SGIFF Review: Singapore Girl by Kan Lume
Kan Lume, who both directs and handles the camera for his films, has mastered the art of encounters, and very often awkward encounters. His previous films, from ‘the Art of Flirting’ to ‘Dreams from the Third World’ to ‘Female Games’ are like lab studies of human behaviour and he is often able to grasp the nuances in human motivation and reactions. Before the start of his film ‘Singapore Girl’, he qualified the work by expaining the same appoach used in making all his other films has been used in this film. However, ‘Singapore Girl’ turned out to be quite a notch up in his experiments.
Taking a simple love story and removing some essential joints to it, seemed to be the approach behind the awkward piece of work that was ‘Singapore Girl’. A girl, Chloe, supposed a Singapore Airlines flight attendant gets dumped by her Ang Moh boyfriend and decides to take a holiday in Koh Samui, where she bumps into Leon, a boorish but somewhat adorable man who is besotted by her and tries to squeeze himself into close distance with her. What ensues is a classic game of courtship in which Leon, together the convenient ‘help’ from the script, inches closer to Chloe as the days pass in the remote resort.
The ‘catch’ in this all-too-simple love story is the fact that two characters are speaking in completely different languages to each other, one in English and sometimes Mandarin and the other unabashed Cantonese. That’s not all. The dialogue between the characters has been directed and edited to sound like a language instructional audio recording in which characters spoke in stilted monotones and lines are separated by long deliberate pauses. In fact, the film’s dialogue seems dubbed in post-production with its unnatural sound balance. The result is bizzare and baffling. Think of a hybrid between ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ but stripped of the spontaneity and surprises. Yes, no surprises in this old-fashioned love –at-first-sight holiday romance. Leon, who tries so hard to get into the sleeves of Chloe, succeeds without any real impediment.
There is also something about the characterisaton of Leon and Chloe that seems to suggest they are just token vessels for the director to make a point about communicating love across a language barrier. Chloe’s identity remains mysterious throughout the entire movie. Other then being defined by her ‘SQ Girl’ uniform, she never really provides enough colour or honesty in her role that offers some emotional authenticity. Perhaps the only other quirk is her ‘Eurasian’ identity because it is being juxtaposed against the loud and daring ‘Cantonese’ identity of Leon. Leon’s personality which offer most of the comic relief in the film, is a tad more full-bodied than Chloe though he too embodies many cliches in the dating game, and the fun in watching him is mostly to guess to when he’s going to win a place on the same bed as Chloe.
All in all, despite a familiar cast, some giggle-worthy moments and the same radical one-man-shooting-team set up, one misses the raw energy and unscripted-ness prevalent in many of Kan’s earlier works.
Review by Jeremy Sing