11th Singapore Short Cuts (1st Weekend Highlights): Ben, Orbits, The Sri Lanka Diaries, Corners

Director/Writer: Paddy Jonathan Ong
2014 / 18 min
You should watch this if: You'd enjoy a breezy feel-good effort by a self-assured debut filmmaker. "Ben" doesn't break new ground with its tale of a boy trying to impress a girl (complete with grand master plans, training montages, embarrassing failures, wise sidekicks and humble seconds), but the film is shot and edited with such pizzazz and energy that it doesn't need to strive for more. Added plus, too, that the film's main characters are themselves refreshingly plus-sized, rather than boilerplate magazine-cover types.
Avoid this if: You might be let down by the Short Cuts programme's Wes Anderson comparisons. "Ben" doesn't quite offer the visual idiosyncrasies and exacting production design linked to the director of The Grand Budapest Hotelbut it remains impressively polished for a first-time effort.

Director: Martin Hong
Cinematographer and Set Designer: Shane Lim
Costumes: Ian Kong
2012 / 14 min
You should watch this if: You would like to see an early (still impressive) film made by a young local talented filmmaker. "Orbits" was written and directed by Martin Hong (he even did some of the Director of Photography work himself), before he entered film school in NTU. A wonderful exploration on young unrequited love, "Orbits" is a film that Martin said was borne out of his own personal experience, and was a story that he felt compelled to tell. With an unconventional set design (the inside of a spaceship being entirely made out of cardboard) and a pet dog “King William” playing the key supporting cast member, this short is capable of touching heartstrings and is a definite must-see for hopeless romantics who can possibly gain insight on closure where it comes to affairs of the heart. Creativity at its best, in the usage of the cosmos within the plot, one also has to give absolute credit to the costume designer for helping to create a convincing world of the galaxy out there.
Avoid this if: You are sappy and dislike the risk of shedding a tear or two. "Orbits" stands out with its somewhat mawkish script, but that also means that the overly sentimental may require a tissue at the lines Martin’s character, Tom, utters as he comes to terms with his loss.

Cinematographer/Editor: Tan Jingliang
2013 / 22 min / view entire film
You should watch this if: You're a fan of authenticity in your travelogues. "Sri Lanka Diaries" was shot by Jingliang entirely on her iPhone, guerrilla-style, as she travelled with a friend through Sri Lanka. But she did not intend from the beginning to make a film for the public eye. The result is a personal gift to her travel companion, cobbled together from her footage and recorded conversations with native guides and fellow travellers. Experience, through this film, a sliver of contemporary Sri Lanka: ochre dirt paths, distant glimpses of Mt Everest, couples steadying each other on a crowded railroad train. Listen in, too, on an intimate voiceover conversation at the film's end, when Jingliang shares some of her difficulties working on an earlier thesis film and reflects on her ethic as a director.
Avoid this if: You like your films briskly cut. "Sri Lanka Diaries" meanders as much as Jingliang & co. probably travelled, and a tighter edit might have yielded a more consistently engaging experience for the viewer. (View the entire film)

Directed by: Edward Khoo and Kwok Li Chen
2014 / 4 min
(Warning: spoilers for the film's ending.)
A technique that has been recurring among many of the films screened at the 11th Singapore Short Cuts is the overlaying of a voice over long stretches of meditative visuals. Tan Jing Liang's "The Sri Lanka Diaries" was an entire exercise in this marriage of voice and visuals. This is sometimes an experimental hit and miss, where some directorial control would have been favoured. At other times, you get something like Edward Khoo and Kwok Li Chen's well-executed "Corners".
The film takes the audience on a visual excursion through a hotel’s interiors in the dark of the night when the crowds have left and the chairs have been stacked up. As the camera tracks through empty corridors and ballrooms, we are guided by a security guard’s narration of his dream, in which his friends, family and relatives have gathered to celebrate a happy occasion at the hotel. The juxtaposition of his sense of yearning as he recounts the occasion, with the cold, morgue-like reality the rooms present, accentuates the sense of loneliness the security guard feels. It also establishes an ironic relationship between him and the space he patrols. In fact, there is another layer to this – the accounts are that of one of two security guards who are playing chess to while away time while on duty. Between them, while one has been vocalizing his story, the other has been the silent listener. A twist at the end reveals that there has only been one security playing chess with himself. I would downplay any supernatural inkling in the mind of the director, but rather interpret this as saying we sometimes do not address our feelings directly but rather through the people around us who serve as mirrors to our own lives.
Reviews written by Gwen, Colin and Jeremy
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