STOP10 Mar 2017: 'Goldfish' by Jonathan Cheok

A boy, unexpectedly, meets a girl in a Hong Kong back alley. A series of unfortunate events turned their night around and they realized that they just might have been what each other's looking for all this while. Goldfish is a YouTube short film that takes a look at long distance relationships and the concept of 'love at first sights'. What might not be perfect, could actually be.

The short film belongs to Cheokboard Studios, a YouTube channel created by Jonathan Cheok, which has 215,000 subscribers and more than 37 million views for all its videos created since 2013. Goldfish stole our hearts and we want to pass it on and share the lurve. Here's our review of the film:

Goldfish is a brave attempt at a romantic short film by Jonathan Cheok of Cheokboard Studios, a YouTube personality mostly known for his sensationalistic over the top comedy sketches.

The film is relatively interesting, considering it is a Singaporean production set and shot largely in Hong Kong, over a period of only two days, which is a considerable feat. Furthermore, Jonathan had recently become part of the MM2 Digital Content Producer and it was interesting to see how his YouTube channel is growing under this new partnership. Goldfish is one of the projects that had been supported by MM2 and has been a more serious and personal departure than his usual work of constant slapstick videos, which to me is a small but commendable step for the development of local media content in general.

Other admirable aspects are the brave cinematography risks being made in Goldfish. The film was shot with a DJI Osmo, a handheld stabilized camera system to create dynamic unshaking running sequences and a Sony A7sii to shoot Hong Kong in the glory of the night. These are brave and bold steps, though some of the risks do not pay off. Some shots feel convoluted and forced and image quality is at times strangely poor. One reckons the difference in low light capabilities between the Osmo and A7sii is to blame. Or more accurately, the cinematographer that made those decisions. That being said, again this is a different style than what Jonathan has done before and usually technical quality can always be forgiven with good story.

However, it is not so good on that front either. The characters here are hollow stereotypes with the female character initially engaging with her own worries becoming an instantaneous misogynistic fantasy cliché. In the presence of the romantic interest, she mind-bogglingly becomes completely trusting of him despite him being a complete stranger. She instantly transforms from relatively interesting to becoming some sort of video game reward for the male character for doing something barely decent. This lack of any coherent real world logic and clichéd story is the biggest issue with the film, which affects the acting as well, where the dialogue and actions feel shallow and unmotivated.

Romantic films are built on the charisma and chemistry of the two leads, and in this case, it largely fails. Whilst Jonathan Cheok probably succeeds regularly with his guests in his fast-paced, gag-a-second YouTube sketches, in a narrative and non-comedic format it is clear when the sparks are missing. I found this an issue with his appearance in the 2016 film 4 Love as well. In those stints, we can see that his natural charisma which he uses to power through his sketch gags is not yet engaging enough to be sustainable, whereas the rapid pace and constant change in his usual sketches allow viewers to ignore any annoyances we have with his caricatures before long.

Overall, whilst the film is not perfect, it is interesting to see what online digital creators in Singapore are doing as media becomes more diversified.


We caught up with Jonathan to get behind the scenes of Goldfish.

What inspired you to develop, Goldfish? How did this idea start from?

It started from me falling head over heels for a Hong Kong girl and planning a trip there to be with her. Funny thing is, this was only conceptualized, written and produced the time I was in Hong Kong. I had 2 days to do this on my own.

 Your short is shot in Hong Kong? What is your connection to Hong Kong and why did you decide to set it there? 

Hong Kong brings back both very happy and very sad feelings for me. It is a sensitive topic and one I hold close to my heart. My only connection to Hong Kong is the girl I'm madly in love with (which unfortunately did not work out), the nostalgic old Hong Kong films I've been a fan of since young like Stephen Chow, Jackie Chan, Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To, and I think one of my Mum's cousin is apparently from Hong Kong! I have family there I think.

Some of the shots look interesting and dynamic. What kind of equipment did you use for the shoot?

It was hard finding crew there, being all by myself. Apple did help me source for a couple of extras from TVB, we paid HKD$1000 to rent that specific fish shop because I knew it would fit the look of the film in terms of colours and set. The shop had a red and blue hue to it and just felt very Hong Kong! I begged the Uncle three times, saying I was doing a student project, Apple asked in Cantonese too. I went back a last time, and offered money. It worked!

Besides locations which I had to find. We faced difficulties with audio and the sound guy that helped didn't use the -20DB settings with my Zoom H6 so I had a lot of post audio fixing and cleaning up when I came back. I shot the entire thing with my Sony a7sii and a Osmo that the Hong Kong Director of Photography (DP) rented. We practically just found places to shoot at, I tell the DP what type of shots and framings I wanted, bam bam bam! Shoot and move, run and gun kind of project. We shot this in just 2 days. Hell of an experience man!

 How has becoming an MM2 Entertainment Digital Content Producer changed the way you work? How have they supported you?

Well, mostly they just source for sponsors or fund my videos like Goldfish. I sold it to them and they loved it so they support me in that sense. I am close with them because I acted in their film 4 Love last December. We are also working on an action web series soon.

What’s the most memorable scene in Goldfish for you?

The slow motion montage of Apple and I in the middle from the night market to the cycling (we had to borrow a bicycle). Those were good times. Huge shout out to Spencer, my Irish producer friend who helped me out in Hong Kong.

Any plans for another short film either as a director or act or both? Which is more difficult and which do you enjoy more?

Yes of course. My producer, Isaac and I are planning more of these. We want to make nice films with messages more than just slapstick funny videos on YouTube. I definitely love both aspects and I'm huge on editing all my videos myself. I love editing too.

Any advice for young filmmakers and those looking to get their work seen online?

Just do it. Talk is cheap these days. Millennials have to just get a camera, start shooting and experimenting and getting more experience under their belts. I'm not very good yet and am constantly improving daily. A tip is to watch a lot of movies and films. Draw your inspiration from events that happened to you. For example, Goldfish was a true story based on me. Except no fishes we harmed in the making of this film.

Have you considered sending some of your films to film festivals?
Do you think film festival success and online success is mostly mutually exclusive (i.e. you cannot have both)

I would love to send them but I need to find out how.

Catch Goldfish, here:

Written by Rifyal Giffari 

For the full list of March 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.
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