'Madam Chan' by Wilson Yip - SIFF Shorts Finalist

I have a distant memory of a 'temple' tour, usually organised by the local community centre. And I do not yearn to be part of another one for fear of being buried in a sea of auntie complaints and grouses. Madam Chan is one of these aunties. Looking like she has the potential ramble on incessantly about her life to strangers, you wonder if you want to take the 'risk' of giving her a listening ear. Well, my 20min spent with Madam Chan has proven to be one of the most fulfilling 20 min in SIFF this year.

I watch movies for the sake of characters that can live in my mind. Madam Chan despite her generational gap speaks in a frequency that made it easy for me to follow. Unfortunately for the Wongs who were put in the same tour group with Madam Chan, they were not ready for her vocal eruptions, particularly Mr Wong. In the bus, in the queue, in between places, in the corridors, Madam Chan's stories unfold in the form of mostly one-sided dialogue. She embarked on the tour with a lot of emotional baggage about the unpleasant things that have happened in her life, primarily his dissatisfaction with her family. On a more humorous are her spontaneous grouses with little things from 'Ang Mohs' to money. So poor Mrs Wong, she was the long-suffering listening ear, whereas the audience had the benefit of laughing off her petty thoughts.

The choice of Kusu Island provides a respite for many Singapore indie film watchers. While we often complain about the homogeneity of the Singapore scape as portrayed on local film, why not get offshore to another 'shore' for once. This is exactly what the film did. And the 'road trip' genre of the film also gave it a lot of varying texture. Apart from running images of varying scenery, there are many niche characters who provide pockets of comic relief or food for thought. I remember an Ang Moh-Chinese couple in particular who next to Madam doing their own thing and seemingly oblivious to her xenophobic insults.

Towards the end of the film, it became all too apparent to me that Wilson had significant talent in direction people. For a young man like him, motivating his cast of mostly seniors must be a mammoth task. Well, perhaps he know how to push the right buttons - uncles like determined ambitious young men, aunties like goody-two-shoes mummy's boys. While I felt a large part of Madam Chan was being herself, I was impressed at the acting of the Wongs, whose characters seemed a little less defined (which may mean more directing needed). There was a particularly sweetly-comic moment in the hotel room, when Mr Wong emerged from the toilet forgetting to take his towel and gives his wife an awkward look. In a poignant end to the film, Madam Chan finally seems to cower under her own daughter's stern reminders to take medicine (supposedly to tame a mental condition). It stirs me because you have just spent 19 minutes with an unabashedly determined lady who does not mince her words. It almost comes to the point of being endearing. Then, you see her reduced to a patient trapped not just by her illness but by the oppression of her own family.

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