The Secret Heaven
Directed by Sun Koh
Running time: 16 minutes
Released in 2002
In a nutshell
A young girl is forced to learn the piano by her overbearing mother and seeks escape from her brutal reality.
Heaven-ly story, despite flat characters
The first time I saw this film, I thought, “Damn, that girl is cute in a cherubic kind of way!” The second time I watched it, I thought, “Damn, that girl is cute in a cherubic kind of way!” Because that’s all I really came away with. I couldn’t get past the winsomeness that was Tan Hui Er.
Hui Er, who played the lead character, Qian Qian, reminded me of the Olsen twins from back in the day. Like them, her acting was wooden and she sounded like she was reading lines from a too-thick novel. But she had her looks and milked them for all that they were worth.
Don’t get me wrong. The story is engaging as a reflection of what children go through today. It certainly made me think about why we push our children so hard at their expense. And this film gave a possible outcome to such pushing, albeit one that most parents would find dreadfully horrific. But if not for Hui Er in the lead role, I don’t think I would have been as captivated by the film.
Unfortunately, she was also the only well-rounded character. The mother (Leanne Ong Teck Lian) was one-dimensional, the father (Tan Tian Tse) came across as a bumbling, henpecked husband, and the sister (Amanda Tan) was like a wallflower. Even Karen Lim, for all of her acting experience, seemed as if she was having an off day. None of them made me feel anything — except maybe the mother, who frightened me with her cane and loud bark.
On the upside, the story doesn’t suffer because of this, and I figure that it’s a good trade-off. So I’ll settle for admiring Hui Er’s cherubic looks.