Director: Kelvin Tong
Cast: Peter Yu, Tan Tiow Im, Mandy Chen, Naomi Yeo
Runtime: 1 hr 28 mins
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 7 December 2023
Synopsis: Set in Singapore in 1979, A Year Of No Significance chronicles the gradual disintegration of a middle-aged architect as changes rock the 45th year of his life. Sidelined in the office because of his inability to speak English, Lim Cheng Soon is cut further adrift when his wife leaves him inexplicably one day. His elderly father moves in, forcing him to confront the fact that the former has always preferred his younger brother. Robbed of his identities as architect, husband and son, Cheng Soon struggles in the dusk of his life, raging against the dying light.
Local filmmaker Kelvin Tong has two films released this year. The first was Confinement, a psychological thriller about the horror experienced by a pregnant woman in a big, scary house. The movie received extensive media coverage, especially with its leading lady Rebecca Lim being pregnant in real life. Tong’s other offering is a less commercial film, and the serious drama may not be as widely publicised.
But this is the one that it worth your time, thanks to a heavy handed story that takes viewers back to Singapore in 1979. You can also trust Tong and his team to recreate Singapore’s past with sights and sounds that some of us may remember. By shooting the film in Malaysia. This was a time when people who were Chinese educated faced a very challenging situation while the nation seemingly favoured those who spoke English. For most of us, this is a situation we may not be able to relate to, because it seems almost natural that we can effortlessly communicate in English to get on with our daily lives.
This is obviously not the case for the film’s protagonist Lim Cheng Soon, a middle aged man who has absolutely nothing to be happy about in his life. Despite his architecture background, he is sidelined in his office where younger English speaking colleagues are getting the opportunities to go for external meetings to present proposals. His days are spent in a construction site making sure that everything is in order, and also in office churning out English reports by painfully referring to the dictionary.
Things aren’t going well at home for Cheng Soon as well. His wife leaves him, while his father favours his younger brother who is educated in English and has a happy family. The situation gets ugly when Cheng Soon’s brother is caught having an affair, and their father assures the younger son that Cheng Soon will help him.
No wonder Cheng Soon is sullen throughout the 88 minute film.
The character is played by the very hardworking Peter Yu (the actor has five movies at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival), and this is a performance that we hope he will get more recognition for. With his dark rimmed glasses, Yu’s Cheng Soon drifts from one location to another, struggling to keep afloat while life treats him unfairly. He does not seem to have any friends – he eats alone in his car, and he lives alone in a drab apartment.
When his father moves in due to ill health, Cheng Soon has an added responsibility as the eldest son in the family to take care of the grumpy old man. But he does it quietly and takes in the unkind comments. You wonder whether this will lead towards an explosive moment when Cheng Soon finally lets it all out and all hell breaks loose. You fear the dire consequences, but you also care about the poor man’s sanity.
The supporting cast includes Tan Tiow Im as Cheng Soon’s stubborn father and Johnson Choo as his luckier younger brother. But the spotlight is definitely on Yu, who effortlessly shows the pain and struggles the character is going through in an environment that is leaving individuals like him behind in the name of progress.
(This moody drama may not offer any glimpse of hope, but it is a worthy watch, thanks to Kelvin Tong's sure-handed direction and Peter Yu's engrossing performance)
Review by John Li