STOP10 Aug 2017: 'The Blue Mansion' by Glen Goei

The Blue Mansion is unmistakably blue. The exteriors of the said mansion are coated in blue walls and inside, the environment and the people inhabiting within are lit with lights coloured in a blue hue. And deep inside the people who live with and associate with the mansion owners have a tint of blue within their hearts.

Glen Goeis second feature since Forever Fever, his musical comedy hit, is The Blue Mansion, a satirical drama-comedy disguised as a mystery story within the vein Robert Altmans Gosford Park.  The film stars Patrick Teoh as Wee Bak Chuan, a wealthy Asian tycoon who has made his fortune selling pineapple tarts, finds himself in a coffin dead and ignored by his family and helpers after waking up one morning. A walking spirit, Wee Bak Chuan wanders his home, observing his dysfunctional family as they reunite to hold a funeral for him. During which, family conflicts will thrive and family secrets will be brought to light.

The story progresses and unfolds with a good pace. While the sudden shift of tone and genre near the end of the film may be a little too jarring for some, the films narrative does a good job to set-up and forebode the hidden darkness in the earlier parts of the story as it naturally juggles between comedic and dramatic aspects quite nicely, with darkly humorous moments within the film being able to be twisted into something more dramatically dark later in the film. The humour also serves as a good juxtaposition to further highlight the eventual conflict of the film.

The Blue Mansion does not aspire for realism; instead it has a more surreal touch. Other than the films fantastical plot of a dead man roaming around as a spirit watching his family, the film places emphasis on the unreality and fantastic supernatural element through its use of saturated colours in the set-design and lighting and the exaggerated theatrical performance of the actors - the way the core characters speak in their perfect sounding English and their carefully engineered dialogue that reveal both character and exposition in a naturalistic manner are clear inspirations from theatre.

The films influences from theatre while they definitely enhance the fantastic and unreal elements of the narrative, they can be seen as a negative trait. There are moments where the characters are allowed to speak a little too much to deliver exposition about the situation and their personalities, while the written dialogue is still written in a manner that can be delivered naturally and the actors performances are certainly strong, the over-reliance in dialogue and the spoken word within certain scenes can detract from the overall experience and remind the viewer that they are watching a film.

But even so, Glen Goei is aware that this is cinema and not the stage, through the lens of director of photography Larry Smith, a cinematographer notable for shooting Stanley Kubricks last work Eyes Wide Shut, through the use of the occasional symmetry, a complementarily opposing colour scheme of cold and warm and the use of shadows that wraps around the characters and shifts like what can only be described as shadows of tentacles against the environment and the characters faces. The film takes on a foreboding tone of the unnatural and surreal.

When I described the plot of the story two paragraphs above, the film would seem rather plot driven, however The Blue Mansions core plot relies on its characters, their motivations and secrets making the characters the engaging aspect of the film, the emotional core. All of these characters have their own motivations, ambitions, flaws and weaknesses. Despite the theatrical dialogue, delivery and performances on the screen, which may detract from the immersive quality that cinema often provides. The three-dimensional and humanly qualities of these characters help us to easily sympathise and understand them.

One of the characters, Wee Teck Meng (Adrian Pang) for instance, is the son overshadowed by his father. Volatile and hot-tempered, he is severely dissatisfied with his life. The matters of his fathers company succession does not make matters better, with his inexperienced older brother Wee Teck Liang (Lim Kay Siu) instead, chosen to succeed. However, he still has a soft spot for his mother.

There is a moment in the film where he and his sister, Wee Pei Shan (Neo Swee Lin), drive home. They remise of the past, of the time when they were young and Teck Meng had been caught smoking by his mother, Wee Siok Lin (Louisa Chong). It is moments like this that bring great humanity into the characters and make them seem real. 

Perhaps a reason why these characters feel so real is because the film appears to be based on an actual powerful and wealthy family in Singapore. It is undeniable that there is an uncanny resemblance between the fictional and the real within The Blue Mansion, several of the events and circumstances of the characters can be found in the presumed history of a very famous Lee family, which if one is aware of the tabloid news surrounding the family, these events and circumstances are not exactly flattering. Still, Mr Goei treads carefully, never mentioning the familys illustrious name in the film and highlighting that the film is a work of fiction at the opening, that all characters appearing in (the) work are fictitious.

With all said, while The Blue Mansion is certainly no masterpiece, it is definitely worth a watch. Although the performances and the dialogue may be seen as too theatrical, the humanity that can be found within the characters is what makes the viewing experience so endearing. 

Written by Timothy Ong Le Hao

And here is the most important piece of information in this whole article. Where can you get hold of the film? The Glen Goei DVD Box Set, containing The Blue Mansion and Forever Fever, his debut feature film hit, was selling at Books Kinokuniya since 2011. Not sure if it is still available there. But we found out Books Actually is selling them online. You can order the box set here.

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