The Blue Mansion - Singaporeans Cook up a Storm in Penang

On a normal stage, like in the drama theatres, there is a need for actors to amplify every line in order to get the message across. Lines are performed. As a result, everything is larger than life. When you transport that wholesale into film, the audience may get a little indigestion. But somehow, the Blue Mansion cooked up a very palatable meal.

The camera, mounted on a crane, glides before a majestic looking Peranakan house, painted in blue and decorated with gold carvings. Its location (actually shot in Penang) is unidentifiable, which lends a sense of mystery to the place. Inside it Wee Bak Chuan, the tycoon, is lying unconscious on the floor, with a golden pineapple lying next to him. It made me sit up to brace myself for the drama that evidently wastes no time in unfolding for the audience. Like a theatre production, characters and plot elements are introduced, or rather they enter the screens with an accent, thanks to Glen’s theatrical background and crisp editing as well. The sure-footed acting from the seasoned cast probably also helped carry this off.

Bak Chuan actually wakes up to discover his family arranging a funeral for him. I told myself – bear with the predictable dramatically-ironic humour that’s about to come. What horrified me more was how Mr Wee actually has lines interjected between the ‘living’ characters, nicely timed in, as if you can see the script as the movie unfolds. Bit by bit, family members start turning up and what a motley bunch it is, ringing the bell on a few theatre productions I have watched before. The wealthy Peranakan family power-struggles have indeed been overly dramatized in Singapore. If you are frequent theatre goer, you might remember ‘Haunted’ the musical where Jacintha Abishinegaden played a ghost in a mansion sort of setting. Or perhaps Singapore Repertory Theatre’s ‘A Twist of Fate’ that featured a murder, rivalrous siblings and an inspector (all were present in The Blue Mansion too).

With so much prejudice going against it in my head, the film's sure-footed poise and wit really got me off-guard several times in varied states, sometimes amused, sometimes surprised and all the time, entertained. I will add one more – spooked. That ‘Emma Yong bit’ was quite chilling in fact and for its few minutes, it spooked me more than Blood Ties’ 2 hours of gore.

You can bet on the seasoned hands of Glen Goei and his team to come up with a script tighter than Tan Kheng Hua’s brasserie in the film. Somehow, the jokes and drama, like alcohol, tingle your senses and twirl your consciousness so that you don’t even notice the workings of the plot. But the fact is (on hindsight), everything fits in and builds up perfectly. Every family squabble is instrumental in enhancing this game of CLUEDO, leading intentionally to wrong guesses and false alarms. But of course, there were really ‘sideshow’ moments where certain actors were used like extra cherries on the cake. Sebastian Tan’s Broadway Beng has a hand in the ‘Hell Paper-Property business’ as well, supplying garish paper house offerings. Long-lost faces Deborah Png and Wendy Kwei join the more familiar Pam Oei and Karen Tan in a spurt of ‘bimbo-tic’ nothings that still drew laughs. What’s with the uniform big hair?

While I sat through hits and misses on the humour and complacently anticipated a yawnful revelation to who murdered Wee Bak Chuan, I must say I was outsmarted. While the film has been mostly engaging me with antics, jokes and mind games, it turned key to present a moral message as well, in a rather haunting way. So while I smirked at the forgettable quality of some of the earlier scenes, this left a deep impression in me. While many horror movies spook me with ghosts unrelated and unfamiliar to myself, this one awakened ghosts already residing in my head. And it’s not even a horror movie!

I guess it clearly didn’t want to be. Wee Bak Chuan had a sort of happy ending in the end and so did I because I witnessed a ‘milestone’ (quoting John Lui from the Straits Times) film.

Get a free 'preview' of the Blue Mansion here.

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