'DISTANCE' by Ong Zheng Kai - SIFF Shorts Finalists

Zheng Kai is a pony-tailed young man who is about to embark on his overseas studies. He is a look of idealism that seems at odds with his family. Presumably, he must be studying an arts-related subject to be making a video days before his departure. Somehow, the attitude of the family members towards his leaving seem a little lukewarm. Studying arts overseas is like hopping on to a boat that will take him far far away from his family. Perhaps if he was studying medicine or law, it may have been viewed as a hopping onto ship that will return with rewards measured in wealth and prestige.

The choice to direct himself in the film yields uneven results. It seems very often that Zheng Kai looks quite self-conscious and still keeping a fair amount inside him. Somehow, if he had directed another actor, it might have given him a chance to ‘expose’ himself in a more discerning way. With a third person’s point of view, he could have exercised more selection in the shots and angles. In fact, there were very few close ups, which seemed to keep us some ‘distance’ away from his real sentiments.

‘Distance’ has a largely contemplative drift to it. Events like his grandmother’s fall are only mentioned and the focus on the after-math feelings dominate. There are also cutaway shots on old photographs and objects that suggest the past that he will be leaving behind. Perhaps, it’s Zheng Kai’s way of coming to terms with the issue of leaving his grandmother behind – that he would skirt around the matter.

But he does come round to facing the issue - essentially one that is keeping his heart torn between 2 poles - embracing the freedom of being overseas and appeasing his conscience in the light of his grandmother's fall. At this point, his grandmother's been discharged and is lying in his immediate space. A poignant silence hangs between him and his grandmother as he sits next to her in bed. Quite appropriately, it seems difficult for both parties to come up with words. Then, in a dramatically pregnant moment, his granny utters a word of affection and understanding of his circumstances. I must say the film in its entirety did not make a huge impression on me but there were these tender moments that arrested the sub-conscious part of me.

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