'Promises in December' by Elgin Ho - FLARE 2009

There is something in practiced strokes of the taxi driver Alan’s cleaning motion or the sense of homeground surety in her Bahasa chatter on the phone that tells me Elgin understands his subjects well. In Elgin’s study of two characters who cross paths, he explores deeply both the behavioural and the contextual aspects of the characters.

In Alan, due attention is paid to poignant back story behind the chatty front of the taxi driver. Alan is seen to do much housework e.g. cooking despite already being the breadwinner. On the other hand, he has a wife who is obsessed with praying at temples, often in desperation. In this, Elgin shows how personal good-natured beliefs can bring a family apart. And instead of the usual Christian examples, this one is slightly different. While Raymond anchors the role fairly well (except for some moments reminiscent of his TV days), it is Janice Koh who surprises with her short but emotionally charged moments.

In Siti, due to the geographical barrier, most of her story has to be imagined. Actually this could be potentially more gripping if Elgin has left some doors half open. What we know about Siti’s own life in Indonesia is mostly from her accounts to the taxi driver as well her bits and pieces of information dropped here and there. In the final scene, we also get a glimpse(an imagined one?) of her living conditions in Indonesia. In terms of gaining proximity to her world, I personally felt her spoken moments in the taxi and even some moments of silence brought me further than actual re-enactment of her shanty town life. I also felt the first-hand sounds of the tsunami where a little implausible, almost adding nothing to my empathy for the character. Maybe the imagined is always more vivid than the actualization.

But in all, this film took on a very ambitious issue of the tsunami. Though not always easy to bring out what really cuts in such an epic event, Elgin has at least done a substantial amount of ground work.
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