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SIFF: Review of Lucky7 by Sun Koh, et al.

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First there is the pitched anticipation that comes in the wake of a titillatingly good concept. Then, you’ll find yourself rather cooled off by the lukewarm result, and only later, maybe, will you discover one, then another little opening to the possibility of at least a partial reconciliation.

lucky1.jpgSuch is the case with the collaborative feature film entitled Lucky7, which had its Asian Premiere at this year’s 21st Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). Initiated by Sun Koh, it was thought up as a film project in which seven directors, whom she chose for their dis-similarity and creative potential, would jointly come up with a feature length film by contributing a 10-12 minutes segment each. There were only three rules for playing the game: the given length of each part; the condition that every director would only get to know of the last minute of their preceding segment and the use of the same lead actor throughout.

The experimental, segmented feature is held together, if at all, by the performance of a fabulous Sunny Pang, who deserves due credit for all his adaptability to meet the wide span of demands he had to face in playing such vastly different roles. Over the one-and-a-half hours’ course of the movie he is first introduced as an estranged son who finds himself in the awkward position of having to take care of his dying father, and ends up a homeless inhabitant of that comically plural garden-city aka Singapore. His is not a character exactly, but rather an envelope producing one lucky card of instructions at a time and successively revealing aspects of performative gameplay.

Sun Koh’s kick-off is the most flawlessly executed and mature cinematic micro tale of the entire array, credibly establishing the mind situation of the son who is challenged by his father’s homecoming, and the condition in which this puts them in. It is well-captured and quite naturally paced – not overly elaborate, but strong when it comes to showing the oppositional uses of music (offering space for refuge and seclusion, or reaching out to bridge and connect).

K Rajagopal takes over from there and the viewer is transported into some indefinable dream-like realm of a desert setting, which is then contrasted with scenes showing the young man’s bleak life of urban irritation and suppressed sexual fantasies. The pronounced colouring and some deliberately erratic cuts give an eerily exciting atmosphere of digging into the unvoiced, of exposing the pathetic contradictions of a stereotyped anal existence.

The third segment, directed by Boo Junfeng, veers off from that path which follows after images, but narrates the story of two siblings dealing with the situation of the younger one’s sex reversal. It is probably due more to the somewhat lofty and predictable approach to the matter, rather than the way it is handled (shot skilfully) which makes it seem like so much thin air – vanishing without having much impact.

lucky2.jpgThe issue of sex continues as Brian Gothong Tan leads us next into the wondrous world of obsession and shared loneliness at an average HDB night-shift. Heat and humidity permeate the setting and set the protagonist and a mysterious girl in a nightgown afloat in their enactment of hunger. Eventually the portrayal liquefies into animation and takes on a very witty and enjoyable pulse with a beat of odd movements and music.

Next in line is Chew Tze Chuan, who gives his wholly jocular montage of madness and perversion in a stab of authoritarian guidance exerted through censorship. His segment affords a great deal of readiness to embrace the trashy in an effort to make you go along, but I found it rather tedious and not very original. An accumulation of oblique angles in itself does not make a point of denial or anger – it passes on a feeling of enervation to the viewer, who probably have seen something like this before.

But then something happens which is unforeseen and intelligent – a recap of what’s contained within the episodes up to this point in the actor’s own words. He is for once allowed to step out of the frame of directed performance to reflect on his roles. This meta mise en scène of Sunny Pang walking along in a MRT terminal station to tell about his journey so far, plausibly brings the film to a hold, and is a well calculated twist of perspective that reenergizes the experiment it is part of; thanks to a brilliant idea by Ho Tzu Nyeen.

Lastly, it is Tania Sng’s turn to give an ironic take on Singapore as a multicultural, yet orderly park paradise, earning “Lucky7” more entertainment credit. With the protagonist basically just squatting on one of the benches facing the sea and seeking calm, he observes and is in turn observed by his fellow citizens. Thus we are challenged about what the experience of littering and pollution in our community actually means. It is in this segment that Sunny delivers his best performance by facial expressions and gestures mostly, which really goes to show his talent for comedy, and concluding the film on an up beat.

lucky3.jpg“Entertain oneself by making movies!” is the statement put forth by the Lucky7 website – a statement which to me is as much of a blunt confession stating the obvious as it is a hilariously subversive comment on it all (not just the local filmmaking scene). And in this sense the undertaking is perfectly justified from the outset – no further comment needed. However, eventually the product has to be convincing as a film in its own right, and what in jest or in earnest may seem quite superficial and laconic at first will acquire the somewhat stale taste of an exercise in self-immunisation rather than permissible narcissism. It doesn’t matter whether the directors like it or not – in the end it is the public who will decide for themselves and pass judgement – and there is no pre-empting the question of quality.

Coming back to the matter of creating an exquisite-corpse (which is what this film set out to attempt), there is no getting around the fact that it is not. I was left wondering: “Where is the teamwork? Get back to film!” Because this concept is all in the handover (like in a relay), you must be aware of the others’ timing and pace and trust that the course which you are running will eventually come full circle, if only on incongruous levels.

In Lucky7 there is no real picking up, no trust in film’s own power to continue (with the sole wizardly exception of the penultimate segment). Some parts work by themselves as noteworthy short films (such as K Rajagopal’s serving of desert and cucumbers); some actually manage to get behind the original concept (Ho Tzu Nyeen’s stroke of terminal genius), while others fail to achieve either of the two. As a film Lucky7 does not add up, but as an interlinked or loosely related series of shorts, it probably does and has its appeal, even if the viewing experience is jagged and only halfway rewarding.

On the whole I’d say that Lucky7 is for film buffs only. As an enterprise to loosen up format constraints and production templates which govern the industry (and sometimes hamper some of the more delicate of talents out there), this project certainly has further potential. Whether it will be put to future use or not still remains to be seen, but as an exercise to train some creative muscle and add an element of open-mindedness and versatility to the landscape of Singapore filmmaking, Lucky7 is significant; more so (possibly) for those involved in its making than for the audience. But this, of course, depends on the nature of your appetite – and that might rightfully vary.

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