First Takes Aug - Eternal Recurrence by Ting Szu Kiong

The night after I watched this First Takes, I caught a short scene (the quintessential one) of `Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring' by Kim Ki-Duk. It reacquainted me with the genre of religious films. `Eternal Recurrence' is the second short film I have watched from Szu Kiong after `My Keys' that features religious motifs. This second one is solely a verbalisation of his musings on deeds and karma.
It is not difficult to tell that this filmmaker has a lot of express here but poor control of storytelling and visual direction inhibits his potential. Shot unevenly at the Buddha Tooth-Relic Temple (main visual focus), a Chinese opera performance and some randam reigious rites, it tries to complement its ponderous narration about the whys of human intentions and deeds. There was no lack of wisdom in the questions it raised. I liked how it opened by asking whenever we watched a show, do we also see ourselves in it? A thoughtful question but the thrust of the other questions and propositions waned in strength quickly.

Can a religious film ever be inventive? By that I mean a religious film that actually speaks for the religion and not question it. I mean everything you want to know about a religion is in the books. Fleshing it out on film can easily turn out very old school. Kim Ki Duk succeeds probably because he's singularly distinctive in his approach. Passion of the Christ is just propaganda. And HK has produced a record number of religious themed TV drama serials and movies.

Often in `Eternal Recurrence', Szu Kiong cynically points out the follies of people who use faith for instant redemption or momentary fortunes. I felt it is a good proposition that opens up many questions and issues. Interestingly, the film ends with a quote from Szu Kiong himself - `You don't have to be a Buddha to see the suffering of people'. Somehow, I think he didnt mean to express it in this way, especially after all that was being expressed in the film.

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