SIFF Encore - Keluar Baris by Boo Junfeng

Think about this, isn’t it amazing that people in unequal circumstances can feel the same level of happiness. In the comfort and safety of living in Singapore, we may not feel any happier than a person trapped in poverty in Afghanistan (think The Kite Runner). Closer to home, when national service was first introduced in Singapore and our fathers marched under the command of the imported Israeli trainers, people took to it with a sense of purpose, perhaps because 1945 was not too far away. Today, when military defense seems more distant in relevance to our lives, national service may slowly become more the personal freedom issue that the film Keluar Baris embodies.
In Keluar Baris, a young man returns after 6 months of exchange studies in Spain and has only 2 days before he enlists. Right at the point of arrival, he is already bombarded by the helplessly comic nagging of his Ah Ma (grandmother). In her uncontrollable ranting about the negative effects of alcohol consumption, it is discernible that she was just being herself – a pretty shrewd directorial decision. Having warmed up to the home ground, he began on a little journey of reacquainting himself with people and old feelings. In the car ride home, he cannot hold back his excitement to show his Spain photos to his grandmother. But the film wastes no time in establishing his nemesis, his father. Like a cold blanket, he trivializes his intentions by saying `don’t bother’ with showing. And he continues to burst his son’s Spain-sick bubble at home, offering militant reminders of things to prepare for enlistment.

But the young man continues his journey of reacquaintance the following day by visiting a soon-to-be-torn down National Stadium with a friend. The friend has enlisted before and bears a very different view towards serving the nation. Gazing over the weather-beaten stadium galleries, they chat about Spain, discuss Spanish swear words and then gradually return to the topic of national service. His friend recalled the times when he performed at the National Day Parade and cried patriotic tears, a feeling not fully comprehended by Daryl. If you followed the conversations carefully, it is a very complex basket of emotions. Daryl feels a little apprehensive about his impending enlistment and perhaps skeptical about what his friend has shared. At the same time, he has fond memories associated with the stadium. Coupled with knowing that after he enters the army. the stadium will also vanish together with the older chapters of his life, there is possibly a sense of helplessness. Like the older you grow, the more you can't control things even though by measure of independence and maturity, you would imagine the opposite.
A lyrical downpour over the stadium and a contemplative final stroll through the pasar malam offer some crucial screen time to make sense of the intertwined emotions. They build up to a short-lived moment of drama between father and son. The pressure is difficult to bear and son eventually breaks down in his own room. So it seems embarking on a little emotional journey has unleashed more than he could handle. Along the journey, there were many captivating moments. Many of them had a kind of melancholic beauty, like the drizzles on the windscreen, the cascading waters on the stadium steps and the tiny whizzing plane in the distance at the end. The choice of moments reflect a strong directorial vision. However, the film faltered a little in terms of characterisation (or could it be casting?). Most glaring of all, the father seemed to serve a plot role more with his nagging presence. And army issues aside, the relationship between father and son seemed a little shallow.
But very importantly, I had trouble fully understanding the character and what he stood for? I pondered over why he had such crippling fear of serving the army especially after only spending a few months overseas? Then again, it could be simply missing the freedom. While I do not question the reality of such a strong aversion towards enlistment since it is a relative thing, I am not at all convinced of the sobful event he's made out of his pre-enlistment hours. Perhaps if the value of the freedom he experienced in Spain was better explained in the film, then this fear would continue to live in my mind.
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