Francis (Bosco Francis) is a man at the end of his tether. He has a 10-year-old son he loves desperately, but sorrow, guilt and constant inebriation have made him an ineffectual father. The son (Jathishweran) is a stoic 'old soul' who has learned to bury his affection for his old man and to cope with his chaotic life. A broken spirit and a single parent, Francis hopes to redeem himself and win his son's love and respect. He makes a painful - and bizarre - return to magic. An unexpected incident one night sets father and son on the road. In a dilapidated building, these two wounded souls come to terms with their love - a love which is as deep and acute as their grief.
As the 81st Annual Academy Awards draw near (mark your 22 February 2009 on your calendar, pundits), we wonder whether Singapore will make its mark at the prestigious Oscars with this represented film directed by Eric Khoo. After all, this is the same film that was chosen to compete in the 61st Cannes Film Festival, and ran against 19 other features at the esteemed film festival. And this was a historic first for Singapore, and that definitely buzzed up the local filmmaking scene.
Well, not only did the film excite the Singapore production buffs, it captivated our fellow reviewer (who isn’t the easiest person to please when it comes to movies) – and that, to this humble columnist, is a big thing. After 85 minutes of this well traveled film made by a true blue Singaporean filmmaker, this columnist was left trying to figure out the captivation that awed his fellow reviewer.
After 2005’s feature Be With Me, Khoo makes another melancholic film about a single Indian father who attempts to give up his bad drinking habits and his sleazy bartender job in order to impress his son. To make his son love him again, he also picks up the art of performing magic again. And mind you, his brand of magic isn’t bright and cheery stunts like pulling rabbits out of the hat and juvenile card tricks. This is real stuff which earned the film a rating of NC16 with consumer advice of “some disturbing scenes” – don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Also, don’t say we didn’t warn you that this is an Eric Khoo film. Given a plot like that, the film could have gone all mainstream and melodramatic, showcasing posh production values and tear jerking moments to bring the cash in – but how would that make it different from the rest of the commercial movies out there? So the filmmakers decided to take a raw and coarse direction, where what you see is what you get. The piercing of the flesh is real, the fire eating is real, the human tug of war is real, and the beating up of the pained protagonist is real too.
We feel for the lead actor Bosco Francis (only a real magician like him could have pulled off stunt after stunt without getting seriously injured) who goes through the traumatic scenes looking solemn and grave. We feel for the wide eyed Jathishweran who plays his son, who translates his innocence into every Tamil dialogue he speaks. But somehow, we don’t feel the magic between the father and son. Maybe it’s the filmmakers’ intention to alienate the viewers with its mostly quiet scenes. Maybe it’s the lack of huge pretty sets to please the eyes. Maybe it’s the shortage of lush orchestral music to please the ears. Maybe it’s just this columnist’s expectation to see an emotionally connective drama.
But this is Eric Khoo, and whether his style of telling stories will engage the Academy’s jury, at this point in time, we’ll just have to wait and see – we’d definitely happy if the film does Singapore proud with a nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
This Code 3 DVD contains a 12 minute Making of My Magic featuring interviews with the director, producer and cast members about their experiences making the film. It ends with a memorable video clip taken after the screening of the film at Cannes Film Festival, where Francis performs a magic trick after a standing ovation. Also included is Khoo’s 2006 short film No Day Off about a maid’s trials and tribulations in Singapore. Watch this 39 minute short film for its engaging depiction of how maids are often treated in Singapore.
The disc’s visual transfer maintains the film’s raw and gritty look, and is presented in its original (predominantly Tamil) soundtrack.
by John Li