SINdie: Singapore Short Cuts #5 Week 3: Caramel by Kelvin Ke
I cannot resist a comment about casting Fish Chaar in a short film. He has a knack for certain roles and this one was again up his alley. While being puzzled by the meaning of the title, no time is wasted in establishing the abusiveness of the husband and the silenced and tortured state of his wife.
In a darkly lit grimy little HDB flat, his wife returns to the flat, looking resigned and fatigued. The husband, like an animal, demands a quick fix in physical pleasure only to be shoved off. What follows the next day is an act of blatant infidelity from the husband, who hires a call girl to the house, on the excuse of introducing a tenant to the flat. Quite evidently, this is starting to read like the ‘Home’ section of domestic news on the Straits Times.
Detailed, chronological and graphic, Caramel is a recount of an imagined incident of spousal abuse leading to manslaughter. An unemployed, rougish-looking young man takes his meek and submissive wife for granted and frequently hurls a tonne of verbal abuse on her. She is chided for her cooking, for shoving off his libidinous signals and for even displaying displeasure.
For a newcomer, the directing effort is credible. The characters are suitably casted though looking a little too stereotypcial and predictable for their roles. I mean Fish has played numerous bad-ass roles like gangsters and criminals with his knack for manoeuvring cigarette sticks and pursing his lips. The girl playing the wife is pint-sized and has a vulnerable-looking face, almost too easy to be trampled over. Despite its rather `Soapish’ style, there was very little overacting. The overacting came from the storytelling, often lingering too much over the actual points of attrition betwen the couple. Sometimes, there was also a tad too much repetition in the husband-wife tussle.
While the film offers a vivid depiction of abuse, if it developed another dimension of the story, it would have cut the issue more insightfully and perhaps poignantly – the reason of her attachment to her abusive husband. While we are often quick to judge and decide for a character like hers that she should simply pack her bags to run away, we are seldom sensitive enough to the backstories that cause the moral dilemmas. In a swift flashback scene towards the end, we witness how her present husband rescued her from the incestuous attempt of her own father. A pertinent and gripping point I felt. However, the extent of the insight was short and overshadowed by a cliche – a scene at a coastline where his arms are wrapped around her and he pledges to her that he will never let anyone hurt her.
Directors must be an abusive, gory and sadistic lot who love the oozing sound of blood. Like the physical equivalent of dismantling a gadget or machine, we just have to chop up someone when given a `reel’ chance to. Last year, there was another short name A Suicide Symphony where a body parts again played an important role in the story. According to Kelvin, the inspiration was from real life accounts. To me, it shows that for people these days, it’s no longer a big deal to chop up bodies. But I would have preferred a little more suggestion a little less depiction nonetheless.
After the husband was brutally hacked up in the film, I thought in my mind, she would probably have to face some real concrete in a cell for her deed. Which I think could make a sequel even more intriguing than this one.