SINdie: SIFF Review: Singapore Shorts Finalists — Part 25 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
Kallang Roar by Cheng Ding An
This was made as a short prequel to feature length film about how the Kallang Roar was brought back to the National Stadium in 1977. While the epic-proportions of the soccer battle sounds too daunting for a short film, Ding An rightly focused on only one human drama.
Feeding the audience with vintage shots of Singapore’s glory days in soccer, together with rousing music, one immediately feels a sense of awe and respect for the event. So in the opening shot of Uncle Choo playing chess in Malaysia, there was no need to define who he was. He was what those photos defined him as, a legend. Thankfully, the script did not stop there. It worked hard to give the characters flesh and blood through focusing on their smaller and more personal motivations. Such as a game of chess and kueh lapis. In the game of chess, we see Uncle Choo as an idiosyncratic yet philosophical old man. While his wits are undeniable, he is also part bully, part maverick.
Then enters Ganesan with a plastic bag of kueh lapis. It is his trump card to bring Uncle Choo back to coach the Lions. While he manages to coax Uncle Choo back, it is only the beginning a protracted word and mind game between them. The next scene takes place in the changing room (a rather modern looking one though). With the help of sound design (the Kallang Roar vividly in the background), we are thrown straight into the heat of the match. Singapore is not getting anywhere near redeeming itself from a five year drought and Uncle Choo is performing Tai Chi to all of Ganesan’s pressure tactics. Somehow, due to the very scripted acting, one could easily guess what happens next. And it is no surprise that Uncle Choo eventually outwits Ganesan.
Ding An’s Kallang Roar is a bigger achievement on paper than on screen. The lines are well-written, meaningful and milk maximum dramatic effect. And the heaviness of the script required no less than a veteran like Lim Kay Siu to carry it off. But the downside of it was the drama felt too scripted and the lines served the plot completely but less of the characters. Though I am sure a major directorial slant in this was to the focus on a witty exchange, this came at the expense of realism and really understanding Uncle Choo beneath the caricature.
Silent Girls by Ric Aw
The symbol of a heart has been often been used in school as a way to represent a whole array of feelings that we may not even be able to fully comprehend at that time, such as love, likes, fancies, crushes, lust, adoration etc. In the film Silent Girls, we see the heart drawing recklessly used at least three times, on a staircase wall, on a railing and in a scrapbook. But with each drawing, the meaning of it shifts.
Two girls go through self-discovery through a grey relationship shifting between simple friendship and love. While they devote a part of their hearts to each other, when left on their own, they continue to embark on a journey into uncovering sexuality alone. One is more idealistic and starts hanging out with a young guy (possibly a schoolmate). Like a case of male hormones working faster than female hormones, the guy cannot resist taking photos of her in her undies as well as doing the ‘real’ thing. We are not sure at this point that she completely trusts the guy but she still went ahead to give him her ‘first time’. Is it pressure? Is it ecological? Or is it directorial? We are never sure but the treatment might invite controversy because of the way it disempowers women. Like women lack the will or independence to discover sexuality for themselves.
If you take a look at the second example, it becomes even more unnerving because the other girl loses her ‘first time’ to a customer (male). The reasons for her doing so are not clear but right from the start, she has been the more adventurous one of the two. Why is she is such a hurry to grow up? For this, I felt the film could do with a hint of an explanation.
Despite their individual adventures, the girls always come back to each other, seeking a kind of emotional balance and solace. Through an exchange of simple words and warm embraces, they are redeemed again. But how empty they turn out to be when the girls get lured back into their individual expeditions again, with each episode topping the previous in terms of audacity. One eventually gets into trouble for having her erotic pictures and videos circulated on the internet. The other serially submits to the carnal desires of a working adult for more cash. Hence, with each subsequent reconcilliation between the girls, the meaning of their companionship shifts. Does it get deeper because they have exposed their basest qualities or does it it get thinner as they gradually become mutually irrelevant to each other’s life?
While part of the answer could be found in the rather competent acting, I felt the director still held the bulk of the answer which was not always that clearly presented in the film.