Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: SGfilm 2010: Asian Shorts

This series of five shorts includes three works by Edmund Yeo as director, writer and/or producer. Born in Singapore in 1984, trained in Australia, and now based in Japan, Malaysian filmmaker Yeo has made numerous award-winning shorts that have been shown in major film festivals around the world. He became the youngest Malaysian to ever compete at the Venice Film Festival with Kingyo in 2009.

  • Love Suicides, Edmund Yeo (Malaysia/2009/13 min) -- Bit slow moving and weird. Hmm, must be a Malaysian film? Yes! In an isolated Malaysian fishing village, a woman receives communication from her husband via series of letters. The man can hear, but isn't seen. The letters are all telling the woman to keep the daughter quiet. Don't let the girl play the flute. It makes too much noise. Don't let her wear shoes to school. They make too much noise. No ceramic dishes, no cooking. "My heart is aching," the man writes, possibly from the great fishing fleet in the beyond. (5/5)
  • Ladybird's Tears, Kong Pahurak (Japan, Thailand, Malaysia/2010/11 min) -- Would it be nuts to say I booked last-minute plane and movie tickets and hotel reservations just to come to Singapore from Bangkok to see this? Yeah, probably. Because who in their right mind would do that? Better just say I went through all that just see if I could. And I did. Through editing and rewriting, Yeo salvaged this unfinished short by Kong, which was intended as a low-budget sci-fi drama set in a dystopian future. A mix of black and white and vivid color adds to the dreamy quality of it all as Kong narrates the story of his unfinished film while the actress Zhu Dan is perhaps the titular ladybird, or ladybug. It is what it is, and it's pretty cool. (5/5)
  • Hujan Tak Jadi Datang (It's Not Raining Outside), Yosep Anggi Noen (Indonesia/2009/16 min) -- A young woman in a furniture-store van is helping to deliver a sofa. Lucky for her there's a young guy there to help her tote the other end and give the sofa a whirl. (4/5)
  • Gaarud (The Spell), Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni (India/2009/12 min) -- The camera goes through walls as it pans across a guesthouse and peers into the rooms of various guests to the strange goings-on. It needs Bill Murray narrating, "Let me tell you about my boat." No, not really. Lots of cool shadows, lights and sounds. (5/5)
  • Kingyo, directed by Edmund Yeo (Japan, Malaysia/2009/25 min) -- Yeo split his brain in half to make this split-screen short, which has the characters in different frames even when they were shot in the same frame. It's a cool effect. I get it. It's a poignant tale, about an Akihabara cosplay maid who gives tours in her maid costume. She is visited by her old university professor and the details of their relationship and what happened to a pair of titular goldfish are revealed slowly and sparingly, more through significant glances in those split frames than through dialog. (5/5)

Breaker Morant, Bruce Beresford (1980, Australia) -- Even with its famous-last-words quote ("Shoot straight you bastards. Don't make a mess of it."), this classic military courtroom drama brings to mind another great quote from another great movie, and that is "charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500." But this was Africa of 1901-02, not Vietnam. And the Indy 500 hadn't even started yet. The ironies stacked up like so much cordwood in the case of three Australian lieutenants of the Bushveldt Carbineers charged with killing Boer prisoners and a suspected Boer spy (a German missionary). It was a show trial of scapegoats by the British Empire, which aimed to bring the Boers to the peace-talks table and keep Germany out of the war. The late, great Edward Woodward portrays the officer-gentleman title character, a poet warrior and horse breaker. Bryan Brown as the "wild fellow" co-defendant Handcock was crowd pleaser with his sharp quips. Jack Thompson rose in prominence in his portrayal of the underdog defense attorney. Great mustaches and beards. And brass band music. There was a palpable resonance in watching this depiction of so much stiff-upper Britishness running roughshod over the "colonials" in the former British outpost of Singapore. Part of a director's focus on Beresford that also included Driving Miss Daisy as well as the opener of the 23rd Singapore International Film Festival, Mao's Last Dancer, the screening of Breaker Morant was in the Old School hilltop boutique arthouse cinema. It's a long, sweaty climb up the hill that's rewarded with crisp digital projection in a room filled with long, red couches. (5/5)

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