SINdie: Class of 2008 – See Who’s There!12 min readReading Time: 10 minutes
I propose to you a different way to look back at the Singapore films of 2008. Our memories of films may fade faster than we like to but unforgettable characters tend to stay with us in our minds. Instead of dishing out the stories all over again, I prefer to take a second look at the characters from the Singapore-made films that were hard to erase. And what a bunch of boys, women, uncles, ah mas and cross-dressers we’ve got on our plate, oops, my plate, to be exact.Topping the list is the sequin-draped, yet bicep-flexing Astro Boy from ’12 Lotus’. His role is actually historically accurate. There was a boy, commonly known as ‘Xiao Fei Xia’, who stole the hearts of audiences in the early Getai days. While, his friendship with fellow-suffering Lian Hua was chummy, his role 20 years older seemed an oddity. It starts with his dramatic transformation into a porcelain-skinned, helium-infused-voiced teenager of a man. Then you’d think he came straight from work, but apparently, he bought Lian Hua groceries from Econ Minimart in the outfits as well. Then, he brings a Candy coloured Cosplay girl to Lian Hua and introduces her as a girlfriend, still never missing a feather in his cap, literally.
It is a really tough fight with my second choice-Mother from ‘Money No Enough 2’. She must have touched more hearts than any other character from a Singapore movie going by ticket sales. And to top it up, she earned a Golden Horse nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her face is no newcomer to our screens but her role is refreshing. For once, she talks at half her speed and plays amnesia to perfection. The best part is she is so steady in every scene, adding to the drama and never upstaging anyone. But also thanks to Jack Neo, her role gives her the breadth to play with. Apart from the family drama, she even sings, drives, dies dramatically and has sexy brasserie to complete her wardrobe. Finally, do not deny if you have a shed a tear during the old aged home scene.
The next character has to be the most hardworking among all in the year 2008. I am not sure if he has a name. He has to drain away his father’s urine in the opening act, wear red underwear and crawl in the desert, help a friend tide through her post-transexual operation blues, pull down panties, be slapped by bloodied sausages, become a schizophrenic in middle a train depot and then endure a bomb-blast makeover for the final act. Sunny Pang has previously appeared in several roles with a strong underground flavour but Lucky 7 must be his showpiece. The only problem with his ‘Lucky 7’ stint is when he appeared in My Magic as the gangster, we are never sure if he left the world of Lucky 7. Maybe he needs to cut his hair.
Now that Sinema Old School has started its ’18 Grams of Love’ run, this character should be slowly be a good character to impersonate at parties and social events. Even for those who cannot stand her ‘act-cute’ ways like me, I still succumbed to the her ‘heeheehee’ snigger. It is not an expression for all to mimick for your results could be disastrous. Magdalene See who plays this character, called Xiao Tong, the wife of the lead Zihua, has the right attributes. Her cheeks are supple and her smile with bugs bunny teeth complete that Disney moment. And it never drops in its delivery. Three quarters into the film and she is still beaming at it. Thanks to characters like her, there is hope that movies from relatively lesser known directors can finally be a talking point even among HDB aunties.
The first short film character that deserves a lot of mention is also a highly sought after face among independent films. You might have seen him in Blackboard White Shoes, Pleasure Factory and Old Times. Vincent Tee plays an abusive father who is addicted to porn in ‘My Blue Heaven’. It is a refreshing character because fatherly figures are seldom funny in the Singapore context. I blame on the patriachial society we live in. While his toilet ‘business’ was a riot, the golden moment was his haggling with the video-tape woman. Watch how he goes from ‘Tai-Chi-ing’ away the woman to picking up that title flick on tape.
I must explain that for the next character, the film is an old film that happened to be screened many times this year and has regained some loyalty points. ‘Kichiro’ is a classic. There are so many characters we like to mimick or watch them over and over again. There are so many classic characters…Kichiro’s pineapple-haired, smirky-faced partner-in-crime, Kichiro’s theatrical parents, Kelvin Sng’s cameo in the gore video with the knife-twisting act in his mouth. But nobody loves anyone more than the biology teacher who stands up to Kichiro’s first hammering shot with so much righteousness and a touch of vulgarity. For that, her jaw was pounded and her teeth crushed under the weight of a swinging hammer.
‘Kallang Roar’ was to me an underrated movie. Theatrics aside, the film was like a little well-made packet of ready-to-cook laksa paste that you can bring overseas and savour it when the need arises. Nothing too mind-blowing, just sweet like Kueh Lapis. And Uncle Choo was very much like the movie, predictable but consistent. He actually turned out very bearable to watch despite the stagey acting. It helped that a script that showcased Uncle in a variety of situations turned our attention on the character and not the actor, who is already a face too familiar. It’s a pity though that Cages was a 2007 movie, otherwise, we could draw interesting comparison on on-screen theatrics.
When your narrative film is based on your life story, it is like wearing form-fitting clothes, they suggest to people how you are shaped like. When you are a character in your own documentary, it is like taking it off. Eng Yee Peng returns with ‘Diminishing Memories II’, a sequel to DMI, also having a strong narrative voice in it. This time, she is angrier, and also more self-assured. After every interview, you can listen to her own opinion about what’s being shared by the unsuspecting interviewee. There are also tender moments e.g. when she stands behind the moving truck looking like Kate Winslet in Titanic. And not to forget the Cai Xin plucking session where she fails quite embarrasingly. No filmmaker has come close to baring their soul like Yee Peng and she well-deserves the media attention on her films. Lastly, please forget I mentioned the analogy about clothes.
This character from ‘Pak and Sons Travel’ is so freaky I was frothing at my mouth while watching this little Moulin Rouge by Wesley Leon. Actually by character itself, it can compete with Xia Fei Xia of 12 Lotus. If they fight like Papaya sister vs Durian sister, this one will win surely. I am talking about the son from Pak and Sons. This is a short film about a father staging a birthday bash for the son. Apparently, the son has a grudge against the dad. They both run a tour group business and the son is on his way from work to the party (in Brady Bunch-like clothes). Watching the son find his way to the party was like having an ecstasy overdose. One moment, he is rolling on grass like in a Hindi movie, the other moment he is whining and pulling his mop-like hair out. If my description has not given you any drift of the character, You are probably following my writing well. But guess Wesley’s succeeded in leaving an impression.
Among, the many characters seen this year, there was only one moving skeleton. The idea is not that fresh because I have seen animate skeletons in several Hollywood films or foreign animation productions. But I guess they can’t masturbate, spank buttocks and sleep with you. So these little talents really made it very adorable. If you were around at Short Cuts, Short Circuit and SiFF Shorts, no prizes for guessing which film this is.
Everyone’s talked about the sparkle in the eyes of this boy. I watched it to verify if it was true. It was. The magic in Eric Khoo’s Cannes entry, ‘My Magic’ owed a lot to the natural and unassuming charm of this boy. I was told by the translator that the actual Tamil dialogue used was TV-like and a bit stilted. So thank goodness, I only understood subtitles and body language. For me, this boy was a combination of an innocent heart with a tenacious spirit, a touch of prodigious talent and mischief. And that makes him very sweet. The only moments the magic in the character drop are his wireless teleconferences with his late grandmother. But that last gaze (in halluncination of his parents), probably made up $5 of the $8 ticket.
Every seventh month, apart from the Papaya sisters, Durian sisters, Liu Ling Ling, Mindee Ong and Qi Yu Wu, you can now look forward to a new entertainment figure. No he does not sing, dance or wear feather boas. At an affordable price, you can hire him to give you a full body massage. This is especially effective if you happen to see ghosts during the seventh month. His massage has the ability to exorcise these spooky thoughts. You just have to bear with his changing into toy-boy like underwear and pointing a video camera at you. He is only recording the session ‘for training purposes’. But give him a bit of time, rent a room out to him, share your master bed and he will become your best pal. Just don’t kiss him in your dreams. For more information, please watch ‘The Spirit Compendium’.
The ’15’ of 2008, ‘The Days’ has a motley bunch of colourful characters. In this film, you get to watch a dog, a cockroach, a parrot, a rat and a baby get into fights that even involves beancurd skin. And despite physical differences (they were very physically differentiated indeed!), the fights were close and very ferocious. Even the women can kick ass. There was one who stopped my heartbeat and left me with the strongest after-taste among the other characters. This is Yeo Yann Yann’s role of 2008 (no prizes for guessing her ‘2007’ role). She played a beer girl with a cutting coffeeshop accent. If women who rule coffeeshops with their skin-tight denim shorts, clogs and nasal barks ring a bell to you, she played it to perfection. I reckon you could turn a door knob with that pair of swinging hips.
There are 2 soccer uncles in my line up. The first is Uncle ‘dramatic as his batik prints’ Choo in Kallang Roar. The second is ‘Hongkee’ Uncle Chor Pat in ‘Homeless FC’. Chor Pat stands out in this luminous documentary about homeless people who formed a soccer team in HK. He was loud, brash but uncompromsingly brotherly. Though half the time, his tummy stole airtime, his big heart made up the half time. I would not be surprised if his own life story could feed into a feature film idea.
In a land decimated by civil war and totalitarian brutality, Cambodia to be exact, lives Ratana and her…. over-nourished mother. This is Cambodia, as faithfully portrayed in ‘To Speak’. Okay, before the ‘size-ists’ throw shoes at me, I must explain that the consistency and even intensity of her character drew me into the drama that was happening in the small family. She personified so much bitterness that I feel she anchored much of the issues that were presented. The Oscar moment is certainly the note-book tearing sequence. To see that tiny notebook wrenched into bits by her robust fingers sent shudders down me.
While many made me laugh, cry, cheeky or depressed, this one made me want to be a stronger man. At the Speaker’s Corner, a human barricade forms around a thinly-built lady. Everywhere she went, the barricade follows and maintains its circular formation. Sometimes, the circle morphs into a diamond or an amoeba. Its precision is commendable though some ideas seemed recycled from previous year’s National Day Parades. And the team performed so seamlessly that choreography does not even change when the lady’s attempts to go to the washroom. I am writing this as a tribte to her and women in general as well. She was stoic and made so much effort at being composed. Men do lack the composure and grace under the circumstances portrayed in ‘Speakers Cornered’. And because women in general fight in a different battle style, her confrontations with a female police officer became a highlight of the whole episode.
Other characters that intrigue:
Juliet Toh, in ‘Love Me, Love My Dogs’ – She is a dog lover whose dogs seem to use Vidal Sasson.
Schoolmate of Wei Tian in ‘Dreams of Youth’ – Knowing that Wei Tian was going overseas to study was sour enough, wait till he finds out what happened between Wei Tian and Miss South Africa.
Goose-bump young man in ‘The New World’ – He is the teenager who gets his first kiss from a Caberet dancer.
Priti in ‘Road to Mecca’ – Perched on top of a tower overlooking Pakistan, she confirms her name to a stunned Singaporean.
Goddess of Mercy in ‘My Keys’ – Can compete with Guan Yin Ma in ’12 Lotus’
Army Boy in ‘Clouds in a Shell’ – Ice cubes provide relief from National Service
Cross Dresser in ’10 Commandments of a Cross Dresser’ (Fly By Night 2008 entry) – Quote from the film ‘ Everbody is sooooo fat these days, where can a skinny girl like me find my clothes!?’
English Language Coach in ‘Mad about English’ – He wants to help 1 million Chinese people speak English…. well, at least, that’s what the lamp post hears every morning.
Ah Ma in ‘Keluar Baris’ – I have a feeling this Ah Ma is going to be famous.