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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Short films review

Screen Singapore had a free screening of short films this evening. It was held next to the Singapore River, outside UOB building. The organisers put up a large screen and projected the films from behind from a DVD player. And the audience was seated on hard wooden benches.

I watch Singaporean short films mostly as a show of support for the industry. For the most part, the local films, particularly the shorts, are always too auteur for my taste. I prefer something more mainstream, and if not, then something that just makes me go "Hmm, interesting."

And since the screening was free, I thought, "why not?" I snagged Angela and Chin and Angela asked Stephanie as well. Angela, Chin and I had dinner at the McDonald's at Boat Quay, Stephanie joined us later, and we went to the venue at about 7pm.

The screening was supposed to start at 7pm, but the excuse we got was that it wasn't dark enough. So we chatted among ourselves until 7:30pm or so.

Here's my $0.02 review of the short films:
(all ratings are out of five stars)

1. "Old Parliament House Remixed" by Lee Wong
Synopsis: music video. No, really, that's it.

A bit of background: the local news highlights of Parliament proceedings have a musical intro. This music changed recently. What this short film did is it took the old music and, as the title suggests, remixed it, e.g. a taxi driver whistling it, a school Chinese orchestra performance, and the audience's favourite, an NPCC cadet's handphone goes off in the middle of a march -- and guess what the ringtone is?

Unfortunately, the film uses the first 17 notes of the tune only, leaving me wanting more.

Rating: 4 (saved by the NPCC cadet)

2. "The Secret Heaven" by Sun Koh
Synopsis: a little girl hates learning the piano but her mother insists that she learns it. So she yearns for something more, if not the family bathroom, then... death?

The film started off promisingly. All of us were kids and we know what it's like to endure the pressure from our parents, so I could relate to it. And the girl is sooo cute!

Unfortunately, it got kinda draggy, and the ending left me going "huh?" Spoiler: even though she drinks medicated oil and dreams about heaven, she doesn't die.

Rating: 3 (saved by the girl)

3. "Lunch Time" by Wee Li Lin
Synopsis: a chicken rice stall assistant fantasises about a dream life with the handsome office boy who patronises her stall every so often.

Ah, the classic love story. It's been done before, but like the saying goes, "there are no new stories, only new retellings", or something like that. The problem is, nothing new was added to this retelling, except the location. The guy was so one-sided, all he had to do was act handsome and finish eating his chicken rice.

That left the actress to carry the film. Unfortunately, either she couldn't deliver or the story failed her. As it is, I've forgotten the ending, so that tells you how good it was.

Rating: 2 (I'm a sucker for love stories)

4. "Moveable Feast" by Sandi Tan
Synopsis: a guy enjoys life by eating.

Booooring. No story, just footage upon footage of watching a guy eat for almost 15 minutes. He tells us that he likes various aspects of eating, e.g. the taste variety, people you eat with, etc. I tell myself that this is 15 minutese of my life that I'm never gonna get back.

The only highlight came from the beginning, when an old coffee shop assistant told a customer to "Siam! Sio ah!" ("Get out! Hot (drink)!" We've all met this guy in the coffee shop.

Rating: 1

5. "Homemaker" by Wee Li Lin
Synopsis: a tai-tai recounts her day-to-day life in a letter to an overseas friend.

This short film was probably the best of all. It's short, only about five minutes, but it takes you from laughing out loud to silent pondering. A tai-tai, or rich man's wife, should have a very happy life, but as she talks about her life, we realise how empty it is. She cooks, but she really only directs her maids in the kitchen. She has breakfast with her husband and son, but they're too busy with their lives to care. She interacts with people, but those people are TV characters.

See, money doesn't necessarily buy happiness!

Rating: 4.5 (let down by poor acting, but then, this is a local short film...)

6. "The Usher" by June Chua
Synopsis: a young boy keeps getting caught sneaking into the cinema to watch kung-fu movies, and eventually strikes up a friendship with an usher.

Another good film with some semblance of a story. By themselves, the characters aren't much to admire. The kid borders on being a brat, while the usher is like a lechery uncle that our mums told us to be wary of.

But it's their friendship that saves the film. I felt happy when the boy could finally buy his own ticket (paid for by the usher, who by then had been fired), and sympathy for the usher who made a young friend even though he was fired for it. Good eventually triumphs in the face of overwhelming odds.

Rating: 4

Aside: Chin and I were the only ones (out of the four of us) who remembered those days when the cinema tickets had handwritten seat numbers, the kachang puteh seller had his shop outside the theater, and cinemas weren't as gaudy as they are today.

7. "Hock Hiap Leong" by Royston Tan
Synopsis: a boy remembers an old coffee shop by imagining it in the 1960s with the associated music, dance and flamboyance.

Ah, Royston Tan, suddenly he is Singapore's second favourite director after his gangster film, "15". Sure, he may be a good director (I haven't seen "15"), but I don't think this was one of his best works. It's too sappy and exaggerated. Or maybe that's what he was aiming for: a chance for us to relive our past through gaudiness.

But I didn't like it. It was... too much in too short a time. As a full-length musical, it might have worked, but as a short film, I thought that it was lacking in substance and depth.

Rating: 3

Hmm, I guess those are all the films. I thought there were more...

Oh ya, there is one more... sort of. This one was shown at the start of the screening, and I think it was the best of all of the films that evening. It was touching, thoughtful, funny, sad, warm-and-cuddly, feel-good, etc. It showed people in a museum and there were pictures and pictures and pictures and pictures... Some pictures were well known, some were whimsical. Some were hung in portraits, some were pasted on refrigerator doors. A few of the photographers discussed their pictures. People from different walks of life admired the various pictures. This went on for five minutes before any of us realised what it was. I had a clue midway through and I was correct.

It was a five-minute long advertisement for Kodak. And it was good.

After the screening, which was part of the National Day celebrations, we stayed at the river to watch a fireworks show, then adjourned to The Coffee Connoiseur at Clarke Quay. Stephanie left to join her friends for the night, so the three of us had drinks and chatted. And what do bloggers chat about when they gather?



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