Review - 'Singapore Panda' by Sun Koh (10th Singapore Short Cuts)

Singapore Panda by Sun Koh of Dirty Bitch, Lucky7 and Bedroom Dancing fame stars television veteran Johnny Ng and fellow actor Alvin Chiam as the two deejays of a radio station recently acquired by a media conglomerate from Hong Kong. Set in Singapore, the film is 20 minutes long and it veers away from the verbal explicitness of Sun Koh’s previous style. However, in essence her knack for story telling-it-as-it-is honestly, with aplomb, continues to resonate within the entire comedy, with tinges of satire.

The film starts with Ah Koh (Johnny Ng) doing a live broadcast show at work—announcing the winning numbers of the lottery—as Ah Hua (Alvin Chiam) brings him lunch.
While eating bobo chacha (a coconut milk dessert) from a famous hawker stall, they overhear a deal being made for the sale of the radio station. Their dessert also turns out not to be too tasty, as the resident chef was not the cook for that day. Ah Koh remarks that things are not the same when hands change – inferences like these typify the thoughful social commentary inherent in many of Sun’s works.

The duo is then tasked with a new project in which Ah Koh has to voice a panda and Ah Hua an orang-utan. When ‘live sounds’ are being requested, they resort to an analog method of sound production: old school narration, with which amused the deejays themselves and achieved every deliberate comic effect.

Ah Koh's background is inferred from the "panda story" that he is narrating; his wife, who is his junior by 11 years and also hails from China, was introduced to him over here in Singapore. A marriage of convenience due to the fact they are both displaced people in a foreign land? That is a question not exactly answered, because the bigger themes within the story are the experience of aging in a constantly developing society as well as the diffusion of culture of a person who moves away from the land he was born in.

The “panda story” also allegorises the obvious generational difference between Ah Koh, his daughter and his granddaughters, seen in a family dinner scene. Ah Koh speaks and thinks in Mandarin while his granddaughters do both of that in English. Ah Koh’s daughter is able to use both languages fluently and acts as a translator for his letters as well as conveyor of affections from Ah Koh to his granddaughters. The film has a few pensive moments when the viewer realises that because language is a medium for interaction, there is scant exchange of thoughts and feelings between Ah Koh and his grandchildren. Perhaps the Singaporean audience will find a little bit of themselves within the plot; that imminent doom of aging and self-alienation of oneself in a country where identities diffuse among the influx of foreign residents might hit a nerve in them, and they might think: will I ever be like this in the future?

The characters in the film were very well casted from the two leading men to the middle-aged female boss who has ‘sold herself to the commercialization devil’ to the face of commercialization itself, the Hong Kong lady who knows everything about modern-day marketing. While the actors took the show away, the director’s confident voice is never diminished. In fact, like the final scene where Ah Koh found musical inspiration from a washing machine, what the film showcases is an unwavering, clever and effortlessly funny voice.

Review by Gwen K

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