'Balik Kampong' by Derrick Chew

'I think we see it again soon' the male lead says to his female encounter in the KTMB train from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, as they were parting ways. He was referring to the KTM train station which will cease operations and exist only as a monument. He says it without a tinge of regret which was perhaps director Derrick Chew's way of coming to an emotional resolution with subject of his film, Balik Kampong (which means going home in Malay). After all, Balik Kampong is a quiet, charming film about a new found connection amidst a larger impending disconnection, that of the railway link that brought together shared memories.

While a tad cliche, Balik Kampong rode on a beautifully serendipitous symmetry of relationships between people and places - a Singaporean girl returning to Singapore after her discovery trip to KL and a Malaysian young man from KL making a trip to Singapore with an old suitcase belonging to his father. The film is very much a interplay of hues and nuances, both visual and narrative. The dreamy and creamy palette of the shots complement the whimsical conversation between the 2 characters, which sometimes veer towards being rather superficial. Watching the film, you get drawn into the space where they connect though never really deep into their personal lives. Like a Wong Kar Wai film, the characters seem to exist as tokens to build a narrative of lives crossing paths.

Balik Kampong is very much a designer film, made by a designer for designers. It certainly does not represent the average sensibilities of the regular commuters of this train, whom I would imagine to be a mix of makciks and pakciks, your job-seekers and a splattering of backpackers. Not that I think Derrick intends to. A first glimpse of the title 'Balik Kampong' may mislead one into conjuring images of decade-old memories of post-independence Singapore in the 60s and 70s. In this film, the only whiff of that era was in the shots of the old suitcase belonging to his father. We never saw him open the suitcase. If he did, it could have opened up a new emotional node in the film. But like this train ride, the film seemed to touch and go, connect and disconnect, which perhaps is Derrick's way of dealing with the inevitable (closing of the station) and moving on.
Darren (left, from SINdie) with director Derrick (right), who kindly gave us two copies of his beautifully crafted 'road trip' film
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