Review - 'Villain' by Ric Aw

Ric Aw’s recent short film ‘Villain’, like his previous short films never fails to stylize the Singapore landscape, offering a quiet ‘art-house’ version of Singapore that does not look too different from the uncluttered style prevalent in many of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s films. It is at once, both distancing yet disarming.

‘Villian’ tells the story of an errant father who loathes the daily grind of a working class life and wants an easier, though unscrupulous, way out of it. And it starts with a bang – literally on his leg, a pre-meditated plan to be injured and be compensated for it. He has a daughter who also gives in to the same ‘stealing’ instincts as him and loots items from a supermarket like a seasoned thief.

With the help of a mostly stationary and composed shooting style and objective camera framing of the characters, coupled with long moments of nothing but ambient sound, we are presented with an almost clinical study of the two characters in this film, and through them, a study of poverty and marginalization. What results is an understated yet thoughtful film where we, the audience complete the thoughts. The characters don’t say too much  (like in Ric’s previous films) but the message is well-delivered through crisp and succinct storytelling and editing. Interesting to note that all other characters other than the two leads are unflinchingly one-dimensional.

Despite the arms-length treatment of marginalization, the films succeeds in presenting dilemmas and conflicts in both of them. The girl struggles with her current daily stealing routines as she yearns to go back to a normal schooling life. Her father professes to be irresponsible but yet his desire to provide for his daughter is discernible. Which makes the ending both perplexing and heartbreaking at the same time – his abandonment of his daughter en-route to escaping. Guess that’s when the surrealism kicks in – the idea that one can actually escape to somewhere in Singapore. Mmmm…..

One more comments: this film needs a better and more fluent Mandarin narrator.

This film was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Fiction at the 4th Singapore Short Film Awards.

Review by Jeremy Sing

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