5th Singapore Short Cuts - Lim Poh Huat by Lee Wong


The documentary Lim Poh Huat has demonstrated one distinction between films and TV. Films can change lives. Fans of local independent films who followed its development through the years would be familiar with Lim Poh Huat. It belongs to an era of films like My Secret Heaven by Sun Koh, 15 by Royston Tan and Birthday by Bertrand Lee. His name first became familiar to us through this documentary. And the fame he recieved from the documentary proved the turning point of his part-time `kare-lare-fare' acting career.

Lim Poh Huat has a full-time job. He works as a security guard in a building and has settled down in his job with a mixture of ownership and resignation. He lives in a spartan-looking, shabbily decorated HDB flat all by himself. What keeps him alive and glowing with a palpable sense of child-like charm? I would not say it is his part-time acting escapades but rather his ability to cherish and celebrate the little and sometimes banal achievements in life, like winning a bronze medal for blood donation.

By the time I was halfway through the documentary, I could fathom why it worked as a classic that museum would want to rehash. My guess is in the choice of subject. If you work in the media production circle, Lim Poh Huat is both an obvious and not-so obvious choice for subject matter. He is obvious because his eccentricity and comically skinny frame makes him stand out. But he could not not-so-obvious because he is just an extra, an overlooked commondity in show business. But Lim Poh Huat is more than eccentric. He is devoted to a few good-natured beliefs about life and beneath the constricted rib-cages, he has a big heart. The director made him cover a fair amount of ground. He began by sharing what he has done as a part-time extra, drawing a few initial ice-breaking laughs about his roles as a criminal and rapist. Then, it got deeper when he started on why he has been a part-time extra for so many years on top of his security guard job. Simply, it's his social outlet and a form of self-improvement. And why not? it's free. No, in fact, it pays. Peanuts though. And from his account, for negligible screen time, he has to wait hours for the actual take. And very obediently, he chooses to wait till the whole shoot is over to follow the chartered air-conditioned bus back to Mediacorp. Though never questioning the arduous effort he puts in for a bit of screen time, I cannot help but notice a sense of bittersweetness in his account. Or perhaps this is accentuated by the fact that the documentary has established him as a slightly oddball character. Undoubtedly, the documentary succeeded in creating a poignancy of this nature.

Life is still fair in the long term for he has found episodes of fame in his life when he was interviewed by the press. In the documentary, he proudly holds up his press cuttings and shares the details of what the press has written, including his accounts of sperm donation. We are once again reminded of his pride in little achievements, possibly the moral of the story in this documentary. At a certain point later in the docu, he explained in a composed manner the reason for his sperm donation - that if he did not marry, he hopes to someone else will pick it up and somewhere in this earth, a child or two will bear his likeness. Embedded in this explanation is a sense of resignation as well. A few scenes before this, with a straight face, he shared the qualities his ideal wife would have, only to burst his own bubble with an acknowledgement that many girls these days have degrees and will not go for lowly-educated people like him.

At the prize giving dinner later (for blood donation), rather comically, while his brothers sang praises of his donating act, his mother had nothing better to say other than to hope he gets married. I have an inkling the girls who would give him a chance would probably not read a review like this or watch a documentary like this. But for those who watched it, don't you think he's actually quite handsome from certain angles?

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