Review - 'Faeryville' by Tzang Merwyn Tong

As the dystopian drama unfolds within the grounds of the eponymous fictional college Faeryville, I begin to suspect that this dystopia is in reality a lot closer to home. My suspicions are confirmed as The Nobodies, the film’s plucky outcasts, go to the college’s canteen for lunch only for bullies to upset their filled lunch trays for the kicks of it. If they were truly students of that college, they would be secretly relieved as the true face of said canteen is Canteen B of NTU, a local version of a college dining hall doomed to never serve decent food. In my four years as a student of the real NTU, I have avoided Canteen B not due to the fear of running into my nemesis like The Nobodies, but because that canteen itself is my nemesis. 

As a local viewer, this familiarity with the landscape of a local university becomes all the more unintentionally amusing given the foreignness of Faeryville’s society. Fraternities rule over the college though we don’t get any suggestion of exactly how these frat boys contribute to the school’s reputation to justify the authorities’ bias. No one bats an eye to Poe and gang getting high in public and perhaps its widely accepted within the college that everyone smokes pot to deal with student life. I’m guessing that the liberal Americanization of college life is for the purpose of the film’s international distribution. Yet sometimes I forget and during one of the violent beat downs between the frat boys played by huge Westerners and The Nobodies played by smaller Asians, the first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Why are they letting these exchange students be such toolbags to the local students?’ It goes to show that it will take more than the draping of banners and the erecting of a giant Mother Mary look-a-like statue to convincingly transform an Asian university. 

Nonetheless, I really appreciate the attempt at making this film an authentic college story by keeping the important action within the college grounds. It is as if Faeryville’s landscape becomes a fifth Nobody; the only sane man calmly absorbing its peers’ melodrama. I like that the gang is often seen in places where students actually hang out at such as the study areas, the area outside the lecture theatres and various spots in the halls of residence. Yet perhaps it is the film’s maintenance of the intimacy with the physical Faeryville which undercuts the escalation of conflict within it. While the college is presented as the source of threats which The Nobodies face, none of them make any moves to distance themselves from it and have a life outside school. Multiple characters recognize that graduation is a solution to their problems and the film misses the opportunity to explore that this is not the case. As seen from the scene where a faceless figure of authority bars Laer and his sexually abused mother from moving away, there is a dystopia beyond campus grounds, one which possibly makes the dystopia within Faeryville preferable. 

If you have to suffer in school, you would be lucky if you could suffer with friends. For me, the most believable character that you might have befriended or at least form an acquaintanceship with is the enigmatic Laer. His rather buff physique would make him a hit in orientation camps and his laconic speech would influence his crowd to hang on to his every word. But in real life, his type would be with the cool kids instead of the ‘loser’ group. 

At the core of it, what makes it hard to root for The Nobodies is not that they don’t have a fighting chance of becoming winners, but that there is little heroism in their fight as underdogs. There is a moment when their plan to get back to the frat boys by implanting a fart bomb ends up stopping the frat boys from sexually assaulting a college girl. The Nobodies ultimately run away, triumphant and scot free, without a thought of empowering others outside of their clique. 

Review by Joseline Yu.

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