Kino Fest : Nostalgia - A Film Thing?

These poster stands (above) really do the films great justice!

I was kindly invited by Clement, my friend to the Kino Fest which is also the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Film and Media Studies Graduation showcase. They have upgraded. The last time I attended one in 2005 was in the school compound. This time it is at Golden Village with even their ticket staff tearing your tickets stubs.

The event was quite well attended by a large student and alumnus crowd, with a splattering of gate-crashers like myself. Some notable moments during the reception were meeting Lionel (wanted to meet up for some time already), Kai Li and Ding An (the Ding An I had in mind was short, dunno why the name conjured this image), Ting Li (Producer of Lucky 7). These events are a great way to kill a dozen bird with one stone!

Jijik by Muhd Khairil
Jijik opened with a wide shot of a HDB provision shop establishing the main female character through her mobile conversation.It was simple and natural, somewhat oldish in its look. But juxtaposed with the adolescence-tinged mobile conversation, the vision and sensibility that I gathered about the director was one that is layered and discerning. Somehow, opening sequences or sometimes even just the shots give you a very good idea of how far the film will succeed in engaging you.
Though inconsistent directorially, the earnestness and the simplicity of the way the film treated the issue of poverty warmed me up to the evening's series of shorts. There was nothing clever about the story, just poor man wants to impress provision shop girl but cant because he is financially difficult. The story was delivered linearly but the lines and the sincere and sometimes nuanced acting, especially the acting! made the film very substantial. Of course, there is a high chance that it is the work of good directing as well because the acting across most characters were consistent.
Note about local acting : An Indian (from India) ex-colleague once told me why is it that local actors of Channel 5 take so much effort to emote one simple expression. I suspect it is because among the people who are considered `good' actors in the circle, like the ones you would use to play character roles (e.g. Lim Kay Tong), many of them are doyens & doyennes of the stage. This tyranny of stagey acting hence runs through many local struggling actors. Sometimes, even`Eat your vegetables' is in crisp and crystal clear enunciation. I pity all those English-speaking foreigners who sit our buses and have to bear with TV Mobile's `like-it-or-not' broadcast of certain local programes.
The actors in Jijik were a good and surprise find. Probably cos I dont watch Suria as well. I will always remember the girl's brilliant smile under the Kino-light's over-exposed glow at the end.
Unforgettable Cheongsams - A `study' of `En' by Adam Abdullah ,`Unforgettable' by Xiao Wei Chiang and `Fuk Xing Luk' by Alan Cai
I think will I `kenna' whack for even lumping these 3 productions together. As if they made me feel like I was watching the same film. Yes and no. To put things in perspective, I put them together because the visual motifs and stylistics were similar and they were all set in another era (..... so you fish out the cheongsam?)

`En' was set in 1979. The exact date sounds like it was written from an autobiographical point of view. It opened with a visual treat of Chinese opera though the rich colours were apparently muted with sepia to give that flashback feel. Having done a similar short film set around the late 70s, I understand how difficult`period' scenes are. And audiences these day are quick to point out the `giveaways' in the set, like the plastic red `made-in-the-90s' chairs in the opera-watching audience.
The film's real exposition of the story came in the scene where the boy was made to wipe the floor and the opera friend/teacher came to pay a visit to the boy's father (Sunny Pang). It was then that you realised the boy was torn between 2 directions - opera and carrying on his father's martial arts tradition. And in the end (many years later), the boy grew up to....... (ok will not spoil it here) .... become a hunky Rick Tan who brightened the screen with his megawatt and somewhat stretchy smile. Sorry, the muscular change is too much for me! Ha ha.
The acting was generally ok. The boy was credile, the `Ah Kw#' friend was passable. Sunny was engaging. All except for the bitchy lady in Cheongsam (abve in the picture). Her `recited' delivery was the first eye-popper in the film. But she had to appear first..... so that influenced my expectation of the acting.
Back to red plastic chairs. It's never an easy thing. Very often you wished to tear down that modern road sign, paint over your parent's kitchen, clear off the whole street and fill it with your pretty extras and also remove that aircon ventilator in the background.......... yes, that aircon ventilator in the background. But it boils down to $$$..... something we can really understand so well, haha.
With all production oddities put aside, I still like the premise of the film. It is simple yet layered. One art form vs another, almost like freedom vs filial piety. What I felt would have enhanced the film might be a more in-depth exposition of the boy's character. I feel maybe if we understood him better, his moral conflicts would resonate with us even more. Somemore, the boy is quite watchable (don't worry I am not into infants!).

`Unforgettable' in some ways. That's what the actress was. Pivoting across a limited scale of `I-am-shy-but-dont-you-think-I look-cute' expression to the `pretty-ditsy' (excuse the pun) look, the actress really made this piece unforgettable.
To be fair, she was a stunner on screen. The bright, watery eyes, the smooth, milky skin that stood the cruel test of camera close ups (CU), that cheongsam-made figure. And the Sharon Au 's `I have a Date with Spring' (local play) doppelgangerness. But the moment she opened her mouth, I could not help but feel maybe they can use Royston Tan's famous and ubiquitous VO instead. It might have at least given it an interesting twist.
Compared to `En' there was certainly more consistency in the delivery of `Unforgettable', the camera work, the art-direction, the production design, the direction. The film opened like a breath of fresh air after the sepia-toned `En', as fresh as the colours on her cheongsam. And CU shots worked great. However, it was a real pity the cinematographic strokes were weakened as the story progressed, to reveal a rather sparsely decorated shophouse that looked like URA actually started their shophouse refurbishment drives in the 60s.
The story was simple. Girl who works in family tailor business meets fine and dashing Rick Tan (sorry, when you see him on screen, you tend to forget he is supposed to be `Ming' or `Lee' or `Ah Hock' or `John'). They date but he has to leave Singapore. Despite that, he is still in her mind. I guess this is a simple love story kind-of-thing but I did wish there was more character or plot development. I can understand what they are going for. Almost like a contemplative, inner thoughts kind of piece. I wished I could be drawn deeper into her character, for that could have lifted this sweet 60s love-story above being just a nostalgia-tribute.
But one thhing was unforgettable too. It so rings the bell when rich people let slip their stingy hooves. Heard from the film :

Rich Tai Tai : The dress is too loose...... (bitch bitch bitch .......)
Silence. Few minutes later
Rich Tai Tai : $15 la.

The further back you go into history the more difficult it is to recreate the look. In `En' you can forgive red plastic chairs and aircon-ventilators, in `Unforgettable', you can forgive new shophouses dressed up to be old. But in `Fuk Xing Luk', you will not forgive if a Ford Focus whizzes past that wide shot. But Alan is good at covering. Choosing only controllable environments, he has managed to suspend our disbelief in this post-war story. Shot over facades of the National Museum and 2 indoor locations where the art director could have been severely tortured, I must say the only `giveaway' was the laminated parquet flooring which the characters's heels pounded on. The rest was well covered.
`Fuk Xing Luk' was an interesting period drama of a girl who becomes popular at a night club thanks to a Chinese guy. The club apparently serves Japanese soldiers. And she is actually Jap herself, hence, the irony in the story. Actually, it is slightly ambitious for the time constraints of a short film. But it was still well-executed with a more proportionate storytelling manner than the rest.
Trying hard to exterminate the demons in my head that were screamng`Lust! Caution!', I was faithfully following the story progression and waiting for the what bitchy things the female boss was planning to do to the girl. She was bitchy, though on the border of annoying bitchy. The best bitchy I have seen is Devil Wears Prada bitchy but that's Meryl Streep of course! I felt the story worked well as a dramatic piece, almost bordering on a TVish flavour. But could go deeper. For somehow the ending wrapped it up too prematurely.
A point of note about cheongsam motifed films using local actors. Mainland Chinese and local Chinese are physically different. They may not be the best for the period Chinese in Cheongsam look. I mean can you imagine if Zoe Tay was cast in the role of Wang Jia Zhi in Lust Caution? And a supporting cast full of Joanne Pehs, Pan Ling Lings, Kym Ngs, Fiona Xies and god forbid!!! Chen Lipings? You get my point.

Yi by Royston Chan
Becoming that Royston is a difficult thing. Be your own Royston is better. Chan has done it fairly well with his meaningful tale about old age and change in Yi. Starting off strongly, we hear hear-rendering comments about coping with change in Singapore. The visuals used are that of a grim and forlorn looking Chinese cemetry. Kinda reminds you of the issue Tan Pin Pin's Moving House raises. Then it introduces the old man who paces himself through the gate, establishing his character gracefully.
It is not long before we understand that society has exercised ageism on him yet trapped by his ego, he finds it hard to change even with his daughter's earnest help. I like how from establishing his character, we see a manifestation of the changing society in the form of a `flyer-distributing-computer' (who risks heat-stroke wearing that in CBD). Then we see his daughter who switches from `Kang Tang (potato)' Mandarin to crisp English with her Ang Moh husband. The director's layered treatment of the subject matter was hence evident in the film.
The other portion that brightened up the screen was his conversation with the mixed-blood boy. Oops, I meant Eurasian. I do foresee in a decade's time, you might be riled by people for using the term Mixed Blood. Anyway, I agree with Clement who was sitting next to me, the boy's acting was confident and memorable. You could tell he might have appeared in Kids Central or some Jack Neo movie but more pared down and natural here.
Overall, I felt the film did have those special resonant moments that make you think about the issues it is proposing. The only loose part was the visual unity and consistency of the film. To illustrate, the most inconsistent of all was the video-like images over which the narrator had a comment about foreign labour. In my heart and from my similar experiences, I thought it might be something that came to mind in post-production but no money to go back and shoot in film with the same lighting and all.

Rumahku Syurgaku by Muhd Eysham Ali
RS is a surprise find. Simply because due to language barriers, I subconsiously had zero expectations on this film. The film stills may look depressing but it shone like a gem among the others. In many aspects of the production and story-telling, I could not help but feel the director had a very personal and deep understanding of his subject and a mature use of his filmmaking craft and tools.
Making a film is like the highest form of translation. In language and text, the constraints of the medium restrict us to logic and sensibility. Sometimes, if the translator is good enough, he can even translate the subtext. In film, because images speak so much, the creator can translate so much more. Like personal slants, irony, cross-references and many more intimate thoughts. RS, for me, has successully translated the director's vision and feelings to me. Even the cutaways were purposeful without compromising on visual quality.
What I also liked was the amount of time the director lingered on the shots of the characters, like the patient, long-suffering mum and the stern and pious father. I was very engaged by the father who delivered amazing complexity in his acting. I think he is a veteran cos I remember him from Moselle's set `Rahim'.
When you have a limited amount of time in a film, creating that impact succinctly is so important. Hence, I liked the fact the father-son drama was set in a location like the mosque and it involved the simple issue of a donation box. The set up says it all already!
I usually dont like drug addict, jail-bird type films because maybe I am such a cupcake. But this film has changed my mind about it.
Strifey(no shots here) by Bay Rui Hong
No comments. I would rather not since I am not so much into animation. But I got excited over his stumps. They were cute stumps.
Secret of the Red House(no shots as well) by Danny Lim
Yet another `Great-Wall-of-China brand white T-shirt' film. Worn by the famous Fish Chaar this time. Famous for his frequent appearance in many local short films. There were at least 3 other local film `stars' in this. Gene Sharudyn, Catherine Sng and Jerry Ho. Making it the most star-studded short film.
Though it was slightly period, I could not lump it together with the other 3 cos there were no cheongsams. There was a samfoo though worn by a smoking Catherine Sng.
Red Lantern..... oops Red House was a very dark film. You have to watch it to figure it out yourself. But I do like that it was somewhat funny in a hybrid genre way. A mix of the gangster flick visuals with the quirky point of view narration of the girl who gets led into the secret of the Red House. I liked the her self-abosrbed view of the world was juxtaposed against the actual dark and seedy world she was plunged into. Like you are Sherlock Holmes on a important mission in Geylang. However, I felt the humour seldom rose beyond her spoken words. Maybe a greater variety of visuals (some manifesting her fantastical thoughts) could have made it effective. But that of course, is just my view.
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