AFTER YOUTH: A Chronicle of Youth, Identity, Family, Love — and Growing Up
It’s graduation season, and what this celebrates is not simply the piece of paper you hold in your hands as you throw your mortarboards into the air.
It is a celebration for all the hard work and toil you’ve put into your years at university, a commemoration of the knowledge and practical skills you have acquired during the countless projects and assignments that pop up relentlessly throughout the semesters. And for those who have to churn out a thesis project in less than a year’s time, it is the culmination of all the tears and sweat and heart and soul that you’ve poured into the fervent pursuit of a seemingly distant goal.
Well, the goal is not so distant now. In fact, for a group of talented Digital Filmmaking students in NTU School of Art, Design and Media (ADM), they’ve long completed the arduous task of creating a short film in the span of a few short months. Together, these shorts are put into a collection of thesis films titled After Youth.
Made up of eight shorts revolving around the themes of love, time, and nostalgia, these films explore the complex web of identity and growing up that we’ve all had to grapple with, with an underlying thread of family and friendship that ties them all together.
These are their films, and their stories:
Just as the title suggests, ADAM revolves around the main character of the same name. Tired of his turbulent family life, Adam (Ayden Liow) attempts to find refuge with Adelia (Wan Sharmila), a preschool teacher who lives in the neighbourhood. However, he soon realises that finding his place in this world is not that easy.
Director Shoki Lin, before coming up with his script for ADAM, made a point to speak with various people about their conceptions of identity and parenthood, and considered the different experiences of growing up in Singapore. Through his conversations, he managed to craft the tale of ADAM, which touches upon the universal desire of seeking out a place of belonging — and this shows in his film.
Regardless of age, attempting to find our footing amidst this ever-changing world is an arduous task that begs for constant introspection and rumination. It is not simply about finding our place, but about delicately balancing our sense of identity with the chaos of the rest of the world, and reconciling these two disparate forces is no easy matter — especially for a young child.
ADAM pulls together these two elements with grace and sensitivity; the oppressing, overwhelming noise of the outside environment akin to a sensory overload is contrasted sharply by the silence in Adelia’s abode, where Adam feels the most at home and at ease. This internal struggle shows itself in his inability to properly express his emotions and desires, and the resulting repression unfolds in an underlying tension that persists throughout the whole film.
Together, these conflicting strands form a portrait of a tormented young child who is forced, at too young an age, to wade through waters that we as adults have yet to master ourselves, in a universally-understood pursuit for a place to call home.
ADAM was chosen for Cannes Cinéfondation Selection 2019.
Watch the trailer for ADAM here:
ADAM Main Crew:
Director: Shoki Lin
Producer: Wan Murni
Cinematographer: Ibrahim Zubir
Editor: Al-Azmir Ibrahim
Sound: Natasha Jumari
In Bodhi, Li Ping (Doreen Toh) is faced with the imminent departure of her son, Jun Hao (Matthias Choo), who is adamant on entering Monkhood. As a single mother who has no one but her son, Li Ping has to learn to deal with Jun Hao’s decision of leaving her for good.
It isn’t easy to say goodbye to our loved ones, yet partings are one of the few constants in a person’s life. Bodhi is an observational look into one of such partings, and though the circumstances surrounding this particular story is not one that is common to most people, Li Ping’s journey to accepting her son’s departure follows an everyday person’s natural progression through grief.
The film is touching in its simplicity. Without overt flair or drama, Bodhi manages to capture Li Ping’s inner turmoil through lingering shots of her daily routine, where her flickering emotions permeate her every action — which is pulled off wonderfully by Doreen Toh’s stellar performance as an aggrieved mother.
“Having thought of eventually becoming a monk one day, I always wondered how my mum would reach if I were to break the news to her,” says Zhen Yu in our interview with him. “I felt it would be especially difficult for any parent to come to a consensus that her son or daughter, whom they groomed to be an outstanding person, has decided to leave them and their hopeful career for a much simpler and uplifting life.[The film] hopes to portray the simple but huge sacrifices behind every monastic’s decision to ordain as a monk. Learning to let go of attachments does not only apply to the monastics but it is also a big step for their loved ones to let go and accept the differences in which the new lifestyle of the monastics will be.”
Bodhi has been nominated for Best Live Action in the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) under the Media Student category.
Watch the trailer for Bodhi here:
Bodhi Main Crew:
Director: Png Zhen Yu
Producer: Liu Zhang Teng
Cinematographer: Rusyaidee Rasdeen
Editor: Alistair Quak
Sound: Nicolas Ow
Art Director: Tan Jia Min
Boys Will Be Boys
Ah, secondary school. If there’s one place that can be pinpointed for all of the drama and growing up that we’ve had to go through in our younger days, it would be within the walls of our secondary school. For the characters of Boys Will Be Boys, this is no different.
When Chanel (Tan Tze Kia) becomes the latest hot topic in school following her break-up with her ex-boyfriend Jian Hao (Lim Jun De), her good friend Thomas (Michael Ryan Andrew) is determined to defend her honour — though he soon finds that the situation is not as simple as he thinks.
Boys Will Be Boys is a coming-of-age story that we’re all too familiar with, and what it shows is a snapshot of three teenagers’ lives as they traverse the murky — and occasionally treacherous — terrain of secondary school life. It feels natural and realistic, and the recognisable landscapes of the neighbourhood basketball court, void deck, school hallway, and the common playground evoke a sense of nostalgia and familiarity for times long gone.
Despite its sentimentality, the film manages to give a fresh spin to an age-old topic. The focus is not on how the guy eventually gets the girl, but how issues with self-image, insecurities, and fear of social ostracisation plague teenagers who are still learning to grow into themselves — and how ultimately, one only grows up when they find it within themselves to move on.
“The creation of this film was inspired by a desire to capture the details of my generation’s coming-of-age while subjecting average, ‘normal’ characters to pressures that shaped our experience,” says director Shannen Mok. “Like school feeling like a highly political and stressful tiny world [where] objectively minor setbacks feel like the end times, [which] sometimes falls off the radar of adults due to the appearance of coping.”
“I hope that regardless of age or background this film evokes memories and nostalgia of growing up and its pains, while offering a chance to revisit and reflect on times now past with the benefit of a few years’ of life experience.”
Boys Will Be Boys has been nominated for Best Live Action in the NYFA under the Media Student category.
Watch the trailer here:
Boys Will Be Boys Main Crew:
Director: Shannen Mok
Producer: Ho Ann Li
Cinematographer & Sound: Daniel Siew
Editor: Gary Chia
Production Designer: Liu ZhangTeng
Following the sudden death of her sister, Marie (Callina Liang) finds it difficult to return home for the holidays — especially when she seems to be the only one incapable of moving on.
Coda is striking in its disparity between the portrayal of Marie’s life before and after her sister’s death. The grainy, shaky, home video footage of the realistic antics in the family that plays out in the beginning of the film is stark against the silent, almost clinical-looking home that Marie comes back to, and this change is palpable even in the way the characters speak to one another. While they used to banter and laugh and squabble like how a typical family acts, their conversation now seems stoic and stiff, overly formal and awkward.
Much like how a person’s sudden death brings forth unanswered questions, a lot of things are left unsaid in the film, and Daniel has the sensitivity to leave the story be, without offering explicit explanations to anything that happens. It is realistic and relatable, without unnecessary drama or story tensions to push the story forward.
“At its heart, Coda is a film about the years following a loved one’s suicide,” says director Daniel Siew. “It is a project informed by my own experience of grief, suicide and depression, and at the same time, a deliberate response to mainstream representations of such issues, especially in film and television. Starting out, we wanted to make a film that was able to portray the subject matter in a way that was delicate, layered and honest — avoiding obvious exposition, over-dramatisation and other common pitfalls in similar narratives.”
“Everyone deals with grief in their own time and manner. Likewise, different people take away different things from each film. While I could get behind the intention of phrases such as ‘time heals’ or ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, I found these statements to be mildly imposing and dismissive of the subject matter. Instead of having a clearly defined message or moral, I wanted Coda to be able to leave room for audiences to ponder and empathise, and hopefully better understand the complex emotions faced when navigating a loved one’s suicide.”
Watch the trailer for Coda here:
Coda Main Crew:
Director & Writer: Daniel Siew
Producer: Lim Ziyu
Cinematographer: Al-Azmir Ibrahim
Editor: Shoki Lin
Sound: Elizabeth Liew
Art Director: Loo Jun Yuan
As we grow older and wearier, we often tend to think back to the past. These memories are usually recalled fondly with rose-tinted glasses, and a long-drawn sigh would escape our lips as a frequent phrase comes to mind: Do you remember the good old days?
Mao Mao pays homage to a past that might not be familiar to all, but one that is still close to our hearts. In the 1980s, Ting (Genelle Lim) and her family are preparing to move to a new HDB flat in the city, where animals are not allowed. However, Mao Mao, her chicken, is her best friend, and she decides to sneak it along to her new apartment anyway, regardless of her parents’ discontentment.
The film is a throwback to simpler times. The family’s kampung house is bathed in the lush golden hour hues of sunset as traditional Chinese tunes play in the background, while Ting’s mother (Cherlyn Ma) is clad in a blue-and-white checkered dress with a yellow headband perched on her hand. It is a nostalgic sight, and we are not the only ones who find it difficult to pull away from this comforting glimpse into a seemingly uncomplicated past.
We see ourselves in Ting when she refuses to let go of her pet chicken after they’ve arrived in the city. As a child, it is difficult to let go of something that we’ve grown to love and something that we’ve grown to associate with comfort, especially in a difficult moment of transition — regardless of from kampung to city, or from adolescence to adulthood.
Mao Mao’s little glimpse into the good old days is a heartening reminder of the past that we used to have, so that we can better appreciate our present.
“When I look at children of today stuck to their phones and having supplementary classes through every day of the week, it saddens me to know that they probably have never caught spiders or played hopscotch while growing up,” says director Gary Chia. “My mothers and elders who lived in kampungs always spoke fondly about the childhood… how their lives were relatively simple and carefree, something hard to come by in modern day Singapore.”
“I wanted to immortalise a part of that life and how delicate it is. I would like the film to remind everyone that no matter how much good the future can promise us, we should consciously be aware of and treasure what we have in the present.”
Mao Mao has been selected for a German international short film festival, with further details to be revealed in the near future!
Watch the trailer here:
Mao Mao Main Crew:
Director: Gary Chia
Producer: Daniel Choo
Writer & Editor: Nathalie Au
Cinematographer: Ibrahim Zubir
Sound: Loo Junyuan
Art Director: Tong Xuhan
Nectar & Noises
Crushes — we’ve probably all had them at least once in our lives. The nervous stuttering, little side-way glances, inability to temporarily think, and the familiar sensation of butterflies squirming around in our stomach usually come as a part and parcel of growing up.
This is especially true for Bryan (Ryan Ang), who has literal butterflies in his stomach that makes it difficult for him to approach or even speak to his office crush, Emily (Jaclyn Chan). To make things worse, his colleagues don’t seem to particularly understand his condition, and when one of his colleagues pushes him to speak to Emily when he isn’t mentally prepared to do so, he makes a decision on a surgery that would irrevocably change his life.
The muted primary colours that make up the film’s palette is evocative of the children’s section in a hospital, which seems to symbolise Bryan’s physical and psychological state. He seems to be stuck in a hospital wherever he goes, and almost acts like a child that hasn’t been able to truly grow up.
The use of butterflies in the stomach, animated in the film’s context, is a metaphor for the mental disorder that has plagued Bryan for most of his life. He literally has to carry it wherever he goes, and by visually manifesting this invisible condition through animation, Rusyaidee manages to make this condition more tangible and palpable for people otherwise might not be able to understand it. It is not something outlandish and impossible, but is a condition that is very real, especially to those that have it — and one that we might even relate to following its portrayal in the film.
Imbued with striking visuals that is full of metaphors, Nectar & Noises manifests an invisible condition into a tangible, physical form that implores for further contemplation and consideration regarding its sensitive subject matter.
“The inspiration was to show the effects of mental health [issues]. To visualise something intangible and make it easy to perceive for people from all walks of life,” says director Rusyaidee Rasdeen. “I want people to be able to understand people with mental health [issues] and not shrug it off because of the lack of information there is.”
Watch the trailer for Nectar & Noises here:
Nectar & Noises Main Crew:
Director: Rusyaidee Rasdeen
Producer: Leon Tai
Cinematographer & Editor: Shannen Mok
Sound: Natasha Jumari
Production Designer: Wan Murni Iskandar
Progress tackles the sci-fi, action-comedy genre with a surprisingly local twist.
In a totalitarian state somewhere in the future, Sergeant Major Lam (Douglas Lam) has his work cut out for him when he is made to take down a rebel building. Within the apprehended rebels is his daughter, Erika Lam (Liew Jia Yi), who would rather become “Bak Kuh Teh” than reform and join in her father’s cause.
Making a sci-fi action film on a student’s budget is no easy feat, yet Alistair Quak and his team of talented visual effects artists somehow made it work. Progress does not feel at all like a student film — it feels like it could be backed by production powerhouses, with stunning visuals and an amazingly realistic dystopian landscape.
The relationship dynamics between the rebellious daughter and her coarse, foul-mouthed father also play out naturally with Liew Jia Yi and Douglas Lam’s noteworthy acting, which adds layers and nuances to the film’s narrative.
The film is also shockingly local, and while it borrows genre tropes from Hollywood (gratuitous violence, an insane amount of blood and gore, a statue modelled after the Statue of Liberty), Progress is undeniably a Singaporean film. “Bak Kuh Teh” is a torture strategy inspired by the local dish of the same name; the military slogan of ‘regardless of language, race, religion, and family’ borrows from, well, our national pledge; and the film’s dialogue and jokes are also, authentically and unapologetically, Singaporean. These local flavours give its straightforward premise a refreshing twist that makes it all the more entertaining to watch — especially as a Singaporean.
“Growing up on action movies like District 9, Terminator 2 and The Matrix, it has always been a dream to shoot an action sci-fi film in the same vein,” says director Alistair Quak regarding the film’s inspiration. “Using the various tropes in action and science fiction movies, Progress was conjured up to emulate the look and feel of one; whilst at the same time, reflect on what it truly means for a family to understand one another.”
“With the theme of ‘Family’ having been a huge influence to the story of Progress, naturally we believe that at its core the film is about a Father and Daughter coming to terms with each other and understanding what it truly means to be a family. However, wearing its ‘genre’ proudly on its sleeve, Progress is first and foremost a violent action comedy. The film aims to give the audience a good time, and present to them a film that they will be thoroughly entertained by.”
Watch the trailer for Progress here:
Progress Main Crew:
Director: Alistair Quak
Producer: Tan Jia Min
Cinematographer: Png Zhen Yu
Editor: Leon Tai
Sound: Nicolas Ow
Production Designer: Gracie Koh
Visual Effects Team:
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When The Night Falls
As a child, the world of the adults seems vast and daunting, and it’s easier to indulge in our imaginary worlds than to try to comprehend their complex, inexplicable problems. In When The Night Falls, the problem with the adults is intricately tied to the fates of two children, Aster (Cana Yu) and Jasmine (Emily Huang); and solving the issue isn’t as easy as simply running away.
When The Night Falls is a film about a parent’s looming divorce, from the vulnerable perspective of the children who are impacted by it. From the beginning, the film immediately invites us to the isolated world that Aster and Jasmine have created for themselves, where they have segregated themselves from their estranged parents. The contrast between the sisters, huddled together in the bedroom, against the raised voices and angry words that permeate through the walls is striking and impactful, and goes to show just how much the children are aware of what is going on in their family.
When The Night Falls is a raw and genuine look into the repercussions of family trauma, not simply on the parents’ side, but on the innocent children who have to take the brunt of it.
“This film was inspired by my own true story and how it impacted my life as a child.” Nathalie Au, director of When The Night Falls, says. “Learning how divorces are actually so common in Singapore, I wanted to create this film that would show audiences the real situations faced by families, but from the vulnerable point of view of the kids, and how they react to it.”
“I would like audiences to see that children, no matter how young or old, do get affected by the fights or arguments at home, even if they only hear it behind closed doors. I want to spread the awareness for parents and other adults to be aware of how delicate children are, and that they often know more than we think they would.”
Watch the trailer for When The Night Falls here:
When The Night Falls Main Crew:
Director & Writer: Nathalie Au
Producer: Issabel Andrew Heather
Cinematographer: Gary Chia
Editor: Elizabeth Liew
Sound: Daniel Choo
Art Director: Lim Zi Yu