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A Blog Post on ’12 Storeys’, ‘4:30’, and ‘Eating Air’ by Stella Tan

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2 undergraduates, Stella Tan and Elizabeth Lie, majoring in English Literature at Nanyang Technological University recently completed their apprenticeship at Sinema Old School. They were given two final unique tasks – to read the books, as well as watch the films, for Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys, Royston Tan’s 4:30 and Ng Yi-Sheng’s Eating Air. Stella watched the films before reading the books, while Elizabeth did the reverse, before both of them penned down their thoughts in detail.

 

Watching films has always been an act of voyeurism; we sit on one side of the screen spying on the characters as they move around the diegetic world. Some even say it is this sense of voyeurism that brings about our satisfaction in film-watching as we derive pleasure by actively spying on the characters from the safe distance in reality.

Experiencing the novelization of films somewhat propels this sense of voyeurism further as now, not only do we have access to the characters’ movements and speech, the authors present to readers a window of opportunity to peer into the characters’ mental frameworks.

I’ve watched Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys, Royston Tan’s 4:30 and Ng Yi-Sheng’s Eating Air prior to reading their novelized versions that are published recently.

Honestly, these are two vastly different experiences and while you can certainly get a hold of the writers’ themes and issues through the novels, there is nothing quite like the feeling of being reeled in and engaged by films. The novels are a good afterthought, more like a bonus, to accompany the films but they can only do so much. Being a literature major, I see the startling irony when I proclaim that words can only do so much.

However, films can touch us sensually in a way that books simply cannot even though both mediums have their merits. From the latter, it provides justifications for what we saw on screen and gives us further insights into the characters’ thoughts. The insecurities that Ah Gu feels in 12 Storeys are now concretized and reasoned out in the novel, things that are not clearly proclaimed during screen time.

We are also led into Xiao Wu’s fears when confronted by his teacher, one that was only expressed through facial features in the film. Then, the novel takes us into the details of Girl’s fatigue mind as she sticks herself in photocopying routines.

Sure, these details shed light to the silent moments of such socially critical films but we have to be aware that these moments of silence in the films are what impact us more visually, emotionally and cognitively.  At the end of the day, I would recommend the novels but only after you have watched the films and been sensually affected to want to prowl deeper into the characters.

Read the detailed analysis essay here >>

Stella Tan is a B.A. (Hons) English Literature final year student at Nanyang Technological University.
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