FLARE 2010 - 'Chicken' by Charmaine Oon

How do you savour the little balls of chicken-essence-coated flour that we knew as ‘Ka Ka’ from our distant childhood? (note: only kids of the 80s will know this). According to the film ‘Chicken’, we crush them flat against the top of our tongue and let it ‘melt’ with our saliva so that we can be tingled by the magic of the MSG ‘goodness’. Not a bad ‘titbit’ to take away from this film (which is one that clamours our attention unabashedly).

‘Chicken’ is really an exploration of visual texture with a comic overtone by visual artist Charmaine Oon. It is built around the simple concept of the word chicken. There are no rules to the exploration. The film obsesses over ‘Ka Ka’ an iconic chicken-flavoured snack on one hand and exposes the origins of the ‘prostitute’ innuendo in the Chinese word chicken on the other. In between, there is a multitude of stock footage that give ‘Chicken’ a rich visual topography.

While use of black and white stock footage doesn’t break any new ground, Charmaine uses them in interesting juxtapositions and adds contextual layers to them. In fact, a masterstroke that stands out is the oddball humour. The motherly character who extols the pleasures of eating ‘Ka Ka’ is a classic example. She is not the archetypal person you would put in front of the camera sharing the ‘goodness’ of ‘Ka Ka’. She is more like the ‘eats your greens and fruits everyday’ sort. So watching her indulging in the balls of MSG was truly hilarious.

There were also a few staged scenes which stylised and even caricaturised some of the commonly known images associated with chickens and eggs. These included an egg farmer collecting eggs in a make-believe farm filled with boxes coloured in candy hues and also a bright-eyed boy roaming about in this 'toy-farm'. Dreamy and enticing in a way, it epitomises the overall drift of the film. And if I may define it, it is sub-consciously an attempt to recreate a 'play' world where we are free to look at familiar things with childlike eyes and a touch of mischief.

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