FILM REVIEW: Buddy
DIRECTOR: Jason Lee
Review by Hubert Lawrence Yeo
Learning disabilities and developmental disorders are still understood by few today. Many of us are guilty of jumping to conclusions, labelling another as ‘strange’ or ‘eccentric’ by virtue of behaviour, being quick to exclude and shun. We fail to realise these people are not so different from the rest of us – intelligent and aware, and therefore should be treated with the same respect and dignity we would expect from others. This film explores the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how Singapore has developed to assist the community of people who are on this spectrum.
Buddy by Jason Lee is centred around a real-life account of two primary school students, Hidayat (Danial Nazim) and Tam (Koah Aloysius Ho), set in Singapore during the 1990s – Tam has autism, but this is unbeknown to us at the beginning of the short film. Both students commence the new school year having each other as buddies, hence the title. They sit beside each other in class and eat together during recess. Due to Tam’s erratic manners and awkward behaviour, Hidayat finds him peculiar at first, and this disconnect is highlighted through their interactions. Both, however, gradually warm up to each other. We see Hidayat dressing Tam’s wound after he sustains an injury during a captain’s ball match, and Tam helping Hidayat with mental sums in class – both grow to become close friends.
Emotions and feelings are conveyed less through dialogue and more through the actors’ narration and physicality. Personally, while this may border on the monotonous and drab at some instances, the realism of the messages conveyed and the effectiveness of editing allows for the narrative to be told impactfully. Furthermore, the performances of both actors, considering their young age and the difficulty of the subject matter, are commendable indeed.
The relationship between Tam and three different entities are explored briefly in this film – his friends, his parents and the school. These serve as a microcosm of the different circumstances children with autism often find themselves in. Director Jason Lee attempts to shed some light on how these three groups are important pillars of support in a child’s growing years, especially for those with learning disabilities and developmental disorders.
Rarely heard of in the past, autism has become more understood and appreciated in the present day, particularly with the formation of schools such as Pathlight, Eden and St Andrew’s Autism School in Singapore, but there is still much to be done, especially in changing society’s perception towards these individuals.
About 15 Shorts
15 Shorts is a collaboration between the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Blue3Asia. Fifteen film directors provide an alternative perspective to the nation-building narratives of the era; their films tell true stories of Singaporeans who performed powerful acts of selflessness between the 1970s and 1990s. These are slice-of-life stories that reveal how this human, giving side has always been a part of us.
In the spirit of giving, each director will dedicate his or her film to a charity in Singapore. Working with NVPC, the directors have curated a list of charities that cover a spectrum of needs, including support for the elderly, people with autism, and migrant workers.
About The Director’s Chosen Organisation
The Autism Association (Singapore) is one of the social service organisations in Singapore dedicated to supporting individuals with autism and helping them lead meaningful and quality lives in society. It provides a broad spectrum of services for people with autism in Singapore, encompassing education, vocational and life skills training and residential care. Since 1992, they have impacted the lives of over 1000 clients and students. You can find out more about the milestones of the Autism Association by clicking here, and contribute to the organisation through a gift of love or volunteering with them.