First Takes June - 20th Anniversary : Pak & Son Travels by Wesley Leon Aroozoo


Wesley has created a monster of a film with Pak and Sons. This monster is wild, random, loud, raging and actually, painstakingly built as well. When it is happy, it is all candy colours with cheese dripping from its mouth. When it is angry, your ears hurt before anything else. When put together with any other film, it screams for attention like….none other than itself. It is difficult to find a spot to start understanding this film, but a good place is at, er, the very beginning.

20th Anniversary: Pak and Son Travels (the full title of the film) tells the story of a travel agency ran by a father and son team in Singapore in the 1970s. To commemorate the travel company’s 20th anniversary, Pak and Son Travels has decided to have a documentary filmed about its joyous 20th anniversary party. This is where the questions begin - why documentary and not home video, a somewhat more natural option? I conclude it is because the screenwriter says so. And Wesley continues to crack his mad-cap artistic whip louder and louder from here. Characters compete to `camp’ up in front of the camera. The father is boisterous and eccentric, the female employee odd-ball and yet gossipy and finally the son is mop-head full of angst. A note about the son’s imaging – he looks like an emo-homo-Japo Asian wannabe of the Brady Bunch. I shudder at the thought of this freak of a character.
The story progresses in a straightforward and chronological manner. With the help of time-indicating frames (like `1 hour to go’, `30 mins to go’ etc), we witness how father and son race against time and prepare themselves for the party. The `countdown’ frames are quite unqiue and a visual stunner. They are actually archival (1980s) video footages of people interacting with the camera. The father is busy making sure everything is in tip top condition for the party. The son is still at work leading a group of Japanese tourists. The father is a nit-picker and spares no chance to make corrections to decorations and touches everywhere. Almost everyone makes a mistake in front of him. Even the party waiter who thought he could escape his yelling had his ear drums beaten. Notably, the waiter delivered the biggest laugh of the film with his 3-second rule to putting food that drops on the floor back on the serving plate.
The son has a difficult history. His mother abandoned him when he was young and resettled in Japan. And on this occasion, his mother broke the promise to come. Like a spoilt kid, he starts to lose his senses and pull his hair. Then he somehow manages to abandon the tour group to get lost in the urban wilderness to wallow in self-pity. Jump cutting to the function room. The party has already started without the son. The father starts to dance around the guests uncontrollably. Then, a delivery man comes with a bicycle and a hug birthday card. It is from the wife who is unable to turn up. He is not impressed. Cut back to the son, he has progressed to rolling and moaning on the grass. Cut back to function room. The son arrives finally and very unceremoniously. Bringing with him a ton of emotional baggage related to the mother’s no-show, he triggers off a tussle between father and son. At this point, I think it was a three-cornered fight – father, son and audience. Eventually, we were knocked dead.

Well, when I finally woke up and tried to make sense of it all, I think it was a potentially gripping family story. It was perhaps just a choice of a rather severe storytelling form. I honestly believe if told in a more palatable manner and removing the dramatic excesses, Wesley's film could be a powerful rebellion against the standard fare in local indie cinema.

Oh yeah, cool camera work as well.

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