Review: Outsiders (2004)

It took the Singapore censorship board 13 years to come to terms with people being able to witness a pervert making love to a dead body from distance in a wide shot. One can quite safely say serious necrophiliacs are not likely to gain an inch of excitement from the film. There was nothing graphic or gratuitous about the way necrophilic sex was depicted in Sam Loh’s first feature film Outsiders. In fact, it looked pretty unsexy and more like an episode of ‘Crimewatch’.  

Outsiders had a false start in 2004 when Sam decided to pull the film out of the 2004 Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) after the censorship board demanded three cuts to be made to the film, mostly in relation to the scenes described above. Echoing the SIFF’s stance of exhibiting works in their original form, Sam made that hard decision, in a year in which Djinn’s taxi driver drama, Perth and the late Toh Hai Leong’s Zombie Dogs were screened. Thanks to The Filmic Eye and SCAPE, the film finally had its world premiere at the SCAPE Gallery on 17 June 2017.  

13 years is a big deal. But looking at the leaps Sam has made in the last 4 years with Lang Tong and Siew Lup, creating a watershed for commercial erotic thrillers in supposedly ‘conservative’ Singapore, Outsiders seemed no longer that splash in the pond. Of no discredit to Sam, unlike the packed screenings of his two commercial blockbusters, the theatre was not full-house. But whoever came, formed part of a purposeful audience. They were faithful followers of Singapore independent films and Sam Loh, who wanted to close this chapter together with Sam nd satisfy their curiosity for a special league of films whose incidental allure grew out of the overly-eager ‘scissorhands’ of civil servants - banned films.

At this point, women should be warned that Outsiders may not be very much their cup of tea for the reason that many of the female characters find themselves in tragic ends in the film. The film opens with a young girl bent over, hair pulled and body gyrating in rhythm with a man behind her in what looks like a familiar scene in a budget hotel. She dies at the end of the scene. Another female character is a drug-popping maniac whose hyperventilation marks her entire existence in the film. One girl is brain-dead and wheelchair-bound. Finally, the sister of a murdered girl falls all too conveniently for the police officer who came to deliver the bad news of the murder.  

Then again, cut Sam Loh some slack. I think he is a wife-loving, woman-respecting family guy who just wanted to have some fun with the camera. The DV camera to be exact. This film was made during the beginning of the digital filmmaking wave and Danish DV film The Celebration just won an Oscar. With a camera available and literally whole house of actors at his disposal, Outsiders was a virtual 3-man crew, shoot-twice-a-month experiment. The house of actors refers to the fact that through the connection of Corinne Adrienne, one of the actresses, Sam got introduced to a group of actors who were living together in the same rented house in Mutiara Road and they were all keen to come on board and experiment along with Sam.  

The film is essentially a six degree of separation tale about characters revolving around a series of murders committed by a necrophiliac. Centred around two policemen, played by Keagan Kang and Garrett Hoo, who are investigating the murders, a dozen subplots of love and friendship are built around them. Even the necrophiliac has a backstory about him being driven to his perverse ways by the insanity of his drug-popping sister. The two policemen in the film interact with so many women in the film, some of whom dressed not too differently from the other, it is easy to lose track of the plot. However, it does seem like Sam was working on a two-talking-head format in most of the film, either as an artistic choice or due to microphone limitations.  

If the raison d'ĂȘtre of Outsiders was experimentation, Sam really got a big bang for his buck. Half the film’s actors can be found on primetime Channel 5 in the early noughties, namely Keagan Kang, Steph Song, Garrett Hoo, Janice Koh and a very young and nascent Jade Seah. The cast generally delivered believable performances with special mention going out to Janice Koh, a much-lauded stage, film and television actress and former Nominated Member of Parliament, for playing a convincing brain dead patient. The girl needs a trophy! For being the most UNDERUTILISED. That aside, the film is blessed with a highly committed cast willing to go all the way to help the experiment succeed, including baring it all for the camera on their accord, according to Sam as revealed during the post-screening Q&A.  

For those who were at the premiere, if you find your memory of the film a little grainy by now, you are hardly alone because in today’s high-definition world, DV footage is a undeniably a test on the eyesight. But in that hazy impression of Outsiders, it is hoped that one could appreciate an early chapter in filmmaking here when the thought of cooking up something spontaneous was enough to induct some industry professionals into the world of the ‘pro-bono’. Outsiders may not be award-winning material, but it was the outlet of a rather restless and naughty mind, something we should always revisit once in a while.

Review by Jeremy Sing

This review appears in issue 3 of the SINdie quarterly.
The film had its one-off world premiere exactly 9 Saturdays ago on 17 June 2017.
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