'White Days' by Lei Yuen Bing - SIFF

Hell is other people, but when they're your friends, it's a divine comedy.

Lei Yuenbing's debut feature film looks and sounds like any feature film from his self-professed director-idols Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiao-hsien: there is minimal action on the screen, from the camera, and the actors in the film. While Lei's penchant for languid pacing, long shots, and completely unscripted dialogue may point towards yet another indie film's indie film-wannabe, this is more of an alibi for Lei's true project - to offer a parody and tribute to local indie filmmaking.


Three protagonists play more or less versions of themselves in real-life: Vel Ng is a translator with a life-long dream to travel to Taiwan to catch Hou and Tsai films where they are made; Chris Yeo is a talkative raconteur in search of a greater meaning to life; Daniel Hui acts out a depressed character from a short film he might have directed.


Bound together by the commonality of their yearning and their articulation of this yearning, the trio stand apart in solidarity from the rest of their world. What makes this film watching though is the commonality of their yearning and their conversations that ironically sets the trio apart from each other. We normally think of dialogue as a bonding process; here in this film, Lei's actors can just speak pass and above each other, building walls of isolation that leave everyone alienated.


Surprisingly, this is not a depressingly angsty film. Lei and his collaborators are fully aware of the ridiculousness of the indie genre as practised in Singapore, and they play up this sense of the ridiculous through their mutually alienating interactions, making even uncommunicative, thwarted, and self-thwarting dialogue sardonically funny.


Much of this film's good-natured ridiculousness comes from Chris Yeo's monologues. He plays his character like John Goodman's Jewish convert and macho man in The Big Lebowski, confidently making completely illogical and incoherent claims about life, the universe and everything while expecting his friends to convert to the saving grace of God. We are sure there's nothing like this character in film, but we certainly remember the hordes of well-intentioned but unwise and annoying Singaporeans doing the same thing in real life.


All in all, White Days is an experiment that is bound to fall either from the weight of its ambitions or its long, dialogue-heavy scenes. The vision of hell as other well-meaning friends, though, is one that you'd gladly pay the ticket price to watch.


This review is written by Vernon Chan. It is taken from his blog A Persistent Vision. Read more about him here.

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