The Finale of ’15 Shorts’ Packs Emotional Haymakers in Its Collection of Superb Shorts
First announced in 2017, 15 Shorts is a series of short films that highlights critical and emerging issues in Singapore through compelling stories of real Singaporeans from the 1970s to the 1990s. Since its first batch of shorts in 2017, the series – a collaboration of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and local film company Blue3Asia – has released 10 of these shorts, with the start of 2020 marking the release of its final set of five.
From Kelvin Tong to Gladys Ng, this round of short films sees the contributions of both veteran and emerging local filmmakers alike. Each of them shines a spotlight on niche and traditionally underserved causes such as animal welfare, sports leadership and heritage conservation. They are now available to watch for free on the official 15 Shorts website.
Prior to the media preview of these five shorts, Daniel Yun, an executive producer of the series and director of Blue3Asia, shared that one of the main goals of the initiative is to inspire everyday Singaporeans to take action, and that even the smallest acts of kindness can go far and beyond.
After watching these films back to back, it was hard not to be inspired by their tales of everyday compassion based and inspired by true stories. Perhaps even more so, it was impossible not to be moved by these stories as well. This last batch of 15 Shorts laid haymaker after haymaker aimed straight for the gut – it frankly felt like a constant game of one-upmanship to see which filmmaker could conjure up the most heartwarming tale. Below are my thoughts of these outstanding shorts:
The Brown Dog
By Jerrold Chong, Andre Quek, Eric Khoo
The animation short wastes no time tugging at the heartstrings: it begins with a puppy abandoned at the side of a busy road, helplessly yelping in confusion as he is left to dodge a torrent of oncoming vehicles. Captain Hook does escape the predicament but the next we see of the puppy, he has lost a limb.
There is no respite in The Brown Dog, viciously pulling its audience through all the ordeals of the stray. This is furthered by the short’s unique pairing of hand-drawn animation juxtaposed against live backgrounds of everyday Singapore, further contextualizing the journey. The short is based on the true story of Cathy Strong, co-founder of the Animal Lovers League, and how saving Captain Hook reminded her of what inspired her to start the League.
Filled with lush animations supported by a crystal-clear narrative, The Brown Dog is a treat for the eyes and the heart. Just remember to keep the tissues near.
Under The Same Pink Sky
By Gladys Ng
Under The Same Pink Sky is a gentle, patient short that speaks volumes on how everybody has the power to change the lives of others for the better. It is inspired by the story of Hedy Yap, a pioneer volunteer of the Breast Cancer Foundation’s Mandarin Support Group. This, however, did not come naturally to Hedy, as she was still emotionally reeling from her experience as a breast cancer survivor. However, her outreach to Yun Ying, a Chinese-speaking housewife diagnosed with breast cancer, proves to be life-changing for both women.
A phone conversation between the two characters is the centrepiece of the short – no accompanying music, no camera tricks, just two great actresses delivering brilliant performances. Even without being in the same room, powerful deliveries by leads Doreen Toh and Darrel Chan both superbly capture the anguish and worries that come with living with the disease.
The short pays special attention to the particular issues faced by women in the Mandarin Support Group. The lack of information about the disease in Mandarin and not being able to understand English-speaking nurses are both seen to amplify the loneliness felt by Yun Ying – done without being critical or by being heavy-handed.
While all five of the last batch of 15 Shorts are spectacular, Under The Same Pink Sky is my clear favourite of the bunch. Be it with its performances or with the clean cinematography, the short moves with confidence at every juncture, succinctly and naturally illuminating lesser-known issues with sharp brevity and grace.
By Kelvin Tong
The Listener intertwines the stories of Ravi, a primary-school student coming home to an empty house left by working parents, and Geetha, a helpline counsellor for Tinkle Friend, an initiative started by the Singapore Children’s Society in 1984. The short concurrently tells both of their stories through visuals of the independent Ravi on his day alone at home, with voiceovers of Geetha speaking with the children who call the helpline.
Like the other shorts of this series, The Listener pulls no punches in dealing with the raw emotional turbulence faced by children growing up. Sure, the short cheekily points out the children’s playful spirit through their various prank calls but between them lies genuine troubles met with invaluable help.
Ravi is the only child in the short without this assistance – far too shy to talk to Tinkle Friend about what is dogging him. Riddha Suji Thampi’s performance as Ravi poignantly translates the deep confusion that comes from his loss of innocence during the course of the short. This is enhanced by appropriate musical stings and cinematography that feels longing with its sparse empty spaces.
If a child going through a life-changing experience is not enough, the short packs an emotional one-two with how both story threads resolve. The Listener tells a straight-forward short that reaches for the heartstrings through expert technical work and memorable performances.
Majid The Legend
By Tan Jianhao
Majid The Legend tells the lesser-known story of Majid Ariff, regarded as one of the best football players that Singapore has ever produced. Ariff remains the only Singaporean to be selected for the Asian All-Stars team, and in his later life took a young Fandi Ahmad under his wing.
The short gives its viewers the backstory of this towering figure, and how – under the tutelage of coach Choo Seng Quee – the young footballer became a national hero. While the story is engaging, the execution of it comes off somewhat lacking with misplaced dialogue and a rather unnatural progression.
Choo recognised the passion of the young Ariff but was initially reluctant to train him; something about the teenager eventually changed Choo’s mind but the short never truly makes it clear without explicitly spelling everything out. Michael Chua’s impassioned deliveries as Choo does lend weight to the narrative and salvage much of the clumsy writing.
Nonetheless, the short does successfully transports its viewers to the by-gone kampung era of Singapore through excellent set design and props. The characters never felt like they were playing dress-up, rather, they melded together with the era. Through a montage of archival footage, the short still inspires and uplift by its end. Majid The Legend proves that Ariff’s story is one that deserves to be told and retold.
By Tan Wei Ting and Kirsten Tan
Still Standing rares to be more – it left me wanting a full-length series dedicated to the less-celebrated of our pioneer generation. The short hones in on the story of Tan Cheng Siong, a pioneer architect of the iconic Pearl Bank Apartment.
Still Standing cross-cuts between the past and the present. In the past, we see the determination of a young Tan to foster and realise a greater sense of community with his design of a ‘vertical kampung’. In the present, we see residents of the soon-to-be-demolished Pearl Bank Apartment, as they look to the now 83-year-old Tan for one last shot at saving their beloved home.
Everything about this short feels earnest and earned. In under half an hour, the hearty performances of the cast can make anyone care about the now dilapidated building, superbly translating the deep familial-like bond between the residents of Pearl Bank with ease. While there is a noticeable difference between how the short handles the past and present, I felt that both were effective in their own ways and was never dissonating.
Tan’s backstory was shot much more cinematically while its segments in the present elects for a more hand-held, voyeuristic approach. Both excelled in lending weight to the emotions of its narrative. In whole, these elements made Tan’s journey to realise his vision – and to see it all demolished in his old age – unbearably bittersweet.
Still Standing is a short that thrives on emotions, making full use of its cast and charming storytelling formula to deliver an engaging, worthwhile reminder on the erosion of Singapore’s heritage under the heels of progress.