SINdie reviews: 1400

The most remarkable fact about 1400 was that it was even made at all. With no script, no funds, and little support, director Derrick Lui laboured through 7 years of production hell to finally finish the film in 2015. Thus, regardless of its stumbles, the film remains a Herculean accomplishment, and Derrick Lui certainly deserves praise for enduring where lesser men would have faltered.

In the same vein as the recent In the Room (although it was conceptualized and filmed long before its release), 1400 is an omnibus film set in a hotel, the eponymous 1400 in Geylang. It follows 4 different stories of love, and as each unfurls, seeks to weave them into a greater narrative about the nature of modern love.

For a shoestring budget, a feature debut, and with a director playing almost every single conceivable production role, 1400 is technically achieved. Sidestepping potential hurdles with a simplistic, minimalist set and certainly with deft skill, director Derrick Lui has each sequence glossed with a professional sheen, such that every frame is watchable, and nothing looks out of place.

And yet, the film is not without its troubles.

1400 is neither subtle nor abashed in its darker take on love, with the film segmented into vignettes, each labelled explicitly to signify loss, lust, etc. Unafraid to pursue the plotlines to their ends, however tragic or melancholic, it’s conceptually fresh among local films and dramas, who never seem to grapple honestly with love’s sombre realities. But the poignancy of whatever conclusions the film seeks to draw is neutered by bland and uninspired characterization. The fragmented and transient nature of the scenes starves the characters of badly needed screen time, and coupled with a weak dialogue that descends into stereotypes and platitudes, none of the characters progress meaningfully. The relationship between an aspiring songwriter and blind florist’s daughter seems like an import from mando-pop music videos, with both playing the role of idealistic lovebirds whose emotion and affection come assumed, and worse, remain unexplained. The sinful union of 2 adulterous professionals is rendered inane by conversations that rarely offer much to consider other than the fact that both are married, and bored. The story of an elderly widower who relives her touch through the services of prostitutes is a refreshing breather, with a more far better and more convincing character, but alas, it cannot save the rest.

Thematically, the film does not succeed to tie the disparate strings of its multiple plotlines into a cohesive whole. Yes, each plot is somewhat about love, but that is insufficient to justify any overarching theme. Each of the plotlines progress independent of one another, which can work for an omnibus film, except that the insights and conclusion each derives don’t mesh to create any unifying framework, and sometimes contradict each other. Throughout the film, the characters interact at the 1400 hotel, sharing dinner conversations and chance encounters, but their interactions are hollow: a lack of clarity as to what the film is trying to say, when translated down to the level of dialogue, often results in garbled interference. There are confusing mixed messages as well. The film does not end well for many of its characters, many of whom find their expectations ruined, or are consumed by their inner demons. And yet, the singer and his blind girlfriend manage to ride off into the sunset in an idealistic celebration of young love, which juxtaposed with the jarring realities of their parallel stories, seem foolhardy and perhaps even immature.

The acting itself is inconsistent. Vincent Lee, a veteran, plays his tragic character stalwartly, particularly in the moments of vulnerability. Although limited by poor scripting, Ya Hui delivers her lines as best as she can, and while nothing stellar, the scenes of intimacy survive scrutiny with her convincing acting. But somewhat cringe-worthy are Maria Alexander and William Luwandi, whose accents and mannerisms are so off that they only seek to reinforce the stereotype of an airheaded, pretentious middle class professional.

In conclusion, 1400 had an idea with potential and solid technicals, but when it came to the plot and some of acting, it was an uneven performance. Director Derrick Lui surely has the guts, and willingness to work with more difficult material, and my hope is that with a better team, and particularly with better scripting and casting, he can one day produce a great Singaporean film.

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