Saturday, July 19, 2008

[5th Singapore Short Cuts] 2nd Week

The 5th Singapore Short Cuts continues today with another selection of 5 fine short films, and as Beng Kheng revealed, were curated by Zhang Wenjie. Watching today's selection, you can't help but to discover some parental-child relationship themes in almost all the films, and with genres ranging from comedy to stop-motion animation, it's indeed a diverse selection that reinforces the notion that Singapore's short film scene is nothing short of eclectic, with good production values, some despite not being funded by grants from the film commission.

Wet Season / 水枪 - Michael Tay

When the narration came on, I thought it was going to be one of those arty flicks which will tread on longing and loss. A man narrates his missing of someone, and drones on the drudgery of life without that somebody. I could've sworn it was his partner, as it definitely could have swung that way, but it turned out to be a stunning tribute to director Michael Tay's own father, and with the Chinese title as such, I was indeed taken aback by a funny yet almost near impossible scene of that happening with most fathers and sons, I think.

But what I liked about this, is the stop-motion animation treatment. You don't get to see much of this in local films, so it's indeed a visual treat, not forgetting the effort it takes to make films with this level of technical sophistication.

Reflections - Ho Tzu Nyen

Ho Tzu Nyen's segment of Lucky 7 involved a number of mirrors as the character went through a series of self-reflection at a train depot, and the use of mirrors return as an important plot element in this short.

Narrated by Amy Cheng, I thought this movie bore some semblance, storytelling wise, to Victric Thng's The Mole. Both are highly imaginative fairy tales, although Victric's had added an additional level of complexity with its story's narration in rhyming couplets, and this one based on a story by the 19th century Greek writer Lafcadio Hearn. In Tzu Nyen's Reflections, the novelty was having children play citizens of a narrow minded, literally boxed in world, whose inhabitants are physically of child size, and probably in mentality too, especially with the "me-me" attitudes, and the inability to resolve conflicts within themselves, having to defer to a higher being.

Quite an intelligent movie to sit through, with an extremely wry sense of humour. I suspect we could be on our way in having more unique tellings of fairy tales spun from the imagination of our local filmmakers?

The New World - K. Rajagopal

In a landscape bygone, there used to be Gay World, Great World, and then there's New World, which this short uses to become the backdrop for a trip down nostalgic memory lane. Bookend in documentary style, K Rajagopal's The New World opens with Jacinta Abisheganaden's breathy rendition of Windmills of Your Mind, as we explore the days of old, a personal story of a young boy growing up during the 60s of song, dance and of course, the movies.

While the short shows the measured, experienced hand of a veteran filmmaker, I thought he was very creative with the use of figurines and stop motion to tell a story of an era long gone, through the usage of old photographs and such and juxtaposed with live action. Without expensive and exorbitant sets, Rajagopal had shown us how to work and take advantage of the constraints of a non-existent landscape, and weaved an aesthetically pleasing short film that dug deep into emotions.

Commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) under the Digital Homelands project, you could also catch this again at the NMS as it had set aside a space for a video gallery to showcase all the shorts that were made with this theme, and you have until 30 Sep 08 to do so.

My Blue Heaven / 蓝蓝的天 - Yee-wei Chai

While Kelvin Sng's Kichiro probably became one of the most violent short films in recent times, I guess the short film with the most number of utterances of vulgarities, go unanimously to Yee-Wei Chai's My Blue Heaven. It's no wonder that this particular cut of the film was granted special permission by MDA for this one-off screening, and that an edited R21 version also exist for screenings following this one.

Based in the 80s where you have pornographic video peddlers prowling HDB flats with their goods (and then migrated to mail box flyers to reduce the risk of getting caught with smoking gun evidence), almost everyone, save for the kid, swore bucket-loads, with Hokkien being the language of choice, and the other being Bahasa used by a trio of pondans who don't get along with Vincent Tee's uncouth loan-shark runner.

The title referred somewhat to the proverbial, out of bounds territory in the home where kids aren't allowed to venture. To Ah-boy, this is his father's top shelve which is covered by a piece of blue-sky cloth, and contains his treasure trove of drugs and pornographic tapes. With his father out one day, Ah-boy ventures into the bold unknown with cunning preparation, only to discover to his horror, that VCRs sometimes do chew up your tapes.

There are plenty of hilarious moments which will leave you in stitches, and while the kid playing Ah-boy did have some pretty unnatural acting moments (he's a first timer), he managed to pull off an incredible moment when the time called for it. If you're not a prude and willing to overlook the language, you'll realize this short is making quite a statement at nanny-like suppression - do not do this, do not do that, stick to your harmless cartoons, and eat your food. With a supporting cast of familiar faces like Catherine Sng and Melody Chen, there would be plenty of elements that the authorities would have frowned upon (such as the scene with Vincent Tee and a Loretta Lee "artistic" picture book) that just adds onto the wicked glee of an audience watching this.

The winner for me, would of course be the inclusion of Sam Hui's 天才与白痴 into the soundtrack. Definitely deserving a second viewing.

With 4 shorts in the bag, 3 of which are of the comedy genre, it might be a little surprising that Yee-wei's debut feature film will expand upon his horror short Blood Ties. It goes into production later this year, and for sure my radar will be sweeping the horizon for it.

Dreams of Youth - Daniel Hui

While the previous short had ended with a wry jab at the expected lack of funding and support from the authorities given its subject matter and content, the intertitle that came up for this short brandishing its support obtained, and the opening shot of blue skies, inadvertently drew stifled laughter from some members of the audience, who drew parallels between the ending from the previous, and the beginning of the current movie.

The contrast didn't just end there, as Dreams of Youth was shot entirely in English. I really didn't take to the story as it seemed to be a snapshot of the growing pains of an adolescent youth, with pretty mundane stuff happening in school, such as tests, crushes, and an unlikely sexual awakening, and it just went on. Perhaps it's reflective of Wei Tien's (Marcus Low) state of mind, of coasting through life here, knowing that it's only temporary, before he returns to Australia for further studies.

Aside from his best friend and dad, the rest of the characters who seem to have more impact in his life are the female characters, like the mother, like all mothers always doting. And the school girl with whom he develops a crush on, but a lack of guts prevented any further contact other than admiring from afar. And one whom I thought almost everyone would have seen coming, especially with the come-hiter looks on the replacement teacher.

Plenty of technical strengths in this short so that addresses most of the production values, and I look forward to more different stories from this young filmmaker.


LtoR: Low Beng Kheng, Yee-wei Chai, Michael Tay, Daniel Hui, K. Rajagopal

As staple in the programme, a Q&A session was conducted with the directors, although Ho Tzu Nyen was unable to attend today's session. As always, here's the excerpt from this afternoon's Q&A session, and any inaccuracies are faults of mine alone.

Q: I notice a special relationship with parents in all of today's movies?
Rajagopal: It's a personal story, which is based on my childhood memory in which my father was part of it. It's a commissioned piece by the museum with a specific theme of a piece of nostalgia. I too saw the common theme in today's shorts, and credit must go to the curator.
Michael: I didn't really think about what the relationship is, but what's the kind of goodbye you can say to someone. The passing away of a relative makes for a sad piece, and my priority was not to do a sad piece, but somehow to laugh about it. It's my goodbye to my dad, of reminiscence, and laughter.
Yee-wei: It's a little love letter to my past, and how I input the episodes all in one piece. Like the proverbial drawer we're told not to open. People like to explore, and not everything here is based on my own parents!

Q: All the films seemed to be anchored in a specific cultural background?
Yee-wei: I've got no strategy except wanting to tell a story that was interesting. It had to be set at the time it was, where there was VHS tape players. For example I think one of the fears was for a tape to be stuck inside the player, and you might have heard stories about it, but for the love of god you'd never want it to happen to yourself.
Michael: I tried to picture the kind of old traditional Chinese father, and used a skeleton to represent that. My initial intent was to base the story on that father figure we are familiar with.
Daniel: Every film will have some cultural, sociological background, and I didn't do anything specific.
Rajagopal: I've always used part of my childhood memory and life to make my films and that's my approach. i didn't think about it, and was just a response.

Beng Kheng: Your short has Chinese and Indian songs, do they represent moments from your life, or did you just include them for their part in cinematic history?
Rajagopal: The New World had screened lots of diverse films, and the strongest influence on me were the Indian films. As for the song "Moon River" I've always heard it in English, and to hear it in Chinese, I wanted to put it into the film.
Daniel: There were a number of films in your film, did they mean something to you for them to be included?
Rajagopal: Yes I specifically shoe the films and songs I heard and remembered.

Q: There seemed to be a focus on the women in your lead's life, with the female classmate whom he has a crush on, and the replacement teacher.
Daniel: There's one more woman too, his mom. It's a very feminine film with no strong male figure, and it seemed that his life has been subconsciously led by females.

Q: What were the difficulties faced when making your film?
Yee-wei: This was a one-time permission obtained by MDA to screen the movie during this festival. There's another censored R21 version I have. Most of the problems were because of the red tape faced, despite the other challenge of getting parents of potential kids to agree to making the movie. Most times when I send them the script, I get no response after that! With the HDB flat, we had found a suitable apartment and flat which was in an empty block going to be pulled down. While approvals were obtained from the Town Council, HDB rejected us. In a last move where I didn't had much hope for success, I wrote to the MP of the constituency Prof. Jayakumar, and I didn't expect a return call from the HDB with the approval after that!
Michael: It's the usual challenge of getting permission for locations. For me it was easy this time because it's set in one location and the rest are green-screened. It really is a great test of how creative you are with given resources, and to work within your means.
Daniel: I was extremely lucky with all the help given to me.
Rajagopal: I have been making films a decade ago, and back then I had no help. This time it's easy because of friends who helped for free. The credits list might be long, but it helps.


I didn't get advanced tickets for this week, and joined the wait list queue. The Substation despite its smaller venue, still managed to accommodate everyone, although it was quite a squeeze and you'll have to practice some serious mind over matter to stay cool and feel that you're not in a cell. Anyway enough gripes, as next week's venue will still be at the Substation, so please make sure you hit the correct venue. Blank Rounds by Green Zeng has unfortunately pulled out, but you can bet there's no lack of controversy given the screening of Martyn See's Speakers Cornered. See you there!

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