Shorts Vol. 2 is the second installment in our anthology of
culturally important Singapore short films.
The year was 2006. One of the best Christmas presents this reviewer got was a Singapore Shorts DVD Collection produced by the Asian Film Archive and the Singapore Film Commission. The DVD released in 2005 containing nine short films by local filmmakers has been a prized collection on this reviewer’s shelf ever since. One thing he has been wondering though, is why the price of the DVD hasn’t dropped the day it was released. And for some reason, he is proud that it has stayed that way, and with the release of this second volume containing another nine local short films, he is proud to be a Singaporean reviewing this Singapore produced collection of works.
A Family Portrait (2004, Boo Junfeng) – The eight minute short directed by one of Singapore’s up and coming young talent tells the story of a photographer who remembers a family secret when his sister asks him what sex is. Shot in Spanish, the restrained mood of this well produced short is well captured on lens. It also has a melancholically beautiful that will appeal to international festivals, explaining the awards it garnered at festivals held in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Absence (1997, K. Rajagopal) – Running at 20 minutes, this 1997 short directed by the theatrical actor and television producer poignantly brings out the themes of family and belonging as the story of a mother and her son unfolds after a family patriarch’s death. The two use different methods to find solace in life after this loss, and lose the connection between them. Familiar sights and sounds in this production make it engaging to watch, and the home grown languages of English, Tamil and Malayan make touch a few heartstrings in audiences too.
Autopsy (2007, Loo Zihan) – The star of the controversial Solos and Pleasure Factory makes an unconventional documentary consisting of a conversational exchange between mother and son regarding his homosexuality. The choice of images obviously does not go along with the topics raised in the conversation, but the immense personal touch adds a somewhat affecting feel to this seven minute short. The young filmmaker’s memories are nicely translated to visuals as he chooses television images and photographs which probably mean something to him.
Gourmet Baby (2001, Sandi Tan) – Although this 15 minute short film was made seven years ago, it still feels relevant to today’s society, probably because of the evergreen message of how the younger generation is choosing fast and convenient options over the good old ways of life. The story tells of a lonely bachelor who finds a dining companion in his niece, and as the years go by, things change and a commentary on today’s fast moving society is made. The high production values of this drama are very commendable, and coupled with lead actor Lim Kay Tong’s excellent portrayal of the middle aged man, this will be one timeless short that all youngsters should experience and reflect. Although
there are no epically or memorably exciting soccer moments
in this movie, there are some melancholically wistful scenes
in the movie, especially during its opening sequence when
you see several shots of the National Stadium in Kallang,
which is now officially closed to make way for the new Singapore
Sports Hub. Even for a non soccer fan like this reviewer,
he feels that tinge of national pride depicted in the movie,
which means there is hope for him to be part of the 'in' crowd
Imelda Goes to Singapore (2006, Brian Gothong Tan) – The young filmmaker’s signature style of infusing cutting edge multimedia techniques in his workds are evident in this short but memorable short. The three minute production has a protagonist who looks suspiciously like the Philippine’s former First Lady Imelda Marcos. She comes to Singapore looking like a maid and performs a folk song. With its loud and visually enticing shots, the hidden message behind this short is left unsaid, and would probably appeal to the intellectual viewers who enjoy analyzing the allegories of something so entertaining yet ambiguous in theme.
Labour of Love – The Housewife (1979, Rajendra Gour) – This 17 minute short film is an odd but interesting inclusion on this DVD, simply because of the fact that it was made 29 years ago. Probably something which was ahead of its time, this short film looks at the role of Asian women in the modern age of home and family. The portrayal of the hardworking woman is a feminist statement that probably shocked many conservative viewers at that time. The director has also restored the audio track on this film to reduce noises for our viewing pleasure. It is heartening to know that visionary filmmakers like this have been around almost 30 years ago.
Match Made (2006, Mirabelle Ang) – This raw documentary looks at the true accounts of how different Asian men search for their perfect brides in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Focusing on a Singaporean interviewee, this 48 minute short film not only features the subject’s inner feelings and thoughts, it also sheds light on the business network and aspect of the state of things which are probably still relevant now. The multi award winner may not be he most lavish production you’ve seen, but the realism and authenticity of the subject matter more than makes up for it.
Wet Season (2007, Michael Tay) – Some may find this short film too flashy for liking, but the blend of stop motion animation and live action is one of this reviewer’s favourites because of its sincerity and personal touch. It reflects on the young filmmaker’s attempt to find closure after his father's death. The innovative story telling will capture the audience’s hearts, and milking a few laughs along the way. The themes of loss and vanished opportunities are also nicely brought out in this six minute production. Oh, and you’d have to see it to know why it’s titled “Wet Season”.
Yesterday’s Play (2005, Ryan Tan Wei Liang) – This four minute short is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Using a long take to tell the story of the relationship between a mother and her son, expect to hear how the mother continuously scolds her son as he pays no attention to her. Viewers may be left cold, but those who have similar emotional connections may find this simple but thematic production extremely touching.
This DVD contains insightful commentaries on all the nine shorts ranging from the filmmakers themselves, to the cast and crew. Watch them repeatedly to gain a different takeaway each time. Directors’ notes and film stills are also organized nicely in each short’s sub menu page. There are more features like storyboards and essays by academics on http://www.asianfilmarchive.org/singapore_shorts2/
Because of the different periods and formats these nine shorts were made in, each one has a different standard of visual transfer, but that will not mar your viewing pleasure. Each short is presented in its original language.
Review by John Li