Everyone's Got to Start Somewhere - some earlier than others
Everyone has their own story of how and when they first experienced their involvement in film – from the cerebral process of being traumatised by deaths in children’s movies (Littlefoot losing his mother, anyone?) as audiences, to the film student’s physical act of film making for film school assignment, to learning to react as a film-maker when critics rip works apart almost lasciviously.
That’s what makes this segment of this year’s SIFF rather pleasing. To debate the quality of these debut films and the film-makers’ subsequent ratio of potential to fulfillment since then– some of whom have gone on to make feature films, others possibly recovering from their first, and yet others who are still biding their time -, would perhaps be missing the point. Instead, there’s a sort of intimacy, the idea of sharing the filmmakers’ personal timelines, all relative to each other, through the screening of what marks their first self-defined foray into film.
For one, Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s concept of his debut film was certainly quite defined along strict horological lines. Aroozoo took the SIFF segment literally to heart and offered up his very first attempt at filmmaking, made at a tender age of ten. Made with a family video camcorder (serendipitously won from a lucky draw then), Dick Marlow (1995) was directed, produced, and acted in, by himself and his sibling.
Dick Marlow is an example of sincere, heartfelt filmmaking, even if what seems like children’s playtime was at the heart of it. These are in fact credentials that one can’t get past, simply for the incredulous show of narrative comprehension their playtime as filmed, reveals unwittingly, and received with great pleasure. It’s as if all the pop culture influences that surround the young Aroozoo, have been distilled into the most elementary and identifiable forms in the world of the film’s story.
The eponymous hero of this film is a criminal-busting, Giodarno-costumed FBI cop, played with obvious relish by Wesley Aroozoo. Marlow takes his street patrolling seriously, twisting his portable plastic steering wheel with great gusto, as much as the speed limit will allow him. The conflict is set up pretty niftily when Marlow acts on a mission to arrest the two villains (both played by Wesley as well) involved in illegal arms trading. A bloody battle of gunshots and swordplay commences in a skillful handling of shot-reverse shots, which culminates in justice prevailing evermore.
In spite of the then ten year-old Aroozoo’s distinct dichotomy between good and evil, the characters manage to avoid being bland and non-enjoyable stereotypes. The dialogue is pricelessly hilarious in its economy and familiarity with certain clichés, such as “you can run but you can’t hide,” the mastermind snarls. Aroozoo infuses each character with concise and accurately stylistic gestures: the junior baddie gets a characteristic swagger and a jeering tone, the main villain is reinvented with a creepy nasal inflection. Aroozoo also manages to build up the requisite suspense of the confrontation with death scenes that can only be described as delightful, in its direct melodramatic copy of clichéd processes of dying in film.
There’s a certain accidental consciousness buoyed up in Dick Marlow. Yet it is this simple, if not blatant love of what they’re doing, or playing, or shooting for that matter, that stretches the imaginations of the audience along with the Aroozoo siblings. Hence, all have access to a discordant but convincing place where illegal arms imports are represented by two swords placed in Laser Propax boxes meant for A4 printing paper, and a lavender-painted bedroom with a teddy bear nestled in the background, is a perfect labyrinth for a cop versus baddie chase. And it is this same love that makes Dick Marlow such a terrific joy to watch, and most importantly, desire to share.
Here's the real thing - 'Dick Marlow' by Wesley Leon Aroozoo, enjoy!
Children can be absolutely wonderful to watch onscreen, even coo over (though probably have less of a delightful reputation to work with). Thankfully along the same vein of lovable children in film, is Yeo Siew Hua’s Waking Monkey (2006), where they’re placed in a lasting situational conflict they’re usually represented to be in (or at least in Sunday comic strips): the archetypal separation crisis between children and cookies.
A young girl struggles to reach for cookies, but that can seemingly only be attained by someone older and presumably taller, namely her sleeping brother. It seems a simple story and solution to be presented there, but Waking Monkey which won the Substation’s Best Film Award for Best of First Takes 2007, ends with a caveat for elementary wish fulfillment. It’s soon revealed to be less a situation of snack time in dire straits, than an intended birthday celebration for the sibling that refuses to be woken up. Hence, the maturity that presumably accompanies the height required to alleviate the former mistaken cookie crisis, is eventually revealed to be in the precocious tot’s possession all along.
Besides Waking Monkey, etched at the start of Yeo’s filmmaking timeline from his days in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Media Studies, is Cotton ‘N’ Candy (2006). Inspired by a real-life local bank heist, the designated driver for the apparent get-away car, and dressed in a bunny costume, attempts to kill himself after a lengthy monologue, more a reverie of indecisiveness than self-loathing. Similar to Waking Monkey, the personal crisis dissipates when the larger issue enters the picture. The accomplice in a carrot suit comes back, and a sort of trigger-happy suspense of impending suicide is replaced with a dose of quaint charm instead. More robbed of their identities than anything, the presumed robbers fight over the gun instead and eventually drive away. It’s almost sad to laugh at them, seeing that their situations, be it the heist or the suicidal attempts -, are left hanging.
But this sums up what we’ve been doing for so long, and what we seem best at in the face of seemingly hopeless situations: laughing, and at ourselves. It’s our response of recognition to the conflicts we face, our nod to social commentary and criticism, but thrown in with an inconspicuous and non-threatening smile. A prime example of such a vessel is the popular parody, of course, from Internet podcasts to the theatre, realms in which the value of entertainment and social criticism form the best combination: not mutually exclusive, but defensibly interchangeable, if anyone asks.
That’s the situation which Jacen Tan’s Tak Giu finds itself in. Made in 2004 and put up on the Internet, it became a viral hit as Internet-goers warmed up to the seemingly straightforward premise of three youths trying to find a field to play football. The youths are however constantly barred from their goal by rules and regulations: the charge of trespassing in unused but otherwise glorious fields, the need to apply for permits for fields already there. When they eventually give up and play in a non-permitted space, the fun is interrupted by a patrolling police officer.
Of course, it’s also a tongue-in-cheek poke at what we’ve come to see as normality, or at least as the average situation – the draconian laws around us, however ridiculous. And so what seems like cheesy, unbelievable slapstick in Tak Giu, actually works in Tan’s favour – that the draconian laws have infiltrated and penetrated into daily life so insidiously, where urban planning meets playtime, and thus also in ridiculous ways, where cops chase boys in extensive scenes.
Yet there in our laughter lies the crux of the comedy and back at our own giggling selves. The huge gap between the inspired reality in Tak Giu and the utter incredulity of certain situations is where audience find themselves most in. For instance, the warning sign of a man kicking football at a void deck is interpreted instead as the prohibition of kicking any ball at a certain angle just as the man is drawn. It’s a ludicrous interpretation far from reality, but when this huge gap is bridged towards the ending of the film when the boys find their perfect field with the same sign without its prohibitive red lines, it’s a golden and important moment. We laugh hard at this final happy end, because we hardly expect things to be such, and sadly the closing of this gap between the sad reality of things and wish fulfillment that such films can bring, is the strong and funny point of Tak Giu as long as it also remains illusory.
All grown up now....
Wesley Leon Aroozoo
Chris Yeo (far right)
These films were screened during the recent Singapore International Film Festival in a special Singapore films programme for 'first-time' films by some known local directors.
Written by Vicky Yang