Presenting the 2020 Film School Graduate Productions: Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media
The graduating class of 2020 is plagued with uncertainty but that is not stopping their creative juices from flowing. It is a tough time for the Arts industry where production and filmmaking in general are struggling to kickstart amidst the pandemic.
Having said that, the eight short films that the students of NTU have churned out are of high quality and it excites me to see what they go on to achieve in the industry. Any film is a collection of efforts and does not belong to one person alone. As such, these shorts properly reflect the dedication and conviction that the students possess, regardless of how big or small their role in the film is.
The theme of this year’s ADM Grad Show is Unseen to Seen. It is the idea that every big manifestation starts off with a very simple and small idea. Shedding light on the importance of expressing one’s self, this year’s projects promise to refocus the world through their lenses.
金纸 Gold Paper
Director: Vania Tan Min
Producer: Tong Xu Han
Cinematographer: Vanessa Tan
Production Designer: Lee Ying Hui Candy
Editor: Foong Tze Young, Ryan
Sound Supervisor: Cai Rui Rong
At the center of Gold Paper is a grand taoist funeral and two estranged sisters. It is a web of family complexities that has to be dealt with upon the death of the sisters’ father. Li Ping is the main character who is resentfully middle class and struggles in the shadow of her wealthy sister. The two have to reconcile their differences when they find out that the paper car needed for the burning ritual is no longer available.
There is nothing that is extraordinary or incredibly ornate about this short film. However, that feels entirely intended by the team and it’s clear that they prefer to draw beauty in simplicity. The characters wear a uniformed white top throughout the film because of the funeral setting. This successfully creates a commonality between them and highlights the fact that when everything material or emotional is stripped away, family is cut from the same cloth.
Gold Paper’s success also comes from its attention to detail. The sets are extremely well thought out and meticulously put together, from the funeral set at the void deck to the tiny, cluttered HDB flat. Each frame has great variation, thanks to how “full” the surrounding looks. Furthermore, the actors put in good performances. Special mention goes to Serene Chen, who plays Li Ping, as she is easily the strongest performance of the film. Her pained expressions and internal struggles were brought out with nuance.
Where the film falls short is its development of characters. While we understand that there is conflict and tensions, it is never established why. Perhaps with a deeper understanding of the family’s dynamics, viewers would have been able to connect with the characters and root for their reconciliation. While the overarching message of family first is clear enough, there is potential to further detail the message and intention of the film.
Unite in Laughter
Director: Nevin Jacob Thomas
Producer: Nevin Jacob Thomas
Cinematographer: Lim Eu Chian Alvin
Editor: Vania Tan Min
Sound Supervisor: Adithi Surya Swaminathan
Unite in Laughter is probably my favourite of this graduating class because of how unique its premise is. The film explores the Singaporean identity and what it means to be Singaporean through the lenses of three prominent Singaporean comedians.
When I first heard the synopsis, I did not understand the link between the two. However, after watching the film, I stand corrected. The partnership between Singaporean identity and comedy is one that comes together seamlessly and something that I have never seen before.
The documentary film spotlights Kumar, Sharul Channa and Sam See, who are very well-known in the Singapore stand-up comedy scene. At first glance, there seem to be no similarities between them. However, as the film progresses, there is one striking similarity – they are all marginalised minorities in their own way. They talk about doing drag, being LGBTQ and being a woman in a man’s world, all while under the scrutiny of the nation.
The resounding success of Unite in Laughter comes from its extremely intelligent choice of visuals. The documentary is driven through voice-overs from the comedians but have visuals that are subtle and impactful at the same time. I was especially impressed by the decision to include scenes from an egg factory (of all things?!) to accompany the narration of Singaporeans being mechanical and uniformed. A stroke of genius that I didn’t see coming! The occasional addition of jokes from the comedians’ stand-up nights were also a very engaging and an interesting alternative to the serious tone of the film.
United in Laughter was also nominated for the National Youth Film Awards – rightfully so!
Director: Choo Rui Zhi Mathias
Producer: Peh Jia Qi
Cinematographer: Wong King Lam
Production Designer: Tong Xu Han
Editor: Wong King Lam
Sound Supervisor: Syaza Arinah Binte Muhammad Sham
With only two characters and sets throughout the film, Rocketship is a fuss-free showing. The film is one major tug at heartstrings with its mix of sadness and hopefulness. An earnest portrayal of a child’s struggle with feuding parents, there is little not to like about the film.
At the heart of the film is Sam, a young boy with an indomitable spirit. He relentlessly tries to make “rocket ships” out of firecrackers and stubbornly attempts to fix a broken lantern. Halfway into the film, it becomes clear that he insists on doing so because of his innocent conviction to reunite his parents. Sam’s meticulousness is bittersweet as it feels heartwarming but leaves viewers with sadness that a young child is subject to a pain that he cannot even fully fathom.
Rocketship’s team makes a bold decision to direct a child actor in such a complex role. Not only is he the main character, he carries the film – a large responsibility on literally tiny shoulders. Complementary to Sam, his mother character does a very good job at supporting the film. She carries off the hardened exterior well while retaining a somewhat pained demeanour.
It is difficult to go wrong with an adorable boy trying to build his own little world with his parents. This film touches all the right spots and how.
Director: Wong King Lam
Producer: Lee Ying Hui Candy
Cinematographer: Cheok Bao Le
Production Designer: Ismiraudhatul Huda Binte Suleiman
Editor: Bey Shi Min
Sound Supervisor: Tan How Rong Josiah
Mosquito is a film that stands out from its peers because of its very peculiar premise – in a good way! It smartly draws on the constant state of panic we experience in Singapore due to dengue and pairs it with a social message about monetary servitude towards our elderly parents. Both topics are so far removed from each other that I honestly was not sure how it was going to work.
Alas, the team of Mosquito brings the two together with a brilliant link. Following a newly employed, filial fresh graduate and his elderly parents, the film gives a whole new meaning to the popular Singaporean phrase “you are sucking my blood like a mosquito.”
It tackles a very sensitive and difficult to navigate topic of money and parents – raising the question of when reliance becomes over-reliance and downright leeching. While the horror genre might not have been the most obvious choice, it perfectly brings this film to life with its dramatic SFX make-up and interesting CGI. However, in certain scenes, the horror becomes slightly overkill and borders on comical.
The film is set primarily in a small HDB flat which is very realistic, with great attention to detail. While this may be budget-friendly and practical, the challenge comes in transforming a humble flat into a horror haven. Mosquito gets the balance right with their winning combinations – lighting and sound. Most of the scenes are low-lit and bathed in a dark yellow hue, with occasional flashes of colour. The dramatic sounds, true to any horror movie, complement the visuals – a nice variation of frames, given the limited space. It is bold and it pushes the envelope in creativity, deserving appreciation for that.
Director: Lim Eu Chian Alvin
Producer: Veron Teng Yee Si
Cinematographer: Nevin Jacob Thomas
Production Designer: Sim Yong San Shermin
Editor: Soh Hui Min
Sound Supervisor: Shafna
Rekindled is a pleasant and light-hearted watch, similar to a romantic comedy. While the rest of the films in this year’s graduation showcase were jam-packed with layers of social messaging, this one takes it easy, which has an appeal in itself.
This cute film is about the quintessential Singaporean couple who are caught between the burden of building a life together and the struggles of spending quality time with each other amidst that. The couple is forced to postpone their trip to Thailand due to work commitments and that takes a toll on their relationship. The rest of the film revolves around their reconciliation, if any.
The dynamics explored here is one that is strikingly familiar to any young adult couple in Singapore. There is a painfully accurate conversation the two have about buying a Built-To-Order (BTO) flat and the financial constraints that come with that – something that almost every couple in their 20s or 30s can relate to. The message of increased cost of living at the expense of potentially ruining a relationship in our nation is packaged nicely in this rom-com, complete with a song sequence.
The film’s premise is easily accessible to the masses as the audience would be inclined to relate to it rather than taking on a more observational role – a victory of the film.
A House Is Not A Home
Cinematographer: Adithi Surya Swaminathan
Production Designer: Sim Yong San Shermin
Editor: Veron Teng Yee Si
Sound Supervisor: Bey Shi Min
Another layered film, A House Is Not A Home is purely character driven. It is an ambitious attempt to tackle heavy topics such as drug abuse and family dynamics in a mere 15 minutes. The film shines brightly amongst the rest and is one of my favourites.
Following a mother and daughter, the two deal with drug addiction in their home. Khai struggles with meth addiction and is repeatedly caught abusing the substance. Both his mother and sister desperately try to help him amidst their own turmoils. With much pain and difficulty, the two must learn the delicate dance between loving someone and having to do what is right.
When I say this film is character driven, I mean the film rests on the very strong performances delivered. Each character portrays their pain and backstory in a way that is relatable enough to the audience despite the short time and fairly little character development; they still feel extremely holistic. Additionally, the team has shown restraint in their filmmaking to enable the actors to shine. The frames are kept simple with very little music and dramatics as fillers. One aspect of the film that the writers did not shy away from was adding expletives in the dialogues. While this was a risky choice, it paid off as it added authenticity to the portrayal of conflict and pain.
A House Is Not A Home shares the message of knowing when to let go and getting out while one is still in control of the situation – a fitting message from a film that does exactly that. It was also nominated for the National Youth Film Awards!
Director: Soh Hui Min
Producer: Ismiraudhatul Huda Binte Suleiman
Cinematographer: Cheok Bao Le
Production Designer: Neo Kai Xin Sammi
Editor: Peh Jia Qi
Sound Supervisor: Celine Lee Qian Hui
As groovy and psychedelic as the name Lauderama sounds, the film delivers with its 70’s aesthetic. It packages some heavy topics such as drugs and child abuse in a quirky and light-hearted short.
Mdm Tan sits on the throne of Launderama as your stereotypical “tow-kay” (boss) of a laundry shop. She is seen constantly bossing her employee, Desiree, around. However, it is soon revealed that Desiree is actually Mdm Tan’s daughter – a far fetched thought because of how poorly she is treated. The relationship between the two is strange and does not come together till the very end, keeping viewers somewhat confused but hooked, all while raising the questions – what is Mdm Tan hiding and when will Desiree break free?
A huge plus for the film is the setting of the laundry shop. It is very clearly set sometime in the past (I’m guessing the 90s?) but it is never made clear when. From the retro clothes hanging around to the dressing of the characters to the old-school pails used around the shop, it is clear that the show is not set in the present.
The trippy screenplay with colourful lighting and fun dream-sequence visuals successfully propels the film forward; a smart variation in screenplay. However, what shines most about this film is Desiree’s character. Darrell Chan has portrayed the character in the most wonderfully weird way, where it did not fit into any one mould or character archetype. Mdm Tan too is portrayed in an intentionally annoying way with her grating sing-song Singlish whines.
Launderama is a retro treat with strong performances and twists. It keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, not quite knowing what to expect next.
Mr Singapore 1974
Director: Tan How Rong Josiah
Producer: Syaza Arinah Binte Muhammad Sham
Cinematographer: Cai Rui Rong
Production Designer: Neo Kai Xin Sammi
Editor: Choo Rui Zhi Mathias
Sound Supervisor: Celine Lee Qian Hui
Another one of my favourites, Mr Singapore 1974 is extremely heartwarming and moving. It is simple in its premise and storyline, leaving the characters and relationships to enjoy the spotlight. In turn, viewers are able to connect strongly with the characters, which makes for a powerful watch.
The film is an exploration of the relationship between a grandson and a grandfather, who was an award-winning bodybuilder in his heyday. The young man endeavours to make a film about the glory days of his grandfather which leads to insecurities and unhappiness. Eventually, the two learn to understand each other and prove that love can bridge any generation gap.
Showcasing a conflict of generation was a smart choice by the team as there is little not to like about relationships that tug at heartstrings. The interaction between the two characters is truly a joy to watch and brought a large smile to my face. It raises the important conversation of using art (film, in this case) to overcome gaps in understanding and use it to traverse time. Both actors do a spectacular job in portraying their respective characters as I felt immediately connected to them.
Overall, it is the nostalgia of this film that I love and the restraint that the filmmakers have shown. It takes a certain confidence in your ability to be able to rein in the unnecessary embellishments and allow a strong story and characters to speak for themselves – something that the team has accomplished.
Sinema.SG would like to wish the graduating class our heartiest congratulations! Here’s to bigger and better achievements! Read more about the students and their portfolios here!
– Presenting the 2020 Film School Graduate Productions: LASALLE College of the Arts
– Empowering Over Victimising, ‘Jagat’ Is the Realist Masterpiece That Malaysian Indians Deserve
– Grasping at Singaporean Malaise, ‘12 Storeys’ Is an Outstanding Family Drama Still Relevant 20 Years On