'Blank Rounds' by Green Zeng - Singapore Panorama Shorts 2

In this 12 min expose of military life in Singapore, Green fired a round that jolted my senses, without me deciphering if it was blank or not. Like one of those mix-genre horror, you come out of it not knowing to be spooked or to be intrigued and curious. Over a straightly-cut series of boys having their hair shaved for the 2-yr national ritual, nothing prepared me for the disturbance I was going to encounter. Perhaps the 'tour-of-faces' was Green's way of normalising everyone who gets enlisted and cleaning our mental slates. Because right after this, we go straight to the MO's (medical officer) office.

Acted by a less-campy Hemang (who appears in many local indie flicks), the MO is stern and firm in his orders for the visiting solider to return to his platoon without an MC. Helpless and defeated, he returns to the training field where his mates are learning how to do the Stanadrd Obstacle Course (SOC). In typcial fashion (probabaly more prevalent in Confucian societies), the punishment for 'wasting' time at the Medical Centre was to have all his other mates do push-ups for him (while he stands and watches).

Following on in a rather linear narrative, his bunk mates take revenge on him by beating him up in his sleep. So far, nothing in this film has departed from several military service cliches seen on TV or film. It's all about punishment, escape, pain and brotherhood. Then, the unexpected came when our bashed-up recruit decides to seek an alternative road to freedom. Personifying much of what I sometimes felt like doing if I were to rebel, he decides to openly stray from his routine, but in no less a dramatic way. In an single act that could make me lose my appetite, it defined the film in a very significant way, something perhaps everyone could take home and ponder and yak about it to perhaps even non-film goers.

This cuts to the final scene which takes place in immaculately white clinic (that seemed almost surreal). You then realise what was going on. Seated with both legs propped up on the chair with one head tilted to the side in a look of paralysis, the doctor questions the patient. Then, there is that jolting twist at the end which I felt could either sustain or break the film. Was it just an act of malingering ('keng' in Hokkien) or was the patient about to walk down a dark road to some kind of real disorder that would have ramifications on his post-NS life?

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