Film Review: Ploy (2020)

This iteration of SGIFF witnesses the world premiere of one of its inaugural Film Fund recipients—Ploy by Thai visual artist and film director Prapat Jiwarangsan. The documentary is as much an experimental narration of migrant workers’ lived experience in Singapore as it is the story of the visual artist seeking to represent these marginalised voices.

The film features the story of Ploy, a Thai woman who leaves Buriram Province in search of a life beyond her hometown, winding up in Singapore as an illegal sex worker at a makeshift “jungle brothel” in a secluded forested area. The story was originally featured in Koi Glai Baan (Persons Far From Home), a collection of migrant workers’ short biographies edited by Pattana Kitiarsa, which the director had chanced upon and was inspired by. A plethora of filmic devices were used to give visual form to the stories: footage of the Thai province, of the journey travelling to Singapore through Malaysia, first-person perspective voiceovers of the subjective recount of the garden-city.

But as a visual artist, Prapat Jiwarangsan does not hesitate to augment and effectively interject the documentary with incisive utterances made in the language of photography and installation art. A slideshow of film negatives capturing congregations of migrant workers in public spaces of the urban city casts them in the light of otherness, of being the diametrical opposite of the citizen. He also records a series of photo slides of sex workers sequentially projected onto the interior of a bedroom, bodies transfigured when the light hits off uneven surfaces. The act of abstracting away the recognisable forms of human figures can be read at once as a means to anonymise these subjects, and at the same time an allusion to the violence inscribed upon their bodies to cause such transmutations.

Indeed, structural violence and injustice are the main targets of the documentary. Ploy was raped by a police officer, but the juridical system failed to bring justice to her case. Viewers never see the actual proceedings nor direct interviews with anyone remotely related to the event, only a voice recounting the story against a forested backdrop. That the narrative is only accessible through acting and reconstructed imageries suffices to illustrate the silencing and repressive effect of the state apparatus on marginalised voices.

Extended long shots of natural landscapes also come in profusion. They were and continue to be witnesses to activities that lie outside the purview of the public eye, but not necessarily of the government. Signages and locked gates forbidding entry to particular parts of Singapore’s natural environment are among the elements made prominent in the documentary, symptomatic of the state’s pervasive discipline mechanisms. More than that, they pointedly allude to a contradiction, or duplicity, in Singapore’s relation with nature: what is prima facie considered a desirable, lively element of a city-garden suddenly takes on a connotation of obscurity, prohibition, and hostility. The status quo is thus elaborately exposed and problematised.

We see on screen the filmmaker painstakingly making several marker strokes on the film negatives, which turn into ghostly white marks after development. It is an act of cognition. And an inescapably violent one.

Written by Dan Tran


0 cent worth