Review - NTU ADM Film 2015 Graduation Shorts - Part 2

Here is the second installment of reviews from the NTU ADM graduation showcase. NTU ADM hosted an evening of 10 short films that spanned a wide genre spectrum from science to science fiction, from realism to melodrama, and very much a showcase that demonstrates that the younger filmmakers here have a lot to say.

The film ‘5 Dollars for a Passport’ by Jason Ye should be instead titled ‘The Lost Village of Labis’. The a middle-aged father who makes a trip back to his Malaysian hometown from Singapore to visit his old house, to reclaim some of the old items he has left behind and par respects to his ancestors. The real devil within the film is the old footage of a family gathering back in 1994. The footage depicts his extended family gathered for what looks like a regular Sunday meal. Sure, it’s got all the trappings of nostalgia – the dated 90s hair and attire, the old rickety furniture, and children in frills-free clothing. But it avoids glamourizing it and the grainy footage offers us a raw view of what happier times looked like a few decades ago. The film is a combination of a visual documentation of the man’s revisiting trip as well as talking head (well torso, as well) interview snippets of the man as he shares what he feels about the past. An interesting fact of the film is that it was shot on 16mm film, giving it the road trip a rather dreamy feel. Though honestly, the film would have worked just as well without the filmic treatment, primarily because this man has a substantial story to tell and a clear message to share about reconciling the past with the present. And all that, of course, thoughtfully edited to give, that all-to-familiar Singapore-to-Malaysia home trip, a more meaningful spin.

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The iconic ‘Singapore Girl’ gets another fan boy tribute in ‘Come Fly Away with Me’ (still above) by Martin Hong. Set in amber ‘Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’ overtones, this fits the mold of a modern romantic comedy. The glossy set up of the café and the gleaming crockery panders to an audience spoilt by Hollywood chick flick staples. The cast, with their polished looks, is the sheen on the film’s sturdily safe treatment. Indeed, most of the film is smooth, un-abrasive entertainment. A female flight attendant walks into a café, strikes up a conversation with the barrister on duty and then get him to pretend to be her boyfriend just to ward off advances from her pilot. The real sauce in the film is that the barrister is no accidental or token young café waiter. He is from the PRC, is struggling to make a living in Singapore and also struggling to fit in with the culture in Singapore. One waiter meets another waiter (the former being a high class one, like they all say). The irony is thought-provoking and gives the film a more substantial point to make about class and romance. The film however, does suffer from a kind of visual and narrative ‘photo-shop’ that makes it appear too much like a television commercial, with quasi-stereotypes and compulsive script control. Otherwise, it was one of the most entertaining pieces of the evening. 

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A different kind of romance blossomed in ‘State of Hush Hush’ by Ian Kong, a younger, puppy-like, interplay of crushes between two young adults. The film tends to confuse at the beginning with its straddling between realism and some science fiction. The realism component is characterized by familiar issues of religious encroachment between people, when one is overzealous about her own religion and seems to be speaking a different language from the people around her. The science fiction component is characterized by the girl’s apparent attempts to be abducted into the realm of her own god. The combination of these two elements makes this film quite a different cut from the rest and the complexities in the interaction between the two characters are adequately brought out in some of the more intimate moments when they struggle with reconciling their judgements of each other with that inevitable crush. Somehow, the two actors bring with them an unmistakable commercial film finesse into this short film. Fans of ‘Ah Boys to Men’ will be able to recognize the lead actor as Charlie Goh, one of the army boys, and at moments his gait and mannerisms do bring back a whiff of the slight hooliganism seen in Jack Neo’s blockbuster. But there are also several tender moments where we see him and his co-actor owning these very complex characters.
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Two films in the narrative fiction category created some of the most detestable but yet entertaining characters, some so hilarious, you lose sight of the more important characters and issues in the film. ‘Keep Mum’ by Annette Lee, is a family drama centred around the precarious relationship between a father and a mother in a family of four (with 2 daughters). The father, facing great pressure from his wife to give his family a better life, becomes a conflicted in his thoughts and interaction with his family. His wife on the hand is a material-hungry, control-obsessed woman who terrorizes her daughters on their grades and her own husband on the bread he brings home. This is the stumbling block of the film, in which her character suffers from an overdose of villainy. The case in point being the hooliganism she displays in defending her decision to buy a buy with her husband’s money, which makes you wonder to what limits the director would bring domestic terrorism to. With a villain in inflated proportions, the only satisfying way to end the film would be a great showdown where the audience can watch, with old-fashioned satisfaction, good triumph over evil. But alas, this is one wimp of a dad who chose to walk away quietly, leaving the audience with a strange aftertaste of reverse-sexism.

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The other film with villains (more like antagonists) that made a devilish pairing with popcorn is the other ‘mumsy’ film ‘To Mum (Love, Me)’ by Joyene Nazatul. The film centres around a daughter’s coming out journey and the eventual acceptance from her mother of her sexual orientation. Both actors who played mother and daughter delivered genuine performances that brought forth the underlying message of the film. In particular, one cannot forget the perpetual scowl on the mother’s face in her interactions with her daughter, bringing home the authenticity of the issue and the experience. But the real stars of the film were the three mahjong kakis of the mother, who seemed to be on sartorial overdrive. Dressed like they were going to a take part in a Channel 8 seniors Idol contest, the women pulled all the stops in making themselves heard and seen at every line. And that consistent (and familiar) scowl on their faces makes you think the mother figure picked up more than just mahjong tiles at the mahjong table. Unfortunately, a coming-out film like this are a dime and dozen, given the substantial presence of LGBT film festivals worldwide. At least Joyene had found a way to deliver hope at the end of the film without overdoing the happy ending.
 Check out the film's facebook page here.
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