'Mu Dan' by Lincoln Chia (FLARE 2009)

Imagine a film that could stir you up and make you lose your sense of a framework in terms of appreciating it. ‘Mu Dan’ is a audacious attempt by Lincoln to explore and even exploit what his actors have and where they will bring him (rather than the other way round). I guess this is why despite the fact that his characters are near-theatrical, I was in full suspension of disbelief. To be blunt, it’s like porn – we forgive all the inconsequential stories and dialogue. We just sway along.
I can imagine ‘Mu Dan’, with its subversion, is hidden somewhere in the fantasies of any imaginative director. But Lincoln has taken it a step further to play it out, in good taste though. A middle-aged mother is driven on the brink of loneliness and starts getting cranky. It does not help that her mildly rebellious son brings home his object of affection, a blonde-wigged Chinese girlfriend, to her disliking. This is where Lincoln defies the rules of behaviour and explores what we really want deep down inside as humans. After having a wig hurled at her by the enraged girlfriend, the mother makes a 180 degree turn, delighting the audience.
Not all have the magnetism of Li Xie, a seasoned stage actress. Actually, there is only one Li Xie. Slithery and seductive, the mother unleashes a new persona to the outside world……in that blonde wig. While Li Xie’s been anchor for the plot before this, now she actually drives it. Every action counts, it seems. They are performed with such intensity (and it felt like every muscle was clenched) that it was easy to read the nuances. They have been many ways local directors have justified camp (read : Hock Hiap Leong by Royston Tan) and in this case, Li Xie justifies it single-handedly. This is not to discredit Lincoln the director. After all, we did move away from Li Xie to the son’e girlfriend who is actually a lingerie model. In a single flutter of her glitter-dusted eyelids, she looks up at something, drawing my attention to uncanny parallel with the born-again mother, widening the reference in the film’s title.

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