SGIFF Singapore Panorama Shorts 2 Review: Shuming He, Shane Lim, Edmund Teo, Kenny Gee
November (dir. Shane Lim): Here’s the story: a teenaged couple fights because the guy has contracted herpes, and must bring his girlfriend to a clinic to get herself checked. This story might not inspire much fascination until you learn that it was based on true events, as director Shane Lim divulged during the film’s Q&A, with his mother in the audience (“Sorry mom!”). This revelation fascinates not because it makes the film into fodder for salacious gossip; rather, it cements how the film was made from an unflinching desire to be frank.
This frankness gives the film the raw edge it needs, as when Shane’s fictional counterpart confesses to his girlfriend that he cheated on her because the other girl’s sexual prowess surpassed hers in certain aspects. (Not that this scene happened in Shane’s real life, necessarily, but it demonstrates a kind of realness that can otherwise go missing in “sexually transmitted disease PSA” films like these.) The rest of the film nestles more in the girlfriend’s headspace as she endures the whole clinical screening process, from waiting room to results. In the process, the film shifts from a verbal frankness to a more visual one, ending with a bold tracking shot that choreographs the couple as each tries to cope with a different, late-breaking revelation.
(Bonus trivia: the clinic in the film was built from scratch. Kudos to the production designer!)
And the Wind Falls (dir. Shuming He): A Latina motel housekeeper stumbles upon a wad of cash, and tussles with whether she should keep it. The film sustains our fears that she will face some crime-drama comeuppance, but those fears dissipate as we realise that the stakes are more generically familial. A perfectly serviceable film, well-directed, that nonetheless hints that its makers could have brought far more to the table.
I Will Die (dir. Edmund Teo): Can we fault a film for attempting no more than to be an inside joke among the director’s friends? This film does offer up some satirical fodder—that movie reviewers are superficially vicious narcisssists, and that elderly male actors are hired only to die on camera—but it doesn’t quite know what to do with it beyond flogging the same old jokes to death. Even the film's blurb Cameos by John Lui (as a “film director”) and Eric Khoo (as a phony who fails to recognise the actor he is praising) round out the film’s wink-wink humour.
The Body (dir. Kenny Gee): Sustained by the novelty of Lim Kay Tong (best known as the patriarch in that old beloved Channel 5 drama serial Growing Up) imitating Harvey Keitel as Winston “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction for twenty minutes. The character gets a smartly developed arc in which he learns to take no half measures, although he deserves more close-ups and fewer unreadable silences to show him coming around to this decision. Everyone else is a stock character that should have been fleshed out for greater impact, especially his hot-headed co-protagonist mentee, and a nameless sex worker (the “body” of the title) who risks being dehumanised by all the deadpan black humour around her, despite the script’s gradually unveiled ambitions.
(Reviews by Colin Low)