Saturday, August 04, 2007

Singapore Wave

Joel and Che Yok invited me to a screening of 7 short films from Singapore last night at the Candid Arts Trust in Islington. Che Yok is a founding member of the Singapore Creative Network_UK, a non-profit that serves as a platform for creative people in the Singaporean community to network and exchange ideas. (They have a Facebook group too.)

This anthology of emerging Singaporean talent had two halves, the first marginally better than the second, separated by an interval with alcoholic beverages that only the Europeans in the audience seemed especially keen to queue up for.

When I arrived there was a slim Singaporean girl hesitating at the top of the narrow wooden staircase leading down to the basement. There was a paper sign on the wall with an arrow pointing downwards beneath the words 'Life drawing classes'. If she'd arrived ten minutes later she may never have followed my lead down there, because the first film, Bedroom Dancing, kicked off with the loudly amplified sounds of a couple striving frantically for sexual ecstasy.

This piece fictionalises the true story of a man fined $6500 for masturbating in his own flat. We see how this occurs every morning when his girlfriend fails to stir on time for round two. We also see a joyless and lonely yuppy woman crouched down below her net curtains, almost too horrified to see what might be going on in the apartment in front. We are to assume that she is the perpetrator of the police report. This turned out to be the most satisfactory of the films on show, but personally I would have either not shown the accuser at all, or created a bit more doubt as to which of the overlooking neighbours had found this free show all too much to bear.

Innocent was an uncomfortably intrusive documentary about a young family recently deprived of their mother as she had committed suicide following a police interview. A baby-minder, the woman had initially misreported the circumstances of an accident that occurred to one of her charges. Racked with shame and perhaps also determined to demonstrate her innocence, the woman lept to her death from the 22nd floor of an apartment block. (It's bizarre how that one floor now has a grille across the balcony, as if jumping from the 21st floor instead wouldn't occur to the would-be suicide.) It is not just the fact that my uncle ended his life this same way that made this a depressing experience. The family's powerlessness was palpable, and it obviously also played a role in facilitating the film-maker's ability to zoom in a bit too close on the grieving children, one of whom was encouraged to describe the state of her mother's splattered brain matter.

G23 was a nicely shot mood piece about a run-down old cinema whose regular patrons are all, in the manner of Argie movies, eccentric characters. For example there's the sad old man that still buys an extra ticket for this dead wife etc. The lingering moments between the aloof, smoking 'middle-aged woman' and the 'ticket tearer' are highly reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love.

There was also a fairly pointless (and dialogue-less) film about a rentboy appropriately called Untitled and a piss-take of Memoirs of a Geisha that would probably get three stars on YouTube. Hock Hiap Long was a nostalgic piece about a 55-year old coffee shop on Singapore's Armenian Street that has had to make way for urban development. Halfway through it explodes into a cha cha cha dance sequence with twirling multicoloured umbrellas. Before that it featured some evocative shots of the coffee shop's store of ingredients and its long-term inmates.

The final film was in Spanish, oddly enough, but directed by Singaporean Boo Junfeng: Un Retrato de Familia, a subtly observed short story that kicks off when a little girl asks her brother "what does sex mean?"

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