STOP10 Jul 2017: 'Red Dragonflies' by Liao Jiekai

Filmmaker Liao Jiekai’s debut film Red Dragonflies came and went too fast about five years ago. We are glad it is back for a one-night screening on 6 July. To call it an ode to the discontinued KTM railway track is to shortchange the film. Is this about nostalgia? It’s a lot more encompassing than that. The jury at the 2010 Jeonju International Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize, were captivated by ‘its mysterious evocation of Singapore's disappearing history’.

In the film, Rachel and her two friends explore an abandoned railway track that runs through a dense forest, but an unforeseen incident brings their little adventure to an abrupt end. Elsewhere, 26-year-old Rachel rekindles an old friendship with a high school friend. When a little boy from her past reappears, Rachel finds herself retracing a trail of iron and wood. Wistful and mysterious, the film depicts a world littered with incongruity, absences and traces of childhood dreams. and yet at parts so dreamily opaque that it may not at once be explicable.

Intertwining and old and new footage, the film drifts dreamily between the past and the present, aptly set within a country off rapid progress constantly threatening the disappearance of spaces.

The film enchants and confounds in equal capacity, and offers very little by way of old-fashioned plot, even though its synopsis could be misread as a sprawling inter-generational epic. We don’t deny it is a polarising film, in which some of us will lose ourselves in it while others get lost in it. It is agreeably still a beautiful film, in an unostentatious, somewhat hypnotic way.

Read our full review of Red Dragonflies, written by Raymond Tan, here.

‘The project began with a discovery of a home-video tape, which documented a hike through an abandoned railway track back in my high school days. The handheld footage that was collectively recorded by different people was an exciting find for me. More than just mere personal memories, the video reveals an intertwined relationship between the place, the people and the time: there is something displaced yet strangely coherent about a group of 17-year-olds dressed in red and white T-shirts and black track pants, walking through an overgrown railway in the early months of 2002. I conceived the film from personal memories of growing up and sentiments about a point in life where one starts to rethink childhood dreams, the purpose of work, and the pursuit of happiness.’

Jiekai recounts how he got inspired for the project.

Read here our full interview with Jiekai on the making of Red Dragonflies, done in 2010.

‘I think that much of the poetry is generated not during the shooting, but during the editing process when shots were string together. It is not about a singular shot, but also what comes before and after that creates a cinematic experience which transcend time and space (there are exceptions of course). One of these moments is established during a series of shots of rain.

The protagonist sat on a makeshift seesaw at the railway tracks, contemplating.
Rain falls on the leaves.
Rain falls on water puddle; camera pans and we see a dark tunnel.
Raining in HDB estate carpark, the protagonist boards a taxi with her luggage.
An anonymous man stares at a stream of light coming through his room window, and leads into the kitchen of his apartment. It is raining outside.

While these shots may not make sense as individual shots, their emotional relationship is established during the edit, and I think they built up to an intangible, quietly contemplative feeling.’

‘We managed to get shots of real Red Dragonflies, which wasn’t planned for in the script. When we came to the railway tracks for the shoot, we found the trail to be scattered with Red Dragonflies everywhere, and of course there is no way we are going to not get a shot of it. The crew can testify to the craziness involve in trying to catch dragonflies with bare hands, caps and pails – we did not catch any that day. We returned with nets the next day and my producer, Lyn, managed to catch a few, and we got our shot.’

‘One of the best moments in the film, and one of my favourite scenes, takes place in a Pasar Malam, where the three protagonists are eating tea eggs and chatting about school and life. I think we really captured the ambience and atmosphere of what seems like a relic of the 20th century amidst the increasing number of malls and shopping centers in neighbourhoods.’

Here are details of the screening event, organised by DECK.
Date: 6 July 2017, Thursday
Time: 7.30pm to 9.15pm
Venue: DECK, 120A Prinsep Street, Singapore 187937
Admission Fee: Entry by donation (suggested donation: $5). All proceeds go to sustaining DECK's ongoing public programmes and exhibitions.
Book tickets from this link.

Written by Jeremy Sing

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