Short Circuit 3 - 'Tanjong Rhu' by Boo Junfeng

'Tanjong Rhu' is a wealth of visual symbolism that adds up to a an affecting statement though losing its very tender subplot. Of his many films I have watched, 'Tanjong Rhu' is the most consistent in the way it makes me feel after watching more than once. I guess the message is quite clear and it makes no apologies about it stance on dent in Singapore's gay history.
While I sometimes felt quite constrained by its single-minded perspective of things, its graceful visuals liberated me. Waves lap against the coarse sands that surround our coastline. Swaying Casuarina twigs frame shots of forbidden acts of lust. A feet breaks up a puddle, the only source of reflection in a place blindingly dark. Goldfishes wriggle their bodies in a constraint aquarium space, making me wonder if they know how far their world stretches. A dried sunflower hangs in the backlit bedroom curtain in a room where a breakup is initiated. While it carries some remnants of Katong Fugue, the visuals reflect a more polished hand.
Tanjong Rhu is largely an account of the entrapment of 12 men in the early 90s by the police. Incidentally, last week, in Penang, the Malaysian police carried out a raid of several gay 'leisure' spots and drummed in its homophobic message. Through an interview of one man, we get to know the social consequences of the criminal sentence beyond the cane marks. This particular local gay film is significant in the way it moves on beyond the usual grievances related to the homosexual identity. The persecution of gays is implicit in a story that brings light to the relationship issues that landed the protagonist in Tanjong Rhu that fateful night. He basically visited Tanjong Rhu in the aftermath of a breakup. And even at Tanjong Rhu, a sub-plot about a fellow cruiser is inserted, taking our attention away from the event that made news.

For this, it gives much more to a gay audience to reflect because we have back-stories intertwined with the main event. But, on my previous viewings and this viewing, I still feel some touches could be lost on a more general audience because of the dual focus on the event as well as the 'relationship' between the cruiser and the lead. It will probabaly take some time for us to see an out and proud gay comedy. It is often the sad issues that will still prevail over the more candy-coloured ones when it comes to making a honest gay story in Singapore. So perhaps when the day comes, our lead does not need to go Tanjong Rhu simply because he broke up. It could just be nature's call!
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