5th Singapore Short Cuts - Lorong 27 (revisited) by Kenny Tan

The story goes like this. Local boy picks up Ang Moh (British) boy from the airport and hosts him like in somekind of an exchange program....... in the heart of Geylang. He is then swiftly introduced to various loud characters who make his imagintaion run wild, like he would imagine they would rob him or kidnap him. So he brings his bag along everywhere he goes instead of keeping it in the room. Yeah.... bring it along in Geylang. So, as a pretty expected plot development, he is robbed and beaten up. In the end, he learns a painful lesson - to look beyond the surface of people and appreciate them for who they are inside.

Yet, it is the`surface' of the people in Lorong 27 that made this film interesting to watch. This is already a pretty old film. It must have been programmed in the 1st or 2nd Singapore Short Cuts. So it is interesting for watching now because you can look back and marvel at how local film acting has evolved. Or perhaps how people are portrayed in local films.
Catherine Sng stood out as one of the loudest characters. She was the kopi-soh and actually the owner of the coffeeshop where Brit boy had his first culture shock. Like a machine gun, she punched her self-introduction across to him while serving him a plate nasi-lemak. In a nutshell, I think Phua Chu Kang was still popular then. She had a lot of Rosie Phua in her with her over-the-top but well-meaninged crudeness. When you had too much TV in the collective social consciousness of Singaporeans, this is the kind of cultural assimilation you end up with. But with more and more local directors' voices heard over the years, it is heartening to know that our characters have matured together with the growing filmmaking circle.
Equally remarkable was the leggy, rebonded-haired, porcelain-skinned Ah Lian who helped out in the coffeeshop. Reinforced by bottom-up camera angles, her drama-queen behaviour really belonged to the stage or again, Phua Chu Kang. Even in her quieter moments, like when she treated the woulds of our robbed Brit boy, she spoke through an adopted accent and timbre that her sound like she actually speaks good English in her natural self. It was not clear if she worked `night shifts' in Geylang though the camera seemed to suggest that with close up shots of her glossy shaven legs. But her ditzy behaviour just seemed to work against the possibility of her being a `social' worker. This made her character very incongruent and even more difficult to bear since she was to deliver the moral of the story - to look beyond initial impressions.
Halfway through Lorong 27, it was clear this was more like a tribute film to the crass things we have grown so attached too that have also come to define us as locals. Hence, the use of caricatures and a `stagey' mise-en-scene. By this I mean the funky titles over hawker food frames, music-video style jumpy cuts, red-washed hallucination scenes (a la `Eating Air' by Kelvin Tong) and even the guy who rode the bicycle down that lane singing `Geylang Sipaku Geylang'. If you think about it, the style is very similar to `15' and `Eating Air', both were made around the same time. I read last year in the Chinese papers that a Hong Kong director commented that Singapore films still lack `film strokes' in their style and have too much `TV' in their blood. He was watching the wrong film - 881. Honestly. I think we have moved on since the days of `Lorong 27'.
Having said that, there was one character that resonated with me in a very palatable way. It was the gangster leader. Timeless and almost an institution, this was one caricature that I feel would not look out of place in the current film scene's context. The tacky dressing, the oily complexion, the exaggerated mannerisms and that ear-drum bursting voice had been consistently seen throughout our little island's film evolution. (More to be seen this August with Money No Enough 2) And this was a good gangster by the way, natural and able to deliver enough oomph, making me believe Kenny (though no Jack Neo or Royston Tan) certainly has a way with directing an Ah Beng.
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