Review: Together Apart (from Project Lapis Sagu)

Still from Sanif Olek's The Manifest

When Project Lapis Sagu was launched, it certainly got much attention – 1,209 entries to be exact! Described as Singapore’s first crowd-sourced film initiative, it was spearheaded by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) to encourage discussion on social integration. It was certainly a very bold move to raise discussion on growing public sentiment and social awareness about diversity and tolerance in Singapore. The use of the name ‘Lapis Sagu’ – a multi-layered dessert as its symbol was inspired.

Additionally, the involvement of very credible and experienced film directors – Kelvin Tong, Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal and Sanif Olek – certainly added much credibility and depth. Submissions where open from 16 Nov – 11 Dec 2016 with the short films targeted for release by March 2017 and the public certainly responded!

Fast forward to March and the four entries by Tan Zi Hui, Alvona Loh, Thomas Goh and Sean Loo were the selected winners, and film production went into full gear.

Just as news of the finished films that form the named anthology Together Apart was out, the project also 'earned' some sensationalism when it was announced that the film directed by Eric Khoo (based on the winning entry by Tan Zi Hui) would no longer be included due to concerns raised by the preview audience that it could cause unintentional offence if viewed out of context. To be exact, it was a zombie musical in which zombies were used to represent foreigners while Singaporeans were the 'humans'. Please appear on YouTube soon. It sounds like a riot!

Here are our thoughts on the works.

Sanjay (00:16-20:59)
Directed by K. Rajagopal and based on the logline from Sean Loo

The first short film that kicks off the anthology details the story of a young foreign Indian couple who migrated to Singapore in search of better opportunities. Fresh of the buzz of A Yellow Bird, many viewers would harbour much anticipation for the film and it certainly did not disappoint. It was a grounded story that portrayed the real challenges of integration into new cultures while simultaneously highlighting the contributions (both social and economic) that foreign talents bring.

On a closer look, the premise of the story could be further strengthened as the cause of conflict between Sanjay (Mayur Gupta) and his manager (Oon Shu An) did not seem to raise the stakes high enough. However, the storyline is still well-executed towards the end. Wife Divya (Mayur Gupta) and a cameo by Ghafir Akbar certainly added much depth and colour to the short film. Overall, an easy film to appreciate, Sanjay is definitely more than the sum of its parts – a clear storyline that was well executed both performance wise by the actors and cinematically well crafted by the director and production team.

The Manifest (21:00-36:51) 
Directed by Sanif Olek and based on the logline from Thomas Goh

The second film in the anthology took us the audience over 100 years into the future. Where Singapore now had its own space program and we enter right smack in the middle of a bickering exchange between an overseas educated Kyle / Khalil Barret (Keagan Kang), and a local boy made good Morgan / Murugan (Sivakumar Palakrishnan). The voice of the spaceship (Aidli Mosbit) adds a sense of logic and calm to the tense exchanges between the two crew members as they argue about the role and contributions of foreigners in a modern Singapore.

This short film is an unexpected gem. The premise of the film itself is perhaps not unfamiliar in this day of science fiction films. However, the context and execution, together with the brilliant twist at the end was certainly nearing genius in the film’s ability to create and solve the unexpected. What seemed initially to be plot holes or perhaps weak elements at the beginning of the film, raised questions that were well and truly answered by the end. It was a true pleasure to watch a story journey so well paced and well executed.

It would really be nit picking by perhaps suggesting for a stronger, grounded exchange between Kyle and his father – and perhaps a very slight tweak to the opening line’s use of both ‘advised’ and ‘advice’ in the same sentence! In its entirety, The Manifest proved to be a very successful marriage of story, performance and direction.

Beijing, Mumbai, Tampines (BMT) (36:52-46:57)
Directed by Kelvin Tong and based on the logline from Alvona Loh

The final short film in this anthology touches upon the shared experience of a group of National Service recruits consisting both of ordinary Singaporeans and new citizens. It is a refreshingly unapologetic display of the surface tensions that exist, and seeks to unwrap the shared experience and humanity underneath.

Of all the films in the anthology, this is perhaps the most identifiable. National Service is a common shared experience for many Singaporeans – not just for the recruits themselves but also for their families and loved ones. This film was evidently highly efficient and clear in its aim and purpose. The story’s arch – beginning, middle and end – was well defined and the message of common understanding clearly communicated. While perhaps it is not the most complex of stories, its charm lies in its simplicity and ability to engage.

Photo credit: MCI

Never mind it is part of another government campaign, the stories do serve a good purpose, as a common language and reminder of being a modern Singapore in today’s society. We are ultimately a country built mostly by immigrants and we need to start talking to each other more.

Review by Ivan Choong

Watch the entire film  'Together Apart: The Anthology' here:

Posters credit website.

For more information on Project Lapis Sagu

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