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Sinema Review: “Faeryville”

26 May 2015

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Sinema Review: “Faeryville”

Identity, truth, freedom and rebellion. These are a few of the epic keywords that highlight the multiple themes of Faeryville.

Faeryville is a feature film directed by local filmmaker, Tzang Mervyn Tong, and it is about a group of college misfits who are spurred by a mysterious new transfer student to commit increasingly dangerous acts of rebellion.

Essentially, this film does not endorse violence, and in fact does quite the opposite. The film advocates anti-bullying alongside the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY), a voluntary society set up in 2005 to address the needs of Singaporean children and youth who are at risk of being bullied. It built up my expectations for the movie, as it felt like Tzang and his team were taking an active role in engaging audiences on a social level.

This film takes on a lot of big themes. Just portraying “Truth” itself can be too much to handle, so imagine a film that tackles teenage angst, oppression, and a penned-up fury which eventually erupts in chaos, so they burn and they bleed.

The trailer promotes the film exactly like a Green-Day-album-turned-live-action-movie.

Faeryville

There were so many reasons for me to want to like this film. At the center of the story, there is a bunch of misfits fighting back against society’s oppression of them. They are the underdogs. The film radiates a strong underground vibe, and everything about the film screams “INDIE”.

Tzang took a period of 8 years to complete the making of this film, and that made me want to give a chance to what must have been a painstaking effort to bring the story he alone visualized on to the big screen, despite lacking proper channels of funding.

Though I went to the film screening with positive vibes and a high and mighty purpose to hashtag i.e. #supportlocal after, the film has a disappointing outcome for me.

***SPOILER ALERT***

The story falls short of its big ideas. For a film that is supposed to carry anti-bullying messages, we never come to know what happens to the most insecure member of the film’s protagonists, CK, pushed to the edge to plant explosives in the Principal’s office through misguided thinking that this act will gain him respect among his friends and instil fear in the school bullies who pick on him mercilessly.

CK just exits from the movie irresponsibly, running away from his friends in a fit of high-strung paranoia after they witness in a TV news report that the school’s notorious rebel, Belle, has turned herself in for CK’s act like a martyr.

I empathized with CK, but surely it doesn’t help for him to run away and disappear from the story thread completely? It was quite a turn of events that he unexpectedly broke under the pressure from the bullies, and commits the most dangerous act which none of his friends, who collectively call themselves The Nobodies, could have foreseen coming from the most mild-mannered one of them.

The catalyst is Laer, the transfer student who taught them how to make bigger explosives. But CK is the one who fires them up at the Principal’s office, and is the tipping point of the story.

CK

I had some vested interest in the character development of CK, because afterall the change that overcame his character is the greatest, and it really highlights the traumatic consequences of bullying as well.

But why was I thrown a curveball, and suddenly the story was about CK, Laer, and Belle all at once?

The concluding scene is a messy one. Even with the Principal established as the prevailing villain, it became entirely unclear what was so tragic that slow motion was required to show a hockey stick cracking someone’s skull, the splash of blood, and the full works of a Shakespearean tragedy, which could be a bad thing seeing how literal Shakespeare’s characters could be, demanding a pound of flesh from an enemy as a good measure for revenge.

In other words, Shakespeare tends to use clear motifs and symbols. Likewise, Faeryville grants Belle a hockey stick, and we are never allowed to forget the statue standing in front of the school campus with a vertically-pointed gun in one hand, and an open book in the other. The statue takes up enough screen time to be a minor calefare.

Statue

The question is, WHO is the real ENEMY? This film has orchestrated a rebellion, but I do not know its cause.

There is not one coherent story, as the film branches out into mini narratives instead.

Do I empathize with Laer, who finds out that the headmaster is the father he never knew who drove his depressive mother to suicide, and in the context of this film is hence the bully of all bullies? Not really, because I don’t live in such a dramatic universe.

Is this really a story about the strong bullying the weak, and quoting the movie, just “because they can”?

If this film had intended to show the reality of bullying and how brutal it can be in a wider social context, why can’t it be filmed against the backdrop of an ordinary school? Why does it have to be dressed up with fancy names like Faeryville college and the initials FRVL printed on a school crest that looks Harry Potter inspired?

I must admit that all these work well for the marketing collaterals of the film, because it is important that the concept and aesthetic of the film shine through to attract audiences to watch it.

The film’s website starts off the film synopsis like this: “Set in an alternate universe, a group of teenage misfits struggle to find themselves and make sense of their “˜purpose’.”

If Faeryville is indeed meant to be an alternate universe, which explains all the dressing up and giving that universe an appearance unlike that of the real world, but what of the story events?

The ending scene mostly revolves around Laer and Belle, and I still can’t put two and two together how the film ended the way it did. I remember Laer had found out the Principal’s role in basically ruining his mother’s life and his own life, and I remember Belle charging in, and then the bloodshed.

I don’t remember why Belle was fighting back. I know her character as a notorious rebel, but it’s either I didn’t pay attention, or it wasn’t clear enough what Belle’s overall motive for rebellion might be.

These story events seem larger than the characters themselves. Why put a gun in Laer’s hand, and why put a hockey stick in Belle’s hand, if they were both only to be driven by a personal motive of revenge that viewers can hardly relate to? How many people have felt the anguish that Laer felt in finding the school Principal to be his father? Does this even happen in the real world?

Tanya Graham in the role of Belle

Why do the story events seem so other-worldly as well? It only drowns out the characters, not develop them.

I really wanted to be on the side of the film’s characters, and to feel their angst, because I think the concept of The Nobodies is great. Don’t we all love the idea of an uprising by a dark horse?

The best sort of heroes always come with a dark side, because nobody is perfect. Heroes can have flaws. Heroes can make mistakes.

Do we like Batman because he’s filthy rich and better than us all? No, we like him because he dwells in a cave, and he is ‘faceless’. Heck, he even needs to deepen his voice by a few octaves just so noone will know who he is while he is saving some civilian’s ass. Tough life.

But does Faeryville gives its characters a face behind their masks of mystery? Unfortunately not.

You can have ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, which either pushes them to become heroes or drives them to madness on the other end of the spectrum. In the case of this film, there were more plot events than character-driven events, which have led to a dilution of character.

But visually, the film is quite strong. I enjoyed the cast’s performances as well, I think the casting of The Nobodies is stellar. The art direction of the film is quite an eyeful too. Overall, the director and his team did a good job creating a stand-alone universe i.e. The alternate universe of Faeryville.

The Nobodies - Cast (from left to right) Lyon Sim, Jae Leung, Aaron Samuel Yong, Farid Assalam

Faeryville kept me quite embroiled in its universe of teenage rebellion while it lasted. Maybe some of you teenagers might like it. I know I might have liked it more while I was still streaming Simple Plan, Green Day, and all that angsty punk rock on my mp3 player like there was no tomorrow.

But I have long since moved past enjoying the formula of teenage rebellion movies that gripe about an oppressive system in an abstract way. I think Singaporean audiences can handle much harder truths, and this film unfortunately does not go there.