'Newton' by Ho Tzu Nyen, reviewed by Mathias Ortmann


Ho Tzu Nyen is a joker and one of Singapore’s most distinct filmmakers; probably the country’s most intellectually inclined director. At times his playing with media conventions and the inherent self-referentiality of film can be a bit heavy-handed and clogging but there is a well developed sense of humour in there as well. His new short film “Newton” aptly (or shortly) proves the point. It was one among a total of eleven films by Singaporeans to be screened at Rotterdam International Film Festival this year – a nice crop. “Newton” for one isn’t too demanding a piece, neither in terms of duration nor otherwise, a mere stimulus of a film, really. And it doesn’t even require multiple viewing, because it is itself made up of a four time replay of a 1 minute loop.
The idea is as simple as it is intriguing: a visual pun on the concept of the artist as the author of his own inspiration. An albino white male is seen asleep in a medium shot and a clinically neutral setting, sterile, when from high up on a shelf with three nondescript books on it a white bound volume hits him on the head. This timelessly square, Newton-ish “apple” has its very own gravity to reveal – that of the blank page, literally. Reading the book that singled him out, the protagonist (let’s call him our hero) turns white page upon white page, then sets to writing himself. He apparently types nothing (or any such whiteness) into his document, prints it out clean as a bed sheet and fixes the papers to a clipboard. Thus prepared he picks up the bullhorn to shout “Action!” straight into the camera. What this canny director sets into motion is no other plot line than the one that caused this effect in the first place: someone from behind the wall with that bookshelf attached on the opposite side, now pokes out exactly the one item that is destined to fall onto the head of its inventor – our hero.

Please read it whichever way you like, backwards, forwards, or four times in a row – the bottom line is always the same: The artist, even the greatest of his kind, the film director, is but his own happy puppet and favourite fool. Imagination, up to the most phantasmagorical invention, may reveal whatever it will about its source, but divine intervention is not one among them. As “Newton” proves to be the case, this is an empirical observation and easily verifiable. Try, anyone?
Based in Berlin, Mathias Ortmann writes profoundly and intensively about Singapore films. Many of his writings can be found on the Sinema website. This review by Mathias has been written exclusively for SINdie.

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