Saturday, April 12, 2008

[SIFF08] 18 Grams of Love

The Pen Is Indeed Mightier!

Talk about saving the best for last! 18 Grams of Love is the last movie I'm catching at the SIFF, well, because of its one-screening only schedule tonight, and the last movie from the Singapore Panorama I have dutifully followed this festival season. One thing's for sure, this movie deserves a wider audience, and I'm quite curious why, when it was sold out early during ticketing, that no more screenings were added to the festival schedule. Nonetheless you can cross your fingers for a theatrical release, hopefully soon! It's been a long time since I've watched a movie that late at night, and rather than letting the usual end-of-day tiredness creep in, this movie gave a sudden adrenaline rush to want to rave all about it!

Those familiar with writer-director Han Yew Kwang's shorts and previous feature film Unarmed Combat, will find that he's taken a vast leap forward in his story telling craft, as well as on the way to developing his own brand of comedy. You can't box it up into any sub-genre, as it consists of a bit of everything, well suited for mass consumption and tastes, and bound to have some bits tickle your funny bone. I was laughing throughout, and so were the audience, and yet the general tone still came across as dramatically serious yet touching, with strong themes as the base on which the movie was build upon.

The story's a simple one to follow - 2 friends, Hui (Adam Chen) the teacher and Zi Hua (Alaric Tay) the bookshop owner, both suspect their respective spouses, Michelle (Yeo Yann Yann) a model "mamasan" and Xiao Tong (Magdalene See) a hair salon owner, of having an affair with somebody else, given their strange behaviour the last one month. They then device an idea of having each to write love letters to the other person's wife, and see if their wives reciprocate, henceforth setting up a case of entrapment if you like.

Star power also helped as the main cast of 4 delivered all round strong performances to a tee to match Yew Kwang's carefully created characters, to ensure that each had adequate depth for diverse expression. Alaric's Zi Hua is the classical introverted type character who treads and occasionally crosses the line of being henpecked, while Adam's Hui is the atypical exasperated husband who can't seem to understand his wife anymore. Both are flawed characters in that they have their selfish obsessions, and cannot see beyond them, but there's where the fun lies, especially during the first 10 minutes which has excellent banter between the two, despite a very ominous like, and serious tone for an opening scene.

While Yeo Yann Yann was classic Yann Yann in the delivery of her role, I felt that Magdalene See upstaged her in this movie, and probably the most likable character here given her "13 points Ah-Lian-ness siao-char-bo" (read: girly and ditzy) over-the-top role versus the more dramatic one for Yann Yann's, who plays probably the saddest character in the story who gets maligned in the whole scheme of things, and seemingly on the tail end of everything. But Ms 13-points isn't as naive as you might think she is, and has this really maniacal laughter that's memorable even after the credits roll. Lookout for the 4-way blame game too, as I thought that was the scene that really stood out, and made for a reason to rewatch the entire movie all over again just to verify what had transpired! Wonderful backstories are created for the characters too, which gives it a very romantic, albeit somewhat sentimental at times, feel to the movie, but also one of the most hilarious scenes to come out of.

18 Grams of Love is very rich, in both the production values and the beautiful sets, as well as in the language and prose. After all, it's about declaration of emotions in the form of the written word, and this is probably one of the best written Mandarin local films ever, which goes to show that you don't need to rely on dialect gimmicks to keep an audience engaged, and need not dumb it down for Mandarin-as-a-second-language speakers like me, or have to rely on bombastic phrases to impress the elite. Hearing the cast deliver properly enunciated Mandarin is nothing but music to the years.

While Yew Kwang probably still found it difficult not to include some fantasy pugilistic moves into this movie, the messages in this comedy of errors are realistic reminders to everyone. Firstly, when you have a game plan, stick to it, and go all the way, as you'll probably be in for some messy development should either party jump ship, defect or just not play ball. Secondly, expect plans to backfire, and in not wanting to hurt people, sometimes it brews misunderstanding and suspicion, before it slowly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in wanting something bad or negative to happen. Thirdly, in communications, always be truthful and honest, although this is sometimes easier said than done, but the truth will set you free, especially when you're sincere about it.

It's not very often that you get to sit through an absolutely sweet and charming movie, so I shall give 18 Grams of Love the Nutshell Review multiple stamp of approval (i.e. you MUST watch this), and declaring it as the BEST Local Narrative Film this SIFF Season, hands down! Probably the best local movie this year to date too, and I'll be waited with bated breath for a theatrical screening which I will want to watch it again, and I will have bucks parked aside should the DVD come out as well! Highly recommended, and I can't rave about this enough!

LtoR: Tan Pin Pin (Moderator), Writer-Director Han Yew Kwang

There was a Q&A session after the screening with director Han Yew Kwang, and 3 of the 4 cast members - Yeo Yann Yann, Adam Chen, and Alaric Tay were present as well. As usual, in the interest of (my) time, this is only an excerpt, and I have paraphrased (for the better I hope) for clarity and readability. For those who are spoiler wary, please read something else. You have been warned. I think Yew Kwang has this immense sense of humour that always pepper this Q&A session, so my apologies if I can't capture all that down - reason enough to turn up for future screenings with the director in attendance!

LtoR: Yeo Yann Yann, Tan Pin Pin, Han Yew Kwang

One thing's for sure, everyone in the audience today unanimously agreed that 18 Grams of Love deserves to be commercially released in the theatres. The project came about as part of the MDA High-Definition (HD) trial. It was supposed to be made for television, with a 1/2 hour and a 1 hour slot, but the filmmakers managed to convince for a 1 1/2 hour slot to make a feature.

Q: How long was the production process?
A: It took about 11, close to 12 days to shoot, and it was mostly done in a warehouse which was haunted, so we had to shoot quickly! All the indoor sets were in one location, where opening of a door will lead to the next set and so on, and a few outdoor locations as well. This is the first time we were shooting on HD, so we needed to take some time to familiarize with the equipment as well.

Q: What was the budget for the film?
A: It cost S$150K, and fully funded by MDA.

LtoR: Alaric Tay, Tan Pin Pin, Han Yew Kwang

Q: If fully funded, why didn't they pay more to have it transferred to film for the big screen? How much extra would it cost?
A: We've no answer to that, but it will cost about S$70K for the transfer.

Q: What inspired you to write 18 Grams of Love?
A: It's actually part of a trilogy, and I came up with the "communications" as the link between the films, one on love letters, the other on Camera, and the last on Television. We wanted to do 3 projects, but MDA wanted the one about the love letters. I had the idea for some time, and since the opportunity came along, I just had to further develop the story of sending these letters to someone else's wife.

The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca

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