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Fooism: The Great Leap Forward

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The year 2008 has started with film projects abuzz. We are at the cusp of our first quarter of the year, and already Singapore has been treated with two local cinema releases of Singapore-made features with more in store from ardent film distributor Golden Village.

The first, ‘Ah Long Pte Ltd’ is from the ubiquitous Jack Neo, entertainer and impresario extraordinaire, this time offering a movie about loan sharks and the triads. The other is movie studio Raintree Pictures’ foray into the love romance genre, a movie entitled, ‘The Leap Years’ directed by first-time helmer Jean Yeo.

The feature film buzz is very contagious. Everyone is making a feature film. Everyone plans to make a feature film, or is planning to release their own this year. The underground circuit (read: non-government nor studio funded film projects) is teeming with at least 5 feature film projects that are already looking for distribution, in post-production, planning to be shot. As in previous years, this is a cyclical phenomenon.

Everyone is hopeful at the start of the year, so are the filmmakers. A new year means a slate wiped clean, a new hope ingested and faith in the creative renewed. Not to be the wet blanket, but by the middle of the year, much of this enthusiasm will wane. Completed films do not find distribution, released films do not recoup, traveling films fail to gain foothold in festivals, new films cannot find funds, and the hit list goes on.

The end of the year comes and only, and barely a handful of films, who were given a glimpse of the ‘promised land’ will ever get made. Some fall in a lull, but only to be revitalized when the next year starts. It is as amazing as it is intriguing. Outsiders fail to understand this cycle. Why make things so hard on yourself? Why keep banging your head? Why squeeze blood from a rock?

Film will be film. And filmmakers will be filmmakers. There is a certain mystique for filmmakers in the word ‘feature’ film. That seems to be the benchmark of superiority, status, ability and it is career-defining. Everyone believes in themselves and their own vision, passion and craft. This has to be matched with opportunity and resources and a dollop of luck to make all this happen.

For a select few, these combinations fall into place like clockwork. But for the rest, it is a long arduous road only fuel by passion near obsessive compulsion. The irony here is only by doing it, filmmakers learn, and eventually evolve to be better filmmakers. What is disconcerting here, is what price is there to be paid for this obsession. And how many Singapore filmmakers have the luxury of continuous filmmaking?

Jack Neo doesn’t deliver anything less than expected of his latest film. I count him as the rare few filmmakers who have the continued opportunity to make their films, and hence hone their craft. In ‘Ah Long Pte Ltd’, we revisit the ‘Ah Long’ story via a parody of sorts. ‘Ah Long’ is a euphemism long used in chinese dialect to mean ‘loan shark’ or ‘money-lending triad’. It is taken from, so I have heard, the act of the triads cutting the ear of the debtors, leaving a gaping hole (‘long’) behind of what’s left of the ear lobe.

Jack’s rendition pays very close homage to Korean flick ‘My Wife is a Gangster’ and takes the issues to a much lighter but albeit more dramatic touch. Scorsese it is not, screen blood does not measure by the litre. The is a Singapore film, it still needs to be considered for the greater family savvy market.

‘The Leap Years’ is an adaptation of a well-known local short story. It has taken the studio two leap years to develop this love story of soul-mates promising to meet every leap year with their plotlines of unrequited love, duty-bound love and instinctive love all woven in tow. A first for the director, the film did show some teething jitters although the lead actress proved that she could hold cinematic attention.

Hailing from a television drama background, crafting and blocking proved uneven and challenges the minimal necessary innuendos of cinema. Nonetheless, for a first feature to have such resources is a privilege that was well made use of. Overall, the question now lies whether this love story is poised to be considered as universal as its genre.

For both these film directors, the ball is rolling. For many others, they are like pinballs waiting to be released into the game. Is the spring cranked back far enough for the pinball to soar? Are filmmakers in the correct state of mind to take the plunge? There is no right answer. And the only answer you can get is just to try.

Building Singapore’s film industry, it is a great leap for everyone. For filmmakers, it is a leap of determination. For investors it is a leap of faith. Even for the audience, it is a leap of confidence. I think it is a great leap – and a leap FORWARD. We all just have to land on both two feet, and not tumble and fall back!

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