The Leap Years

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By Cheng Xiaoan

The local film industry has a general unspoken segregation between mainstream English language and Mandarin films – the latter tend to be more commercial, while the former mostly consists of elusive art-house films (just look at Jack Neo’s I Not Stupid and Eric Khoo’s Twelve Storeys).

So what happens when a film tries to straddle this imaginary boundary? Jean Yeo precisely tries to do so with her film, with relative success.

Adapted from well-established local author Catherine Lim, the film centers around Li- Ann, played by local actress Wong Li Lin, who does a good job portraying the likeable nubile romantic who has been single for twenty-four years, waiting for her true love.

She meets Jeremy (Ananda Everingham) serendipitously at a café and falls for him. Using the Irish tradition about February 29th (as she is a leap year baby) in which a man is not allowed to refuse a woman’s request, she proposes a blind date.

Due to certain circumstances, they promise to meet every leap year, at the same time and place. Forthwith, a slew of about every single cliché in the how- to- write- a- love- story formula book is thrown out, including the pining best friend (Qi Yuwu), and “ditching the groom at the altar and running in the rain to meet her clandestine lover” scene (Garry Marshall’s Runaway Bride anyone?).

This is definitely your typical chick flick, which would appeal generally to the romantics in the audience. Such a storybook romance told in this concrete jungle would undoubtedly raise the inured audience’s cynical eyebrows. However, is Yeo merely trying to follow in the footsteps of this tried and tested Hollywood formula? If so, was it a successful attempt?

At an international level, this film would have fallen flat with its ho-hum script, which pretty much lost me in the first half. However, once one gets past the slow buildup from her childhood to the point she meets Jeremy (which was rather redundant and could do with some major editing), the film brings itself up to a national level box office success.

Cinematographic and production wise, the film was well -put together. The Leap Years actually seemed like a film that belonged to the theatre, unlike many local films that end up looking like a television blockbuster episode blown up on the big screen. It is not overtly dramatic, a trap that most local films tend to fall into.

Jean Yeo knows just when to reel it back in, preventing it from becoming a weepy soap opera. There are even certain classic memorable scenes that could score this film a cult status. Jeremy’s borrowing of the waitress’s lipstick to write a reply to Li- Ann on his palms harks back to John Cusack’s boom- box scene in Say Anything (dir. Cameron Crowe), and is enough to tug any jaded cynic’s heartstrings.

However, the film could do without the angsty teenage daughter- mother drama near the end. As a romantic movie, Jean Yeo should have concentrated on the turmoil of the surreptitious affair rather than extrapolating to the future and trying to encapsulate too many themes at once. The one- liner uttered by Vernetta Lopez’s character regarding homosexual relationships was another endeavor at catharsis, as she tries to broach the problems faced by unconventional couples. However, the attempt was much too superficial and the film would have done better without it.

All in all, The Leap Years was an average run of the mill romantic film. The film took a tad too long to start and did not seem to know where exactly to end. However, this being Yeo’s debut film, and also the local industry’s first stab at a commercial romance drama, I would say they are off to a good head start.

Wong Li Lin’s performance in The Leap Years has been nominated for Best Performance in this year’s inaugural Singapore Film Awards (part of the annual SIFF Silver Screen Awards) at the 22nd Singapore International Film Festival, going on from April 14-25 at various venues around town.  Please visit www.filmfest.org.sg for more details.

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22nd Singapore International Film Festival, 14th-25th April 2009

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