Review - 'Tightrope' by Wu Ling Feng (La Salle's Putnam School of Film Showcase)

Tightrope is the first in a series of reviews from the recent La Salle Putnam School of Film graduation showcase. Every new batch of students is a breath of fresh air, enrichening the collective psyche of the ‘Singapore film’. This year’s films seems to have an eye for the marginalized in Singapore. Tightrope itself is by Chinese student Wu Ling Feng who expresses his nostalgia for home through his films.

Two Chinese nationals, on social-visit passes cross paths in a rented flat, both struggling to survive and balancing themselves on the wrong side of the metaphorical tightrope. One is a girl who prostitutes herself for a living while the other, a young man, a helpless student-like character who turns out to be a novice drug-trafficker (or whatever was in the bag he exchanged with a stranger on the street).

Quite predictably, the film attempts to humanize the two characters that society and media has come to demonize. Using a loose montage of dreamy flashback scenes in China (as oppsed to stuffy Singapore), where both characters appear more dignified, the director accentuates the pain the characters feel in the confines of the cramped Singapore flat. There is also a funny scene in which a Malay police officer tries to convey his message to the girl in Mandarin but fails miserably and humorously. In particular, a scene in which the girl speaks her heart to her late father through the mobile phone provides the ultimate plea for our sympathy as well.

Pleading for sympathy could also be the where the film fails to extend our journey with these two characters, which seems to be a ‘one-way to doom’. Right from the start, the film already establishes the fact that they are both playing with fire. In between, they think fondly and romantically of their wintry hometown where life seems less cruel. In the end, the film ends at the point where they face fire and fail to escape it. 'Inevitable' seems to be the alternative title of the film. It could have done with a bigger dimensional change in the story, which would serve to deepen our connection with the characters. 

While we waited for doom to meet the two characters, a near-sexual encounter between them does break the stifling anxiety a bit. The girl thanked the guy for protecting her savings in a looting incident and asked what how she could repay him for all she had and knew to give was her flesh. Resisting the sexual offer, the guy instead opted for friendship and what followed was a relatively long and intimate conversation which unfortunately had not very significant bearing on their eventualities.  It also reminded me perhaps this was material for a longer feature length movie where you can see how all the ambiguities and unfulfilled dreams can play out.

Interestingly, reading the programme notes, it says Ling Feng likes Woody Allen's movie. It all makes sense now when the girl wanted to offer her flesh to her male saviour as it is the only thing she has. Cos Miro Sorvino once said to her male saviour in 'Mighty Aphrodite': I feel like I owe you a fuck. She played a hooker.

Review by Jeremy Sing

Here is the trailer of the film:

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