Review Notes from the 2015 Asian Film Symposium

Over 40 short films at the Asian Film Symposium this year! We tried to bear witness to as many as we could and here is a selection of reviews and thoughts on some of the films.

'Scumbag, Pervert and The Girl in Between' by Bruce Hwang Chen  (Taiwan)

Taiwanese curator Kuo says the film reflects a Taiwanese adulation of Japanese culture and what's 'popular' in Japan and everyone bursts out laughing in the audience. The reason being the 'trend' reflected in this film is the stealing of women's garments. An old man steal a school girl's shorts but gets confronted by a young man has the hots for the girl and wanted to display some heroism after witnessing the act. The film, with its slapstick direction, hyperbolic facial acting and eye-candy leads bears many of the traits of current popular Taiwanese films like 'Apple of My Eye' and 'Cafe. Waiting.Love'. Yet, its scarcity of dialogue, unlike these blockbusters, bears certain hallmarks of something more independent and edgy.

‘I Can’t Sleep Without You By My Side’ by Jade Castro  (Philippines)

This humorous short film from the Philippines presents a creative way of doing social commentary. Critical of the health care situation in the Philippines, the film is about a young man confiding (and rambling on) to his lover in longing and at times lewd confessions, about a random mish mash of topics including his sick grandmother, dead friends, noodles and even testicles! Through the use of dark humour and a simple letter, it presents the larger realities of work and living in the Philippines as a working class adult— and lack in terms of medical provision and benefits in the Philippines. 

‘Moveable Feast’ by Jasmine Ng (Singapore) 

This short has won prizes while showcased during the Singapore International Film Festival, and it is no surprise that the major topic is about food. From starting the day with nostalgia-filled kopi to dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant, this film would resonate with plenty of Singaporeans. Straightforward and somewhat predictable in terms of text, the aesthetics of the piece and the humour found in each scenario made the film endearing and memorable. 

Its simplicity and backdrops of an olden Singapore that we can no longer find in this day and age are qualities that made this film stand out from the rest. Also, with a strong bonding conversation topic such as food, who could ever say no?
'On duty with Shu Qi' by Do Quoc Trung (Vietnam)

This film deals with the sexual awakening and politics of secondary school goers,  While the film did not present a unique storyline or new interpretations of this genre, what stood out was the scale, finish and presentation achieved on what must have been a limited budget. Despite the clique nature of the scenes, which even drew some unexpected laughter at some points, it was still able to hold and engage the audience from start to finish. 

‘The Story That I Forgot to Tell’ by Nelson Yeo  (Singapore)

The film carries traces of ‘Sans Soleil’ by Chris Marker, a film that explores human memory and how the human mind fails to recall context and nuances of memory. In the same vein, Nelson’s film, shot like a daydream, presents disconnected flashes of memory centred around a male protagonist. On a train, he steals other people’s intimate dreams. Subtle and visually evocative, this film takes us on a subliminal journey into his realm of desire and uncommunicated private longings.

‘Find Love Let It Kill’ by Aidyl Abadi  (Malaysia)

A short filmic collage of the throngs of passionate love. The female protagonist invites us on a labyrinthian exploration of the bittersweet taste of desire through flickered memories and intimate moments. What’s striking about the film is how it achieves the aesthetics of a perfume ad with cast that looks like they walk the fashion runway. The black and white palette with the occasional soft focus of the shots also add to the rather trippy, semi-conscious nature of the protagonist’s thoughts, making this film a near hypnotic experience.
‘The Endless Room’ by Emerson Reyes (Philippines)

With just a room and a focus on two main characters that are free to do whatever they want within those four walls, viewers are drawn into their love for each other. The context itself was intriguing enough and the film forces the audience to participate in a constant guessing game of the characters’ identities – who are they, how old they are, what do they do and what time of the day is it. 

Mainly banking on the acting as well as the facial expressions to allow viewers into their world, the suspense was kept from beginning to end even though the plot got slightly draggy towards the middle with little going on. Kudos to the team for playing with the text and keeping the story alive in a minimalistic way instead of embracing the superficial sets, costumes and effects to deliver the story. 
‘Like’ by Vu Hoang Hai  (Vietnam)

Here is a reminder that no matter where you are on this planet, we all face the same social media anxieties like getting enough ‘likes’ for a posting. This short film from Vietnam is a humorous take on where obsession with external affirmation via social media could take a person. The main protagonist is a University student who defines much identity and meaning through the curation of his Facebook profile and page. 
‘Kep Secret’ by Prum Seila (Cambodia) 

A rustic building would be seen from a distance and the ruins of the same once glorious building set the atmosphere of this short film. Exploring this space through the eyes of a young boy, the space transforms into a playground of history and adventure. The soundscapes as well as the beautiful captures of detailed scars on the building made this improvised set come alive. The atmosphere is haunting yet calm, though it echoes mystery and loss. 

The film kept things open-ended for the viewers to make their own interpretations or takeaways of the film, and that makes it all the more personal and impactful. 
‘A Gift’ by Mallory Lee (Malaysia)

Playing up old-fashioned romance and the funny sides of young love, this film goes for feeling good and a couple of laughs. 

Bringing the context back to good old days where RM2.50 could have gotten you an ice stick or a bowl of fried noodles, it is about reminiscing the simplicity of life back then. The slapstick acting and the ridiculousness of the situations was successful in playing up the cheeky vibe. Even though the ending was predictable right from the start, A Gift is still a fun watch. 

'On Happiness Road' by Hsin-Yin Sung (Taiwan)

The influence of language cannot be underestimated. During to its functionality and associations, lives can be affected by the language you speak. In this film, a young girl, who is used to a Taiwanese-speaking environment in her own family, finds herself in a foreign environment when she enters school which teaches her Mandarin. This conflict of culture is presented in the form of animation, to often amusing results. Heavier issues of identity get painted in lighter hues with the occasional strokes of humour. All in all, an entertaining and thought-provoking 13 minutes.
‘Deleted’ by Nitaz Sinwattanakul (Thailand)

Playing to the country’s strength in the horror genre, Deleted is about being haunted by a husband that past on many years ago even though a new relationship was forged and the wife has to move on. 

With strong music to add to the suspense, it really caused some goosebumps to arise despite repetition in certain scenes as well as plot progression. Showing familiar elements of chronicling of our lives on social media in this day and age, the play out was simple but relevant to viewers. 

Mack by Bradley Liew  (Malaysia)

‘Mack’ is a boisterous depiction of two motley gangsters arriving to support the infamous serial killer, 'Mack', as a series of unfortunate circumstances turn a simple affair completely awry.  The film is clear in its idea, but slightly uneven in execution, with the possibility of more nuanced characterisations.
‘The Story of Ones’ by Pham Ngoc Lan (Vietnam)

This film was interesting as it did not follow a particular plot or did story-telling with any characters, so that made it refreshing. 

The concept of guiding viewers into different worlds through just a radio channel was pleasant surprising as it left a lot to viewers’ own interpretation and perspective. 


Reviews by  B - Bella Ow, D - Dawn Teo, I - Ivan Choong and J - Jeremy Sing

More on the Asian Film Symposium in an earlier post here.
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