Review: You Idiot by Kris Ong @SeaShorts

As a Singaporean millennial myself, I asked filmmaker Kris Ong what is one thing Singapore should know about us youths and our dreams. She responds with a Walt Whitman quote from his poem Song of Myself

"Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself, 
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

And I thought that simple quote encompasses the film as well, that even if my review ended here, it would not have mattered. 

Her short film You Idiot is a glimpse of that carefree nature we associate with youthfulness. Matt and Darren roam the streets at night, and write a song about where their world might end up in the future. 

There is a softness to the film that words escape me. Watching the film warms me, like a familiar embrace that my heart has memorised; forgotten feelings rekindled. Evenly paced throughout, breathing space exists on the screen where one key focus shifts to another. The ordinary shines in the scenes that segue from one to the other, from walking the streets late night to stopping in front of a well-furnished motorcycle and wishing they get to ride their own in time. 

For Kris, the choice of a motorcycle is obvious: "In Singapore a car is like a symbol of affluence, luxury and convenience. But not freedom, at least not to me. It’s just so expensive here. In bigger countries a car might mean escape. But there’s nowhere you can really escape to in Singapore with a registered car. Forget JB. There are a flood of burdensome concerns that come with owning and maintaining a car in Singapore. 

Maybe it’s because I watched “Eating Air” on the big screen when I was a kid. I never forgot the scenes of the ah bengs chasing each other down the highways on their motorcycles. The wind in the tassels of Mark Lee’s leather jacket. I’ve always held onto that romantic image, of rebelliousness and speed."

That romance with an edge is definitely enhanced by the choice to feature music by local musicians in its glory — singing lyrics out loud, jamming on guitars and putting words to music which is usually a process hidden from the public eye. The intimacy of friendship and the silliness stand out while earning a couple of guilty laughs from me, as I recall my own memories of friends, dreams and days of fewer inhibitions. 

But what really strikes me is the constant motion, the sense of moving. A pulse that keeps going, restlessness but not from anxiety or boredom, but from having comfortable company and that taking any direction will be a good one. The characters Matt and Darren spin on a playground ride before going on a journey through multiple means of travel, be it literal or imagined. 

This draws out a romantic notion of wandering and exploration, which is freeing and so exciting. However, perhaps being Singaporean, I also feel a tinge of bittersweetness, knowing that this island country seems to get smaller by the day and not all wanders are rewarded the same. This leads me to think about how we are seduced by the concept of travel so strongly here, and it is made accessible with our passport if you have the financial means to do so. 

"I think in modern times traveling has become emblematic of freedom and escape. It’s not exclusive to Singapore. But it’s true that Singaporeans really love to travel. We have no “countryside” to escape to and forget ourselves in. When you travel your mind opens up, one can imagine all the different ways to exist in a new space. The anonymity is also seductive," Kris offers her two cents at my digression.

I do wonder if our search is for something bigger than ourselves, or simply for a better sense of belonging. To know that our hopes do have a space here and we deserve to exist. Intersections, contradictions and all. 

And bringing it all back to the beginning of this review, we really never are merely one thing at any given point in time and definitely more than one thought, one dream and one feeling. With that, Kris muses, "I don’t think it’s for me to say what audiences should take away from the film. Maybe what I can share is a thought I had as I made the film. Just like how the the characters wander around and then write a song at the end of the night— what informs creation is often an elusive and mysterious process."

Written by Dawn Teo

You Idiot was recently screened at the 2019 SeaShorts Film Festival and won Best Editing, Cinematography and Original Music at the Singapore National Youth Film Awards.

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