STOP 10 Sep 2017: 'The Tiger of 142B' by Henry and Harry Zhuang

At first glance, 'The Tiger of 142B' by Henry and Harry Zhuang reminded me of the UNICEF ad campaign from the 90s about children's rights. It has a similar style of animation that places its audience in a childlike perspective, even if the subject matter at hand is not 'childlike' at all. Based on Dave Chua's short story of the same name, 'The Tiger of 142B' is about an unemployed man's fascination with string of strange killings in his HDB block, supposedly attributed to a tiger. This effect of this style of animation, then, evokes the sense of an innocent fascination while also posing as an unsettling juxtaposition of childlike wonder with larger socio-political issues.

Chua's story is a beautifully informative snapshot of the quotidien anxieties embedded in the social fabric of an HDB block. Through the different characters and their reactions to the tiger, Chua's story brings various interpretative possibilities. For example, the casual comment from the protagonist's girlfriend about how finding the tiger may redeem Sang Nila Utama's claims of seeing a lion is a telling example of Chua's use of dry humour incisively to comment on issues like national history and identity.

With such rich material in hand, it was a little disappointing that the plot development of the film fell a bit flat. For me, the crux of the story is in the dialogues, particularly in the conversations between the protagonist and his girlfriend. This was something the filmmakers chose to almost omit, which resulted in this feeling like something is missing from the film. For instance, the symbolism of the piano was not as well captured in the abridged version of the conversation the filmmakers chose to incorporate in their screenplay. Perhaps if the conversations were taken away entirely, the film adaptation could have been a more introspective journey into the various interpretations of the tiger Chua's story offers.

At the same time, it could be unfair of me to compare a film with a text. A film after all has its own language at its disposal, a language of which the Zhuang brothers did indeed make good use. Something I found rather interesting about the film was the visual symbolism. For example, when the Indian lady is running down the stairs, the banisters start to look like tiger teeth. When the protagonist is massaging his girlfriend's foot, the folds in her skin start to look like tiger stripes. This reinforced the idea that perhaps the tiger is everywhere and nowhere. In that sense, the tiger is symbolic of all of our fears. Sometimes they are rational and visible, but most of the times fear makes us see ordinary places and things in a much more terrifying way. This sort of symbolism is possible with text, but the way the Zhuang brothers used animation to literally transform everyday objects into fragments of a tiger is much more powerful with a visual medium.

'The Tiger of 142B' is a submission for the 19th DigiCon6 ASIA Awards, under the '2D Animation' category. Organised by the Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., DigiCon6 recognises the work of short filmmakers across Asia, awarding 2D/3D, stop-motion/clay animation as well as live-action films. Viewers have until 5 September to cast votes for their favourite films. For more information, click here.

You can also watch the film here:

By Tanvi Rajvanshi

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