5th Singapore Short Cuts - Reflections by Ho Tzu Nyen

Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. New wisdom can be found by simply turning the leaf to the other side or reading something the other way round. `Reflections’ is an inventive twist of an old fable that sheds light on society. I would imagine it can apply to any society even though it could very well be an allusion on our own.

Our story begins in a stylized set in which walls are lined with cardboard, beds and pillows are nothing but stacks of cardboard sawed into shape and an ancestral tablet is a piece of cardboard with a diagonal cross marked at the top (not sure if Buddhist (Swastika??) or Christian (cross). Complementing the sense of being `boxed-up’ is the absence of windows or any opening to the outside world. On top of that, we are surprised right at the beginning with the use of children for adult characters.

Long ago, lived a boy and his father (hair powdered in an artificial way to look old), who was very ill. Before his death, the boy granted his father’s wish to get married. And so enters an equally young-looking pixie faced `wife’. While the homogeneous use of children in dramas in not new, this is more like a step closer to South Park, in which children re-enact adult-themed dramas, without sex, violence, gore and vulgarities. Therein lies the inherent and rather clever humour of the mis-en-scene. While I faithfully followed the crisply narrated story, the other part of my mind was laughing at the limitations of the children’s dramatic range. For sure, I was not expecting nuanced performances but one really cant help when children express feelings like extra-marital jealousy.
One day, the husband wanted to get out of the village to see the big city. Bringing with him a bag of gold coins, he set off, passing through what looked like a canal. The boy, oops, I mean the husband, together with our suspension of disbelief, brought us to the `city’ where Tangs was actually having a sale. The choice of the shooting the emergence from the Orchard Underpass surprisingly evoked a very big `city’ feeling making Orchard Road seem more glitzy than it usually does. He wanders into a mirror shop and this is where he makes his discovery. Looking into the mirror, he gets rapturous over seeing what he thought was his father (though only his reflection). Willingly, he surrendered all his gold coins in exchange for that.

Back home, what ensued was the crux if the film’s brilliance. The wife gets worried over her husband’s obsession with the mirror and wanted to see for herself what was inside. She saw a beautiful face, but her insecurity leads her to conclude her husband brought home a mistress. Like a drop of water in a still pond, ripples form and turn into chaotic waves. The mirror dragged the other families into the chaos, leading similar conclusions in each family. And in my mind, a simple thought like a reflection grew into an epiphany. The villagers could no longer resolve this among themselves and approached the village nun for fair judgement. Alas, she found a solution, though it was one that was flawed in the same way as the villagers’ fallacy. I was not sure where the old fable stopped and the scriptwriter’s craft began. For it was a seamless story told. Interestingly, placed among the other more `sentimental’ shorts, it was hard to spare a moment of after thought for this. It is an intellectually rewarding piece but somehow a little lacking in heart despite having kids in the execution of it. Though a clever and disciplined effort, the film forgot to milk what’s inherent in children, the ability to be spontaneous and vulnerable. Most of the time, they were simply executing instructions like a classroom exercise, enslaved to the script of the directions, just like the characters in their little cardboard enclosures.
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