'National Day' by He Shuming - The LaSalle Show '09

A foreign audience watching ‘National Day’ would be wondering what kind of a spectacle Singapore puts up annually to make NDP tickets such a family-binding issue. Wei, a young army boy returns home from the final NDP rehearsal with freebies to offer in place of unfavourable news that he has given away the free NDP tickets. It’s the 7th day after his father’s death anyway. For a typical Chinese family, they should be home to play host to his wandering spirit for the last time.

Like the film itself, home is mish-mash of issues. Everyone has their own sphere of thought about managing affairs and somehow everyone’s at a mentally independent age or state. Mum’s obviously the head of home affairs and will somehow get a near-final say. Wei, is at the cusp of adulthood and would wish to find his own way around things (he smells of apathy towards the army as well). Lam, his sister, tries very hard to control her evangelistic touch to family affairs but gets her say to her supposed husband in the bedroom. Her supposed husband, Joe, well, talks too much and impresses too little. If you put it all together, religion mixes with home affairs, politics (read: continuous blasting of NDP commentary from the TV), the supernatural (Mum’s spooky act of folding dad’s clothes and singing in Hainanese) and even the social (the NDP ticket issue).

In the middle of the film, it was easy to get lost and wonder where’s thrust in all this. Certainly, it reflected the director’s keen observation of life. I mean, there were those moments that tingled that sense of dejavu in me – Ma’s ‘quality testing’ of fruits in the kitchen and the random pocket Christian book strewn in Dad’s car compartment. Somehow, the interjecting of National Day Parade footages seemed more distracting than additive towards its thematic texture. Perhaps, because there are so many issues, little time was left to establish the significance of National Day to this family and how it poses an opposing pull of attention away from the issue of Dad’s passing. Or a juxtaposition.

Most of the film’s best portions can be found at the end when the direction is clear. All that murky understanding of what’s been happening resolves itself as the family members resolve their feelings towards his death individually. Particularly haunting is Ma’s little moment. Though bordering in the theatrical, it gives her something beyond how many local films would commonly portray a traditional mother.

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