Review: Sunday (2019) @ SGIFF

I am, in the most honest sense, slightly afraid of what I will have to say about Sunday. Not because I can’t bring myself to say anything about it, but because it feels like it is trying to say something very specific which I, for some reason, can’t quite identify. Maybe this is because of my lack of life experience, because Sunday feels like it is capturing a moment beyond my own lexicon and it left me slightly perplexed. Or maybe it is because Sunday feels like someone else’s nightmare from the distant past. It really does. 

Sunday feels like it is somebody else’s subconscious memory materializing and I am intruding on their experience by watching it unfold. And this could, potentially, have prevented me from taking it in completely. It has this bizarre sense of being both timeless and very much from a specific time period. Everything is colored in a brownish pink hue and the characters are given names in the credits, but these names are barely spoken out loud. Almost as if they were forgotten, or some sort of afterthought to the people they belonged to. The aspect ratio seems to allude to a different time, as does the furniture and the physical world these characters inhabit. 

Kris Ong is the director and writer of this short and it feels very personal and slightly revealing. However, in specifically what way is difficult for me to determine. The main character seems to be conflicted in more ways than shown and the short only captures a moment of particularly prominent discourse. The motives of each character seem vague and unclear, as if they are not proactively acting within this world, but just reacting to it’s stimuli. And maybe that is a much more truthful depiction of what most people are actually like. 

In most movies, characters tend to have an almost absolute impact on the world around them. In Sunday, the characters seem as inconsequential to the outside world as much as anyone in the real world watching the short. Ong does not create characters who proclaim, in any way, shape, or form, that they are more important or special than anybody else. They are dealing with their own demons in their own way and whatever impact it has on their peripheral does not seem to be on their minds. Each of the characters in Sunday have some sort of physical ailment. 

The main character has a full body rash which peeks out from her clothes and covers her neck. Her sister’s boyfriend has an injured leg and needs crutches to move around. And there is an elderly character in one of the back rooms of the HDB who has a mystery illness and needs life support to stay alive. Are these afflictions metaphors for something? I can’t tell. If they are personal, they are too secretive to give any real insight. If they are political, I might just be too naive to understand them. But the fact that each character is suffering from something is very curious. 

Everyone has some sort of baggage, and whether or not you can deal with it depends on who you are. The woman is characterized as timid and shy, and could be the kind of person who tries to avoid conflict by never really admitting what is going on in her head. She has approachable, girl-next-door sort of looks, with kind eyes but a nervous smile. The man’s torso is covered is different styles of tattoos, some highly intricate and some plain lines and he looks like a stereotypical “bad boy with a soft side”. He might have been intimidating, but delegated to the couch and crutches, he looks painfully frail. 

Their interactions throughout the short are puzzling. Not once can I find a motive behind their actions, a reason why they are entertaining their ideas, or a good explanation for engaging in oral sex. Maybe it is the mundane or weary setting which surrounds them. That could explain the tendency towards violence, a way to feel something other than numbness. Or it could be the exact opposite, the violence being a defense mechanism from the overload of stimuli that the woman is faced with. 

And, to be truly sincere, that might have been what I liked most about Sunday. Ong does not stuff some sort of didactic message down the audience’s throat, but does not create something that has illogical form and, worse, doesn’t engage. Of course, stories with highly prevalent and obvious meaning will always have a place in the cinematic vocabulary. But to have a space, even just for 17 minutes, which allows for meaningful ambiguity is equally important. 

Sunday by Kris Ong was in competition in the Singapore International Film Festival Southeast Asian Short Film Competition.

Review by Valerie Tan
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