'Personas' by BK Lim - 3 Men and some tears

Sunny Pang talks about his child and marriage with his girlfriend Michelle through drawing a parallel with a role he played in a sgement ‘Lucky Seven’ in which he was in a relationship with a girl called Michelle as well. He sniffles every few sentences and looks on the brink of tearing but restrains himself and delivers an all-too-familiar broken-voiced monologue in sentences strategically truncated for dramatic effect.

Yet something was withholding me from succumbing myself to emotionality of it. Something about the pretext of the film and how the characters (who are actors) were made to be in a situation of confession.

Personas, a feature-length film by BK Lim boldly stretches the conventional limits of the ‘interview’ and bases an entire film on that. Essentially, it is getting 3 men to ‘bare it all’ for the camera, not physically but emotionally and spiritually. What seems to justify the idea of hearing 3 men pour out them souls randomly is the fact that they are all actors – people used to emotional demonstration for the camera.

The movie nicely covers 3 bands of life experiences. An earthly-looking Jerry Hoh in his 40s, an intense-looking Sunny Pang in his 30s and a restless-looking Nicholas Bloodworth in his 20s, still with a fluttering spirit and a rebellious streak. By putting across the film in monochrome black and white, we are made to focus on their voices and the nuances in their delivery (though some were not that nuanced). Not to forget their individual stories as well.

Jerry Hoh’ chapter speaks of a stern generation of parents who ruled their children with draconian showings. In him is a voice of calm, mature reflection masking what are colourful, dramatic episodes with his ‘brutal’ mother.  Sunny Pang’s chapter is pregnant with emotional extremes and life and death issues. Between a suicide and a new-born baby, the overhanging sense of guilt and remorse makes it hard to differentiate between the two epsiodes. Nicholas Bloodworth’s anecdotes speak of growing pains and his struggles as a young actor. While his rebellious, Gen-Y ways alienate the mature audience sitting in the theatre, his account is at least reasonably honest.

The composite of these stories make an interesting mosaic of life in its various temperaments, making us sail along with the ups and the downs of the stories. However, for making the audience sit through 80 minutes of raw general life accounts, a film like this needed more than the premise of experimentation to be substantial. Indeed, Personas had an interesting premise to run an experiment like this – to explore the fine line between acting and an honest display with people who act for a living. It would have been interesting to watch and critically find the line that divides when the actor is hamming it up for the camera and when the actor is simply being himself. However, the film tended to settle down too easily onto the good end of honesty spectrum and it resembled a collage of video interviews from a self-help group.

So begs the question: how far should the director manipulate an experiment like this to bring about a more substantial outcome? It is difficult to answer this. A more heavy-handed approach may have produced something more pointed but one-dimensional. A light-handed approach in this case produced something a little scattered.  It sometimes feel like this film is just a homage to the three actors who work so hard for the Singapore screens.

While I can say I liked the accounts of Jerry Hoh and Nicholas Bloodworth more, they were as good as they got. Sunny Pang’s dramatic excesses however provided a more interesting point of contention. While the perfectly-timed nose sniffles and facial twitching was annoying, he does bring to attention what could be the overriding purpose of the film, to make an actor do sometimes the hardest thing, not act.

BK Lim, the director, with the actors after the screening of 'Personas'

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