STOP10 Aug 2017: ‘Palace of Love’ by Tang Wan Xin

Palace of Love directed by Tang Wan Xin, tells the story of Linh, a Vietnamese bride arranged into marrying a middle-aged Singaporean man. The film written by Ho Say Peng was nominated for Best Screenplay at the National Youth Film Awards 2016 and he was recently awarded for his short film 'Ward 77'  the Best Direction and Best Screenplay awards for the 2017 edition. Both Say Peng and Wan Xin and are recent alumni of LASALLE’s Puttnam School of Film and Animation as well as the Singapore International Film Festival’s Youth Jury and Critics Programme.

The strength of the film lies in its initial premise, of a man marrying a foreign mail order bride. The elements to create a dramatic story is already present in this very set up. Whilst the specific subject matter of mail order brides is not such a hot topic in general conversation these days, it still feels relevant if only by association, when considering issues over foreign immigration and integration. The only caveat of the promising premise is that it eventually plays each character somewhat too close to type and the story unfolds in a safely predictable and familiar manner. It is odd to say that itself is a credit without sounding backhanded, as I personally felt the overall themes of the story gives you a certain expectation where it feels as though a bigger and more emotional story is still burgeoning under its skin. But as of right now, it is not fully realized or matured.

It seems contradictory that I felt there is a sense of depth to the characters, but their actions were at times too singular and transparent, that there is a loss of the sense of mystery to them. The effect is it feels predictable and we end up seeing ahead of the narrative. That feels much like a missed opportunity as the characters and story initially seemed enigmatic.

One example I think is with Linh, the seemingly submissive Vietnamese bride. It quickly transpires that she has a more criminal intent in mind. Whilst this is interesting, it comes extremely early and telegraphs the film’s structural intent without giving enough ambiguity to keep us curious. It also does not help that there have been many stories in real life of Vietnamese brides running away, stealing from their husbands or moonlighting in vice in the past that it feels all too obvious by now. It seems cliche if only in the grander zeitgeist.

However the strength of the premise itself makes the film engaging enough for me to want to follow through, to see out how each character intentions play out even if most of its revelations turn out quite unsurprising. I do feel somewhat patient with work from first time directors, but even casting that aside I still think the film shows enough good potential if only it tried to be slightly audacious.

One hopes what comes next from Wan Xin or Say Peng is something more daring, taut and surprising.

Written by Rifyal Giffari

You can watch Palace of Love as a prelude to French feature film La Jalousie on 15 August, Tuesday, 8pm at Alliance Francaise.

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

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