'Big Road' by Alec Tok -- SIFF

I have always believed that men should not even think about attempting to decipher the female psyche. They should not write about it in books nor poetry (ever seen a literature class' voracious outroar against John Keats for writing La Belle Dame Sans Merci?) nor make a film about it. Delving into the process of transcribing the female would be like opening Pandora's Box as women's emotions are simply too complicated to be translated into any sort of text.

So you can imagine my surprise to see Alec Tok's 'Big Road' attempt to tell the tales of 3 (random) women in Shanghai: a neglected daughter who was treated like a servant in her own home, a woman who wanders around the central railway station and a barely legal prostitute who later on became the mistress of a very old man.

Whilst the idea of weaving 3 non-related stories together, ala Eric Khoo's 12 Storeys or Love Actually, seems interesting, it proved to be difficult to execute in a succinct manner. The absense of clear lines dividing the stories, merged with the non-linear storyline made the film complicated and the usage of blurry camera effects made it a challenge for the spectator to keep his eyes glued onto the screen.

I thought that 'Big Road' should have been named 'Long Road' instead because that was what watching it felt like: long, langourous and seemingly never-ending. For instance, I saw a number of people going off for a toilet break when the static camera rolled on for 15 minutes, showing one of the protagonists choosing clothes to wear for the day. Women take forever to pick out clothes, we get it already. There's no need to punish the entire cinema for that!

'Big Road' had its plus points despite all that I have ranted about before this. I liked the usage of reccuring motifs such as the hankerchief that was carried by one of the women. It brought a much needed semblance of order in such a chaotic space. I liked the way he incorporated tableaux into the film. I liked the way he juxtaposed the darkness of domestic life with the lightness of running around in the snow. I have to give it to Alec Tok for trying his very best to turn the film into an artistically evocative and rather compelling one despite having picked a difficult subject to focus on.
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