Saturday, August 11, 2007

[4th Singapore Short Cuts] 1st Week

The Singapore Short Cuts is fast becoming a popular fixture in the local film calendar, with the (free) tickets for today's session reported being snapped up within 3 hours on the Monday of ticket release. Having seen the preview almost two weeks ago, the wait for the festival is finally over, and today's selection of 5 shorts, while seemingly all being set in and around the HDB flat (or have scenes in them), they couldn't be more different from one another.

Flat Dreams - Eva Tang
The opening short of the festival, Flat Dreams actually consists of 3 short films titled Flat, Neighbourhood Watch, and Void Deck. I thought the first two shorts were fine and highly enjoyable, with the first having Yeo Yann Yann performing a sultry dance in a bustier. If I'm right, Yann Yann (881, Singapore Dreaming, The High Cost of Living) will feature in another short in this festival. Flat was somewhat fun, with a man lamenting his wife's runway flat chest, and allowing his imagination run wild, while Neighbourhood Watch focused on a young boy's imagination to amuse himself, all done through the narrative voice provided by Lim Kay Tong (Perth).

At the same time, the second short acted as a joint to provide a connection between the entire three shorts together, and in its make believe world, will have surely reached out and inspired everyone to take a look back into what we did with our own, when we were the young boy's age. The third story following the plight of an unemployed elderly lady, was to me, the least interesting of the lot, maybe because of its abstract moments which I cannot identify with. It had a highly fantastical element towards the end, but you can tell that I was in joy when the end credits started to roll at that point.

You can read more about this short through its website here.

Zo Gang - Jacen Tan
From the writer-director who brought us the Internet cult hit Tak Giu, and Zo Peng, comes his latest short film Zo Gang, translated to mean "Go Work", which unlike most of the films in today's lineup, is a light-hearted comedy which will strike a chord in every aspiring creative person in the local movie or music industry. You can count on Jacen's brand on local humour to bring that smile to your face, and its breezy pace, coupled with nuggets of funny jabs, make this a definite crowd pleaser.

Bedroom Dancing - Sun Koh
Probably the most eyebrow raising of them all (or for that matter, including all the local shorts put out to date), giving today's session the R21 rating, as we get to enter the bedroom of a copulating couple and observe them getting it on, uncut. Based on the true story, which you might have read in the news about a man being arrested for masturbating in his own flat, this is Sun Koh's fictionalized account of that true event.

Very daring, very bold, and to paraphrase her, this indeed pushed the boundary a little, and seeing it unscathed, does bode well. Stars Sunny Pang (Perth, and was featured in last year's National Day Rally by the Prime Minister), it does make you wonder if what you've done in the privacy of your own home, stays private and actually is none of anyone's business. With HDB flat units separated with cardboard thin walls, and flats being built so close to one another these days, do we need to add a thick curtain to prevent others from peeping in? (The weather's already too hot by the way).

Yesterday's Plan - Ryan Tan

The scene is all too familiar, especially for those with nagging moms, whom you wish for them to shut up at times and leave you alone for some peace and quiet. A boy who's been lambasted by his mom for being a good for nothing, seem to have his patience tested time and again. The nagging grows incessantly irritating, and the boy reflects his displeasure physically. But what I liked about it, is how short it is, to the point, and addresses the issue succinctly, given that you're primed for an explosive showdown - blood is thicker than water, and there's no shame in asking for forgiveness, nor to show appreciation.

A Suicide Symphony - Deng Kalie

At first this was almost all over the place, with a man and a woman in their own apartments wanting to commit suicide, but to no avail. They meet, and seemingly leave plenty of room for a potential relationship, until the final dark revelation. The short did seem to drag on for a while in some rather indulgent moments, before that turn of events that satisfies the draggy build up, before, to my horror again, lapsing back into indulgence. I thought there were moments enough to end the film where it should, to make it tight, but it felt a need to want to fully explain itself. Sometimes there's no need to, and an audience can be trusted to connect the dots themselves. A work of potential, but execution pretty left much to be desired.

LtoR: Jacen Tan, Tay Bee Pin, Sun Koh, Ryan Tan, Zhang Wenjie

Present today for the Q&A session after the screening of the shorts were Jacen Tan, director of Zo Gang, Tay Bee Pin, producer of Flat Dreams, Sun Koh, director of Bedroom Dancing, and Ryan Tan, director of Yesterday's Plan. No representatives from A Suicide Symphony was present unfortunately.

Zhang Wenjie (Moderator): Maybe you can introduce yourselves, and tell us how your film was made, and how it all started?
Ryan: Mine was a short film project in school. It's a personal film for me, and and I actually casted my real mother in it. I wanted to capture how for some of us, everything in life is monotonous, so the film was shot in a straightforward manner, in 1 take.
Sun: I made the "banging" film. It's based on a true story, and the film is my reaction to that story.
Bee Pin: This is Eva's (the director) film, and unfortunately she's unable to join us as she's in Beijing.
Jacen: Like what it's said in the booklet, Zo Gang was conceived one afternoon. Initially I had plenty of ideas, but thought why not combine them into one?

Q (for Sun Koh): How did you cast for your film?
Sun: Basically two points. One, who is willing to do it, and two, the body type. I know this sounds shallow, but don't you agree they look like a "healthy couple", and not the typical perfect skin, glossed up models. They are friends, and they trusted me, just as I trusted them.

Sun Koh then commented that she loved Ryan's film, as it reminded her of the story of her life, the eat-sleep-don't do anything routine, and it's a classic case between her and her mom.

Q: How do you see Singapore short films evolve in the next couple of years, especially with the onset of digital technology and citizen journalism?
Ryan: More people can watch films online, but whether they want to pay for it is a different story. Just like how this screening is free, but the good thing about it is that more people can watch them if it's free.
Bee Pin: This is the first short film I produced, so I'm new to this area.
Sun: It depends, but I remain optimistic.
Jacen: It's 2 sides, from the filmmaker sense and the general audience, who can find it easier or cheaper to make films.

Q (by Loo Zihan, for Sun Koh): How was the response of the general public and the authorities, and how did you get around censorship?
Sun: I think a little bit of pushing the boundaries does help. I didn't think about censorship when I made the film. My main question at the time was whether it can be shown here. If it cannot, it's ok, and I shouldn't be too bothered by it. Maybe because it's a short film and so it probably can't do any harm. Sex is good, violence is bad! (chuckles) After the making of this film, 3 months later, the actress Grace got pregnant - no, nothing to do with Sunny! (chuckles again) Sunny's wife was expecting too, so it is a pro-family film!

Q: How did the audiences generally react, the difference between the local and foreign audiences?
Sun: The local audience tend to gasp "It's not censored? It's R21 without cuts?!", while the foreign audience were more amused, "you mean you can't wank yourselves in you own home?" This is only the second public screening of Bedroom Dancing, and I guess MDA approved it, given that it was passed as R21 without cuts.

Q (to Jacen): I heard you're doing a documentary next?
Jacen: I'm trying to do something different, and if an idea comes along which is workable, I'll do it.

Wenjie (to Jacen): The ideas and comedy in your films are quite unique. How much of it is improvised, and how much of it scripted?
Jacen: The ideas come observations of everyday life, and those that can be used in a movie, will find its way there, like the Blair Witch Spoof. I'll usually write the dialogue, but leave it to the actors to say the lines in their own way.
Q (to Jacen): What's you day job?
Jacen: It has something to do with web video.

Wenjie (to Bee Pin): Flat Dreams is actually 3 very short films in 1 short film. How did this concept come about?
Bee Pin: Flat Dreams was written and conceptualized by Eva Tang. I'm in a production house, and was shown the script by Eva, and thought it was an opportunity for me to do the film.
Wenjie: Were the sequence of the short films deliberately placed in that order?
Bee Pin: The first two followed quite closely to the script, while the 3rd one, we did the audition, casted the actress, and actually changed the script a lot. We were pleased to have the elderly actress on board, and her day job was actually distributing flyers.

Q: In order to remain optimistic, is there anything specific that the public or organizations can do to help filmmakers in general?
Sun: I realize that one has to help oneself, and to obtain help from friends. The Singapore Film Commission (SFC) could help to grant filmmakers, through SFC, a non-profit status, so when we are raising funds, these funds go through SFC to give patrons a tax deduction. In a way, to give patrons back, rather than with the expectation that their investments must yield a decent ROI, like a business. However, I don't pretend to know the business of films, but as with businesses, there's always the expectation of an ROI.

Q: The context for the content of your films are quite local. What are your thoughts on your films travelling overseas?
Ryan: It's good to get others exposed to our brand of humour, and we're not expecting them to get it each time. For themes which are emotional, I believe that's quite universal.
Sun: I think Zo Gang is incredibly funny. If you tell a joke, some will find it funny, some will not. (To Jacen) How much does it cost to make Zo Gang?
Jacen: 0
Sun: And if it costs 0 cents, why not make it, knowing well that you can't please everybody.
Wenjie: A number of these films have actually travelled to film festivals overseas.
Sun: I think the mentality is different overseas. They are generally more curious, and want to try to understand where you're coming from.

Q: When making the film, do you make it with the mindset it's for the local audience, or thinking about the overseas audience?
Jacen: Most of the issues are universal in a way, so many can understand them. Today's films have been set in the HDB flats. We live in HDB, so we make films within the HDB setting.

Wenjie (to Ryan): Your film is done in one take. How many times did you actually shoot it to get it right?
Ryan: My mum messed up quite a lot. Everything the actors did was not told to the other beforehand, in order to capture their initial reactions. It's my first time directing a short film, and this was done a total of 3 times.

Wenjie: What's your next project?
Ryan: There's nothing on my mind now. I'm serving NS, but I might want to do something again.
Sun: I'm in the midst of post production of Lucky 7. It's the fruit of the independent filmmaking movement started here, with directors taking on crew positions, and it's a humbling learning experience.
Bee Pin: Ask Eva! We're currently involved in a project with 3 female directors from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, and it's a reflection of South East Asia on film.
Jacen: I'm doing a documentary about the Kallang Roar, and hope to complete it in a few months time. You can check out Hosaywood for more details!

Photo Credits: Richard Lim


Tickets for the 2nd week will be distributed on Monday. Make sure you head down to the Museum early to collect them!

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