SINdie: ‘The Days’ – Gangsters in Moschino
Expect nothing less when you have the blessing of 400 over extras. I heard it from the horse’s mouth Boi Kwong. This is Boi’s maiden feature film, about people close to his life as an ITE lecturer. These 400 extras, with some looing like coffeeshop aunties, turned up in several scenes whenever `brotherly’ help was needed, giving this gangster a lot of muscle.
But that is not to discredit the fired up performances from the leads, the high production value and a palatable though formulaic plot.
The skin of the film appears very much like an ode to the things that are close to the director’s heart – Ah Bengs in garish Moschino jeans, gangsters, deliquents etc. This is all thanks to the very conscientious efforts of publicity by the producers. A hundred posters aside, there is that boisterous `switch-off mobile phone’ ad that has been greeting audiences in several commercial cinemas.
But the body of the film was really a heartfelt and sincere story of change and sacrifice. That I feel balanced out the multimedia-excesses dotted throughout the film. Essentially, The Days is a story of transformation with 2 characters who lives are transforming in opposite directions. Zi Long is a de facto big brother of a small gang of school delinquents on the cusp of joining a triad. The gang skips school, beat up rival gangs, extort, steal and selectively `protect’ people as well. The characters are given colourful monikers like Cockroach, Tau-Per (Beancurd skin), Dog and Lodmouth. And each comes with a psychedelic manga-comics style introduction. The comics motif continues to be scattered throughout the entire film and even some blatant expository subtitles like `Glass cracks’ or `Loud thud’ appearing as subtitles despite the recognizability of the sounds. On the other end of the spectrum is Baby, his own brother, a sheltered, green-eyed youth who is often a target of school bullies. Right at the beginning, the audience is already given a hint about the ending through a bitter conversation tinged with regret between the 2 characters.
While the funky in-your-face graphics tended to undermine the strength of the plot, I did notice that it was still a rather competently crafted script. The story followed a credible progression of a young unexposed teen entering a gang at the juncture of its reversal of fortune. Baby used to be an easy target for bullies in the school until one day he decided to let his gangster brother Zi Long know about it. And revenge was delivered in the most severe way. 100 brothers and sisters turned up (told you they had 400 over extras) at a meeting point and beat up 3 people. Just as Baby was to be initiated into a world that seemed comforting and yet dark, Jeremy, the leader of the gang gets killed in an ambush that witnessed the same kind of outnumbering. Then on, it was not difficult for the audience to imagine how the plot would evolve. The gang weakens and some members lose faith. And while all that is happening, Baby is only starting to enjoy the hedonism of the underground world. Which brings us back to a scene at the start of the story where the brothers squabble over their new set of values.
But the real pillars of the film are its performance and production design. Its myriad characters stack up like `shi san yao’ – 13 tiles of varying nature in a mahjong game. Almost character has been cast spot-on, which really demonstrates the director’s strong grasp of the world in the story. Justin Chan who played Zi Long held the story together with a pair of eyes. Ivan Lim who played Baby provided the blood and tissue of the film with his personification of naivety and vulnerability. Even the seasoned actors like Yeo Yann Yann and Liu Qian Yi were bright sparks here. Notably, Yeo Yann Yann’s pendulum hips certainly tilted the balance away from the testosterone-charged drama, paving the entrance of the extremely watchable female characters in the film.
The production design rightfully started from the posters and flyers down to the psychedelic closing credits. After all, Originasian Pictures is helmed by a designer duo. No effort had been spared in this respect. The costumes were spot-on despite the challenge of recreating the 90s look, an era in fashion little-remembered. The result was a combination of Doc Martens, primary-coloured denims, Rolled-sleeved Burberry tops and cockroach-feeler hair (which I am inclined to believe the cast willingly sacrificed they haircuts for the purpose of the shoot). Then, there were the wide-shot crowd scenes mostly achieveable with big studio budgets, which they managed to pull off. It would be difficult to attribute the ‘expensive’ look of the film to any particular thing. The Days is really one big collective `brotherly’ effort that could teach all other filmmakers a lesson on teamwork and spirit.