'The Crane Wife' by Allysa Sing



Reinventing folklore for the screen is as old as the history of the moving image.  Yet, fables and folktales are still a staple for cinema today with Hollywood remaking everything from the iconic Clash of the Titans to Snow White. What’s novel about Allysa Sing’s ‘The Crane Wife’ is how she has weaved (pardon) fashion as a running motif into her short film.

Or did I get it wrong? That it was a fashion film with a fable weaved into it?

Either way, they were perfect bed partners in a sense that the film was about a wife making a cloth just like in the fable in which The Crane Wife weaved a sail for boats. At the time, the act of weaving served as an allegory to fashion. Local designer Max Tan was roped in for the clothes featured in the film. Together with an exquisitely art-directed Chinoiserie on the set, sensual lighting tones and an undeniable touch of ‘Wong Kar Wai’, watching the film is like seeing fashion spread on a magazine come to life.

Allysa has rather cleverly chosen to eschew dialogue and use stop-motion photography for her film to distance the audience from the subject and preserve a sense of mystery about it. The stylized and repetitive moves of the Crane Wife while dehumanizing the character, actually iconifies it. In fact, true to its purpose, it makes the clothes stand out! Think America’s Next Top Model and its regular themed shoots.

This interpretation of the fable is unmistakably detached from the emotional core of the fable, which suggests the possibility of more grief and longing. In the fable, there is a sense of sadness about the short-lived cohabitation of the crane wife and the man (supposedly the camera’s eye in Allysa’s film) and grief when she morphs into the crane and flies away. In her film, emotions are stripped leaving only a sequence of visual tokens.  The film, while spot on in its transposition of fashion from print to moving image, might have hit a deeper spot if it attempted not only to go through the motion of retelling a fable but to give it an emotional gradient that would complete the pretty picture.


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