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A Blog Post on “12 Storeys”, “Eating Air” and “4:30” by Elizabeth Lie

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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.


Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to read “12 Storeys”, “Eating Air” and “4:30”. That’s right, read. Not watch. These three books were such a good read that I finished all of them in one night.

I started my night with“12 Storeys” and as I flipped through the pages excitedly, I lost track of the world around me. I went back in time. 1997, to be exact. The story begins with the life of a disillusioned young man who commits suicide. After his suicide, we are introduced to three other families who are living in the same block as him- Meng, the overprotective brother, and his siblings, the overweight San San and the henpecked husband, Ah Gu.

With the description of each scene, I could almost imagine how each scene would play out on the big screen. Through the lives of these characters, we are exposed to the various social issues that plague our society. The lack of a conclusive ending allows us a moment of reflection.

I then moved on to “Eating Air” which illustrates the lives of teenagers who seem to live by the motto: Live fast, die young.

I finally ended the night with “4:30” which is a mildly depressing yet amusing book which tells of a strange relationship between an eleven year old boy, Xiao Wu and his Korean tenant, Jung. Both seem to have lost the will to live as while Xiao Wu drinks too much cough syrup, Jung drinks too much alcohol. 4:30am is when Xiao Wu would creep into Jung’s room to stare at him, steal something from him or even take a picture of him.

After I was done with the books, I moved on to watching them. And to read these books before I watched them had definitely altered the way I watched the three films.

“12 Storeys” begin with the young man indulging in alcohol and cigarettes. He does not verbalize his thoughts. Therefore, we are left to guess how he feels through his actions and facial expressions. But because, I had read the book before I watched the film, I knew what was going through his mind hence I did not had to observe him closely to decipher his emotions.

Also, as the camera zooms in to San San’s carping Cantonese speaking mother, less discerning viewers would think that she is still alive. Again, only more observant viewers would realize that she has actually passed on. As I have already read how each scene would play out, I would already have imagined how it would be like.

Hence, to read the book before watching it might actually ruin a spectator’s expectation. And that was how it was like for me when I watched “Eating Air”. In my head, I had imagined it to be different. However, it was good for me to have read “4:30” before I watch it, as I did not have to try to understand his Korean gibberish or to read his facial expressions closely to know how tormented he feels.

Most importantly, as the entire dialogue for the three films are either in Mandarin, Malay or dialect, it was quite hard for me to keep up with the jokes that were said, or even what was happening. Therefore to have read all three books in English has helped me a lot.

All in all, it was a great opportunity to have read and watched “12 Storeys”, “Eating Air” and “4:30”. Please click here if you are interested in an analysis of the three films.

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

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