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Eating Air

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In a nutshell

Love takes a backseat to bonds of friendship and loyalty in this tale of teenage delinquents on motorbikes.

Eating AirYear: 1995.
Place: A darkened cinema hall, the smallest one in the cineplex.
Kelvin Tong is reviewing Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man. He is struck from the get-go by the frenetic opening sequence, the dark subject matter, and joy of joys, Chinese, Hokkien, English as it’s spoken in Singapore.

Yes, this is what a Singapore film could be, one that reflected the loneliness of urban isolation and plunged fearlessly into the macabre and the morbid, and it was exhilarating to watch it unfold on the big screen. Yes, he thinks, why not a movie about another ignored and even despised segment of society — teenage delinquents. But perhaps a lighter tone, possibly with flights of fantasy, and a thumping soundtrack that reflected their world. It’s not inconceivable.

Year: 1999.
Place: Another darkened cinema hall, but still the smallest one in the cineplex.

Royston Tan is slouched down low in his seat. The movie begins and it’s a blast of electric guitars and drums. And Hokkien. Ah Boy is weaving through the CBD area, and in and out of the screen, on his motorcycle. The scene is a combination of close-ups, long shots and still frames. Tan is transfixed by the story of this group of young people, whose strongest bonds are of friendship and loyalty. The naturalistic dialogue, a rich rojak of Hokkien, Chinese, English and Malay, and the visual and aural inventiveness are a breath of fresh air. Yes, he thinks, why not a movie about gang members, a more realistic and gritty one that would plumb the depths of their loneliness. The girl, though, would have to go.
It’s not inconceivable.

Year: 2006.
Place: National Museum of Singapore

You’re in the audience for Cine.SG’s showcase of Singapore films; specifically, Eating Air. The movie came out several years ago but disappeared all too quickly from local screens and you never got round to watching it. The story is about Ah Boy and his buddies, Ah Gu, Cao He Lang and Aw Tau. They hang out, at the arcade, at the HDB void deck, riding their motorbikes, in a kind of timeless existence marked only by the summons of each other’s pages. Ah Boy then meets Ah Girl, though their tentative love story is upstaged by Ah Gu’s reckless behaviour and the dictates of loyalty.

There’s an exuberance to the filmmaking and you like the visual and aural inventiveness. Still, some of it seems to be showiness for its own sake. There’s also a problem with pacing and an uneven tone which makes the ending rather jarring.

The actors are good though. Benjamin Heng and Joseph Cheong are natural and charismatic, and Alvina Toh turns in a convincing performance as Ah Girl, despite the role being somewhat underwritten. Mark Lee and Michelle Chong score some laughs with their portrayals of Lau Beng and a Malaysian shop proprietress respectively, while Kit Chan pops up for a head-scratching cameo.

Yes, you think, this was a worthy effort. And maybe, the story that I have in my head is worth telling too.

It’s not inconceivable.

Directed by Kelvin Tong and Jasmine Ng
Running time: 100 minutes
Released in 1999.

Eating Air is playing at Cine.SG on November 18 (Wednesday) at 7.30pm. Get your tickets at TicketCharge or buy them at the door.

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