Review - '3688'' by Royston Tan

While 3688 seems like a product of nostalgia, a ticket to re-experiencing the pop culture of Feng Fei Fei’s era, there is the subtext that we can do better. When the film reaches the point where news of Feng's death hits Singapore, a group of uncles gather in a coffee shop to share anecdotes about how Feng's music served as a soundtrack to the romances of their youth. Feng's music are undoubtedly viewed as 'oldies', cultural products of the past . This categorization is subtly challenged when Seafood Queen's son raps about Feng's appearances and activity leading up to her death, and more importantly, his mother's work as leader of the Feng Fei Fei fanclub and continuing efforts in sustaining Feng Fei Fei fandom. His rap reminds us that throughout the developments of Chinese pop and increasing popularity of Japanese and Korean music, Feng and her fans remain active. It is only by subjective categorization that Feng’s music is considered to be outdated and her achievements of a golden age long past. This is not to say that 3688 delves into the debate of what determines one to be a 'true fan'. Rather, it encourages us to be more than spectators and consumers, to actively share the pieces of cultural works that one loves and strengthen their staying power and give creators more than their five minutes of fame.

With its focus on middle aged and elderly characters, it is appropriate for 3688 to call back to cultural markers familiar to the older generation and provide a sort of nostalgic trip. Yet instead of being smoothed with sentimentality, the trip down the memory lane is more akin to a sobering fall into reality as it is facilitated by the senility of the heroine's father. The names of veteran celebrities and radio programmes that have long gone off the air are raised as Mr. Xia makes small talk with a fellow senior citizen in the latter's home; serving as cultural references that tickle our fancy. That is, until we see our heroine Fei Fei watching from outside and forcing herself to accept the evidence of her father being stuck in the past with tears in her eyes. The suggestion that nostalgia is unhealthy is also apparent in the subplot when Fei Fei's old schoolmate returns to Singapore to revisit their old haunts before he dies of a presumably terminal illness. This subplot goes nowhere and aptly enough, Fei Fei, her old schoolmate and their mutual friend Mao Shan end up literally not going anywhere. Their reunion starts and ends at the coffee shop, where the bad news is relayed that each one of their old haunts have been replaced with modern facilities. The most they can do is sit around and reminiscence— once again, the nostalgic trip ends is cut short with reality of losses; the losses evident in the physical landscape in their case and the losses of the mental landscape in the case of Mr. Xia.
Nonetheless, nostalgia is good for motivating one to accomplish deeds one can in future be nostalgic for. Fei Fei participates in the singing contest not only for the $50,000 cash prize to pay for her father's medical bills, but also to fulfill her childhood dreams of becoming a singer like her namesake. When she hesitates to perform on stage and compete with the younger contestants, Seafood Queen bluntly reminds her, "Half your life is over." There won’t be many more big chances for her to fulfill her childhood dream. With this sanctioning of idealism, 3688 becomes more conforming to the sensibility of an older audience. Fei Fei gives an outstanding performance, only to be afterwards marked as a guileless victim of the shallow, sensational entertainment industry's machinations to create a misunderstanding of her spreading rumours about her rival's transgender status. The additional threat of a younger rival is unnecessary when considering her serious worries over taking care of her father, except to validate the fear of the young.
As Fei Fei eventually sings not for herself, but to recover her father's memory, 3688 seems about to end on a heartwarming note when the credits abruptly rolls. We could only speculate about what will become of the characters. How would Mr. Xia spend his last days? Will Fei Fei go on to become a local hit in delivering covers of Feng Fei Fei songs? Given the romantic tension between them, will she finally get together with Mao Shan? To leave these questions unanswered is to deny the feeling of closure; a 'good feeling' not unlike nostalgia. 3688 thus encourages us to actively earn these emotions as we are unable to access them simply via watching the film. Perhaps its end goal in depriving viewers is to drive us to put Feng Fei Fei's songs on loop to give ourselves a sense of emotional fulfillment and so make her popular again.

Review by Joseline Yu 

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