Best Film pick at SIFF Silver Screen Awards

Hello Goodbye is a very deliberate film about lives crossing each other – something quite unlikely in real life but it makes me still willing to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in a world where lines can be crossed. A chambermaid starts an exchange of words on the feedback card with the businessmen guest whose room she cleans. This results in a chance meeting but one that is hit and go. We are not what he hit (!) but basically their meeting was the beginning and the end and life goes back to normal. While I would preferred a less easy payoff to the build-up exchange between them, the film still found a way to circularize the story by bringing our attention back to the void in her married life – her husband wants to have dinner finally.

The film paces itself as elegantly as the wallpaper in the hotel room (which I learnt was a set built in NTU!) The silent treatment and the soft lighting also complements the film well. It is unfortunately too safe a film and the hotel room chamber with guest interplay seems like something out of a Korean drama. While, I would give it a thumbs up for effort and style, I hesitate to raise my hands if its about adding something new to cinema.

At the time when I wrote this Hentak Kaki had already won Best Film. But no matter. Hentak Kaki rests almost completely on the thorny yet funny exchange between 2 men and the extent of the drama and characterization stays largely within the counseling room. This was my issue with film. It was a piece of theatre put on lenses. There was nothing the film explored that added depth and layered our view of the 2 men. Both friends, they get into a verbal exercise under the constraints of a Detention Barrack counseling session – an exercise that is punctuated comically by either attempts (mostly the convict) to get real and confront the real issues.

This makes Hentak Kaki a brilliant script, filled with irony, comedy and eventually raw emotions. But the execution leaves much room to broaden the cinematic treatment. The film does in fact attempt to depict the back story to the warrant officer’s sense of frustration – it shows him at the clinic talking to his medical officer and him in acute agony over his ligament injury. Somehow, the director’s literal treatment of the issue also limits the audience’s view of the matter. I mean, it is not just about a choice of job, it is about a perspective in life that film lightly scrapped through. And only in spoken words.

Watching the film Sisters really convinces me the point of the film is more conceptual than narrative. In a household that is celebrating a marriage, there are not enough ‘sisters’ to help in forming the familiar human barricade to test the groom before he is allowed to kiss the bride. The older folks resort to playing sisters, almost in a desperate fashion to salvage what is left of Chinese tradition. With the domineering auntie taking centrestage with her ‘sister’ role play, you wonder if the film is about struggling to keep up tradition. But the term ‘Sisters’ seems to have yet another meaning. The brother of the bride had evidently dallied with the groom in previous encounters, some emotional and it creates an awkward situation when the ‘sisterly’ games are played.

The film culminates in an awkward moment at the door of the bedroom when big ‘auntie sister’ gets the brother to role play as the bride and the groom has to express in his sincerest fashion, his love for the bride. The groom does a suave job, the family lets him go but the brother gets emotionally tangled at the spur of the moment, which was both narratively awkward as it was emotionally in that situation. While not every film needs a closure, the film, if it was to be more than just a exploration of the ‘sisterhood’, needed to find a way to feed the hungry ghosts of the past or put the ghosts back to sleep.

Speaking of ghosts, Threads, which is about a lady who makes funeral clothes meeting her own end, kind of spooks me with the stilted acting more than anything else. I think Mdm Yu, the seamstress character is the real thing in real life and the directors made the assumption that casting her in the role would be perfect. (I may be wrong in making this assumption). The lady who played the character tended to over-articulate her lines, almost to operatic effect. The film suffers on a few grounds. Again, like many of the films curated in the finalist line-up, the treatment was too literal and in this instance too linear as well. For a topic like death, the film could have played around narratively a bit more than just taking through the trite and teary hospital bed departure scene.

The film however, was not without its poignant moments. When Mdm Yu goes to buy another bale of cloth for a job, she buys an extra bale for herself to make her own funeral clothing. The shop owner is stunned into silence and offers it free to her as a kind gesture. Sharon Wong who played the daughter, anchored much of the film with her believable treatment of her character even though parts of it were to TV-acting. Threads is a film with a lot of colourful potential, if only the director could see beyond the obvious and give us a new clothes on an old body.

My pick for Best Film is Hello Goodbye which is an overall balanced film in its various crucial aspects that made it what it is.
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