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Fooism: Blood Ties Review

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What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You a Stronger Filmmaker.

You’ve got to admit, anyone who has the courage to partake in the film production business in these times of economic paranoia. ‘Blood Ties’ is a debut film directed by the newest kid on the film block, Chai Yee Wei. While kudos and pats on back give the support, anyone who has made a film will have to be objective and accept the other side of the coin. Only then can all improve.

At first glance, ‘Blood Ties’ the movie reminds the audience of another Singapore film made one year ago, ‘Rule Number One’ from Boku Films and directed by Kelvin Tong. The look of the film and the horror scares are quite the same. Even the titles explaining the ritual return of spirits on the 7th day looks very much the same. One wonders, didn’ t Singapore see the same supernatural explanations given in title-block just as well in Jack Neo’s last movie? The movie meanders trying to weave a story with milestones of revelations while keeping the blood-hungry entertained with blood and gore and more blood.

bloodtiesposterIn a tale of possession and revenge, the story starts off with the brutal murder of a police man and his wife, with the teenage sister bearing witness. As an investigation ensues, the audience returns to repeated scenes of the crime seemingly to refresh their senses to newer clues. In a final reveal, the audience is led to realize that the plot was preplanned as vengeance, but somehow plotting is confusing within the character realm.

The M18 classification of the film seems perplexing. While there are scenes of gore, disgust and uneasiness, it seems not enough to warrant this rating. Upon subject matter, perhaps it is better to err on the side of the rating. But the delivery and execution of the scenes leaves too much unsaid and ‘unshown.’

The film heavily and perhaps mistakenly markets itself as a possible horror movie, but in actuality is a revenge thriller. Chai also mentions this as a ploy to give the audience a trick twist. But if you look at it from another perspective, the audience may not look favorably when they pay to be entertained one way and get another, at the mischievious glee of the filmmakers.

From a producer’s perspective, the classification has carved out a substantial quantity of the movie going audience, whom ironically are probably exposed to violent gore beyond the cinema online; so why forgo teenagers for ‘artistic integrity’? Is is worth it? Always come back to why you are making the movie.

Blood Ties is so far the only movie being released from the nine that were chosen and partially funded by the Singapore Film Commission. Seemingly other reviews seem to hint and use the word ‘grant’, but in actual fact the funding from the SFC is an investment (i.e. they are legally required to recoup). While other film projects have struggled with finding partners and finishing funds, ‘Blood Ties’ gained an upper hand from its filmmaker.

Chai, had put out approximately SG$400,000 of his own money to co-produce the film together with the Singapore Film Commission’s seed funds and added investment from television production house Oak3 Films. Every filmmaking guru and instructional book continues to emphasize to novice directors, never to put their own money into their films, and Chai himself admits to do so is his private plea of insanity. Alas, this seems to be the only way Singapore independent filmmakers can get into the exclusive club of being a ‘feature film director’.

As the audience plows through the film, you can feel a sense of safe familiarity, a cornucopia of ‘hey I’ve seen this and felt this way before in another film’. Clearly elements and ideas from the director’s film patronage has seeped into the celluloid. What it feels like is a 90-minute short film from a movie fan boy who has made his dream come through. But we have to be fair that labeling Chai Yee Wei, the new filmmaker as would be understating his efforts and undermining his passion to become a filmmaker.

Just from the credits, you will realize that Chai brought in all the help ever possible for a feature film. Apart from himself, his executive producers also include Zaihirat Banu Codelli, a prominent media businesswoman and board member of MDA and SFC; Jason Lai, fellow founding partner of Oak3 Films and current president of the Association of Independent Producers (AIPRO). For post-production quality control, the team at Iceberg has to be given kudos to maintaining the ‘RED’ look they have created for their multiple forays into the feature film scene.

‘Blood Ties’, the feature is also a testimony to film directors needing to have made short films. Chai made a short film of the similar story and name 2 years ago for the MDA-Panasonic Digital Video Filmmaking competition. It was there that Jason Lai, creative content director of Oak 3 Films saw the short and arranged a meeting to discuss the possibility of turning it into a feature project. Without his short film, no one would know any better. There are really few who can jump straight into feature filmmaking without the patience and the tempering of short film production. Film director wannabes, please take note.

As with all other local independent, non-studio and non-Jack Neo movies, industry insiders do not expect Blood Ties to have a long extended run. Distributors and exhibitors will continue to stress on the importance of a wide strategic opening weekend to cash in on the hype and the curiosity of the film. Before the film wanes, my advice is to go catch it soon and judge the film for your own. It is through watching the film that you will begin to appreciate the efforts put in by the filmmakers to make a feature film. So yes, do catch it.

Chai lauds his production team for making ˜Blood Ties” a reality. He stresses the need to help and support each other as production teams, where everyone tries their best for the common goal. “Oftentimes, I find the feeling of being a director surreal” Chai quips, that even in post, it was extremely invigorating. Another group that he is grateful to is the Screenwriters’ Association of Singapore. They have helped him think through and plan the story in a systematic manner. And this encourages planning and structure design in storytelling before the actual writing process.

Looking back, Chai admits some of his mistakes in making ˜Blood Ties”. He still wonders if he should have made a regular formulaic horror film in line with audience expectations, and with that, forgo the challenges of risk taking. On hindsight, he thought perhaps he should have made the film tighter, since his supporters have mentioned the film seemed to bottom-out in the middle. Technically, he shares that he shot on 25P instead of 24P, which affected his final sound mix. While technically even, wall to wall dramatics and the use of an evergreen song, hints of quilted patchwork.

Chai doesn’t hail from any fancy film school and interestingly enough he is a business graduate and entrepreneur. His humble beginnings ply himself between running his restaurant and being a videographer for weddings and events. His passion to make films run in this trail of activities; he really wants to make films. And I shall be provocative here to ask, when becomes of the academic film graduate? Time hopefully will reveal more.

With the film in the can, and now going for market release, the journey for the filmmaker has barely started. Its always fresh to hear what new filmmakers have to say, Chai has this to advise anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps, ‘learn all parts’ editing, camerawork, writing, acting, art, design, producing and project management. Find out what your strengths are and then focus on it.’

Nevertheless, Chai has made his marked debut into the film fray and with the box office and international markets still open, we will be keen to observe if this film will be a stepping stone to mainstream success.

Any runner will tell you that having a good starting block will be advantageous to a sprint, but then again perhaps it’s the wrong analogy. While a feature film maybe a sprint, a film career is a marathon. The running has begun for Chai.

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