FLARE 2010 - '3 Days Grace' by Kenny Tan

Father-son relationships are always a tough subject to tackle in film, especially when there are few words spoken between both parties. 3 DAYS GRACE manages to take a strained father-son relationship and explores the tension between the two parties, deftly articulating what is commonly difficult to express through words.

While there are few words spoken between them, it is clear from the beginning that their relationship is a lot more complex than it seems. Pong’s brief interactions with his father are always of conflict and rife with impatience, and in a brilliant scene we see shots of him scrubbing his father’s urine-stained mattress being cross cut with shots of his dad’s utter helplessness, unable to feed himself – highlighting his Pong’s frustration with his father, as well as his father’s own frustration with himself.

Much of the underlying anger that simmers within Pong is not seen till much later, but clever editing hints at this emotional baggage. Throughout the film, there are constant cuts from still and quiet shots of Pong and his father in the house to the active, kinetic shots of Pong’s training of his boxing students. Director Kenny Tan uses the juxtaposition of the shots to allude to the idea that beneath a facade of apparent calmness lie many repressed emotions and dreams.

Our curiosity as to Pong’s beef with his father is eventually explained in flashback scenes where we see his father insulting him and being emotionally abusive towards him. Tan is smart in leaving this little nugget of information right till the very end, teasing the audience with subtle hints throughout the film, eventually building to the rather heartbreaking climax. The film also highlights the cyclical nature of father-son relationships, bringing Pong from a place of being the helpless one to being the character in power, while his father is relegated to a position of helplessness.

Credit must also be given to the actor who played Pong, who plays Pong with strong conviction – carrying with him an air of anger but also at the same time maintaining a vulnerable disposition. Pong, who despite being coarse and harsh towards his father, never gets to the point of being unlikeable, and always manages to engage the sympathies of the audience. This is important because the film does not set out to make him a villain or to demonize him, but rather aims to explore a father-son relationship that is tragic and heartbreaking. In this aspect, Tan has shown much maturity in his handling of the theme and his characters.

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