Wee Li Lin and Sanif Olek Go Back to Their 'Roots' with 2 New Short Films

The hairdresser's a popular stop for movie directors, not to get their hair done but to shoot a film. The interplay of colours, mirrors, machines and clutter forms a richly textured visual tapestry. To complete the ambience, the hairdressers often come with over-the-top personalities. Think the musical 'Hairspray' or a dozen other 'chick flicks' where the female characters go to get their plot-pivotting transformation done. At the same time, hairdressers can be agony aunts too who are there to listen to your petty complaints about anything while kneading hard at your skull with hands full of shampoo lather.

Wee Li Lin's 'The Perm', a commissioned short film under the ciNE65 short film competition brings us back to these familiar settings. Guided by the competition's theme for next year 'Home.Truly', 'The Perm' explores the idea of a neighbourhood hair salon as a home, a sanctuary where the 'auntie' hairdresser knows you almost as well as your mother. A young girl experiments with her first perm (hoping to look like a K-pop starlet), at a hair salon that she had been visiting since she was a little girl. However the perm turns out very differently from what she had expected and she reacts with huge disappointment, only to be quickly coddled and reassured by her mother and the ‘auntie’ hairdresser.

According to Li Lin, the film was inspired by personal memories of growing up and spending a lot of time in old-school hair salons where the hairdressers who took care of her hair knew intimate things about her family and herself, and vice versa. Shot in a candy coloured palette reminiscent of 'Hairspray' the movie but in less neon-like pantones, 'The Perm' is an affirming tale about the concept of family and also growing up. To the young teenage girl, the salon is both a home and a cage – home because it is where she grew up with and she has become ‘family’ with the hairdressers; cage because there is a glitzy world out there beckoning to her to leave the ‘same-old’ and the entrenched. The film navigates between these two contrasting feelings, enrichening our understanding of the concept of home, that our relationship with home goes beyond a straightforward love. Because it is bittersweet, it means so much more to us.
Released at the same time as another short film commissioned under ciNE65, ‘The Usual’ by Sanif Olek is a companion piece to ‘The Perm’, as it is set in a traditional Malay barber. Take away the candy hues of ‘The Perm’ and the prettily framed mise-en-scene, add a generous dash of naturalism and an exclusively male environment, you get ‘The Usual’. The film strums up the same themes and metaphors as ‘The Perm’, that a home can be found in what is deemed familiar in your life. What’s familiar is of course this neighbourhood barber where Rosli, a young man was frequently brought to by his late father. Rosli feared getting haircuts but the barber always had a way to dispel his fear - stoking heroic dreams in him of being a Commando. Switching seamlessly between flashbacks and the present, the film stretches the boundaries of time in Rosli’s personal experience and also accentuates the fact that this barber has an undeniable timeless quality. ‘Home’ is after all always evergreen. 

Sanif’s inspiration for ‘The Usual’ came from his fond memories of growing up in a closely-knit multicultural community in rural Jurong, as well as his NS experiences. He feels proud to have served as a Commando in the army and the film marries this sense of pride with familiar boyhood experiences in the barber. Whether intended or not, It must be applauded how tastefully and seamlessly the element of national defence is being sowed into the film body and spirit, cos ciNE65 is a film competition organised by Nexus/MINDEF after all. And Minster Ng Eng Hen gets 8/10 for his cameo and delivering his only line ‘The Usual’ without sounding like a fish out of water. 

Indeed, the hairdressers’ or barbers often represent cradles of hopes and dreams and sanctuaries of honesty for many people. It is no wonder it becomes fodder for filmmakers. Here are some hairy tales from other local filmmakers. 

'Red Panther Barber Shop' is a documentary entry into the 3rd edition of ciNE65 in 2015 about a local barber shop, directed by Mohamed Ridzwan and Premnath Kulartnam.

Talk about making an entrance, director Royston Tan surely knows how to, with his glorious salon facade opening, tracked to the tune of old Chinese singer Ge Lan's all-time classic    不管你事誰。

Anthony Chen's epic Chinese New Year production follows the a barber through the formative decades of Singapore coming-of-age, namely the 60s, 80s and 00s. For the boys, there is no doubt that growing-up memories find a common home at the local barber's.

Written by Jeremy Sing

Learn more about the upcoming ciNE65 film competition and how you can take part, in our previous article posted last week. 
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