Review - 'An Unconventional Love Story' by Daniel Yam (Viddsee Series)

The following review is part of SINdie's regular reviews of selected short films from Viddsee, an online platform for filmmakers and watchers of Southeast Asian Films. 

As the title not so subtly suggests, this short film was never meant to be your run of the mill Chinese television drama about star crossed lovers and predictable endings. In fact, it does feel like Daniel Yam might have set out to subvert these conventions by actually utilizing the same familiar tropes within his piece, so as to mimic the construct of a typical romantic drama and then turning the film on its head for something less foreseeable. This intentional hand and self-awareness is probably where ‘An Unconventional Love Story’ succeeds or fails, depending on your perspective.

Anchored by an omnipresent and flawless Mandarin narration which might very well represent Daniel’s own direction, the film speaks of a girl named Nicole who grew up believing in fate and destiny and one day meets the guy she misses from her childhood. Enter a slew of clichés like red birthmark, childhood sweethearts romanticized locations, sweet nostalgic memorabilia and even a little dose of Turn Left Turn Right (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2003) inspired dramedy thrown in for good measure, and the film seems to be heading down the dreaded path of the old and tiresome. However, thanks to the smarts of the filmmaker, we see the film salvages itself at the end with a refreshing and somewhat self-reflexive take towards its own form that elevates the piece from mere fodder to a rather imaginative and commendable exercise in narrative filmmaking.

Supported by well-crafted cinematography, crisp editing and solid acting overall, the film feels polished and substantial enough to warrant its attention. Only the coldest of hearts will fail to ache when the little girl sniffles and crumbles into hot tears, and the soothing yet assertive narration does grip the audience gently and pull us into its world from the get go. The child actors were all fantastically casted and directed, and Pamelyn Chee as Nicole gave another consistently convincing screen performance yet again, even with that distracting red blotch on her face. My one gripe in the actors’ performances would be the male lead’s awkward enunciation and delivery, which disrupts the film’s imagined reality of perfect mandarin and exposes its façade.

A potential problem with this short film, however, lies in its undoubted strong hand over the material. This can be detected from features like the authorial tone in narration, the overly additive score, the calculated emotional beats and even the deliberateness of the self-proclaimed title itself. All these make the film feel rather didactical in tone, overly self-conscious of its function to subvert and manipulative in its attempt to elicit resonances. Although the film may have achieved a level of novelty, one may argue that its forcefulness hinders the film from coming off as truly sincere as well, if making a heartfelt bittersweet love story was even part of Daniel’s intentions to begin with.

Review by Thong Kay Wee

Kay Wee considers himself an aspirational visual artist, budding film writer and independent filmmaker who believes in the evocative and hypnotic power of the moving images. A communications graduate specializing in film and cinema studies, he is interested in pursuing his needs to create, express and engage enigmatic truths in an imaginative and progressive manner. 

Watch the full short film here on Viddsee


About Viddsee

Viddsee is an online video platform for filmmakers and audience of Southeast Asian short films. Built and designed by engineers and filmmakers, Viddsee enables users to easily discover, watch and share stories from Southeast Asia on their desktop and mobile devices. Our vision is to continually grow the community of short film audiences to enable a wide and accessible market reach for short films and become the leading micro-cinema platform for Asia.
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