcast of it, if time permits of course, otherwise we'll just have to settle for the plain old transcript. Stay tuned!

You can check it out here

Click here to get your own player.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...