Production Talk: 4th SSFA - 'Villain' by Ric Aw

45 year-old Meng, toiling as a factory worker in a steel manufacturing plant, is determined to find an easier way to make money. Burdened with raising a teenage daughter alone, he dreams of a way out of this dead-end life. His 13 year-old daughter, Ying, a frequent shoplifter, becomes a pawn in his scam. 

Screened at the 4th Singapore Short Film Awards, 'Villain' by Ric Aw is a chilling exploration of the dark recesses of the human soul, an unsettling reminder that the desperate desire for survival can make the most ordinary people do the unimaginable.  It won best Script and the female lead Brittany Low got a special mention award for performance.

The film sheds light on the moral dilemmas the have-nots face in Singapore. Is this a true or imagined story?

There are many actual incidents that inspire this story and I can’t seem to pin point one. The research leads me to incidents documented in local newspapers from the past and the present. Some of the facts that struck me are parents having their children to beg for money, mothers selling their babies online and other true revelations. The characters in 'Villain' are shaped after some of these people.
What inspired the film? It does not seem to be pegged to anything recent except the growing income gap in Singapore. It seems like an evergreen tale.

For 'Villain', I am interested in the adverse version of a dutiful father – the bad father. In this century, what are the new definitions of a bad father – negligence, violation or overbearing affection? Paternal deviants, how are they like now? Some evils are timeless and universal. 'Villain' looks at these new monsters of a parent.

Besides that, modern society has no place for certain breeds of men. There are those who stick by the old ways, a traditional set of rules on how a man should behave or bringing up the next generation to meeting obstacles in a noble way. The world has no place for them, of their ways or even their presence. What then becomes of a man from yesteryears? Do they assimilate or bash through with their steel resolve?
From your previous short films like 'Garden Girls' and 'Silent Girls', there is a common thread of young girls going astray (or being somewhat deviant). Could you share your fascination with the motif? 
I am interested in moral beauty, rather, the desecration of it. Specifically, I investigate the traditional values that are eroding in modern times. Unfortunately, moral beauty captured on film – like physical beauty in a person – is extremely perishable. It has a tendency to decay very rapidly in the progress of society. What is shocking news today becomes just another article tomorrow. Its short-lived presence accounts for this contemporary story but I hope the essence of this moral beauty stays as long as it can in the minds of the audiences. 

The film exhibits attention to visual textures and sound e.g. focusing on the drainage tide, adding to the ambience of the film. Can you share your artistic direction in this area?

Central to creating this film is to reflect on human conditions by magnifying the everyday man and their difficulties. We tried to present an intersection between documentary and fictional narrative. The visuals and sounds observe how life unfolds. The water, at times, is a metaphor for the characters’ emotional state.

This work reflects on human conditions by magnifying the everyday man and their difficulties. Central to the creative process is the idea of uncovering obsolete individuals; searching for their place and adaptation to modern Singapore.

What were the biggest challenges in making this film?

The greatest challenge is keeping the treatment as minimal as possible. We had to remove a lot of fluff for the real story to be heard. There are certain eras that are too deafened by confused sentiments, historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. The truths we respect are those born of affliction in which I hope this short film can carefully portray a possibility and an understanding. 

Check out the full winners list of the 4th Singapore Short Film Awards.

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