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4:30 (Singapore)

  Publicity Stills of "4:30"
(Courtesy from Zhao Wei Films)


Genre: Drama
Director: Royston Tan
Starring: Kim Young Jun, Xiao Li Yuan
RunTime: 1 hr 33 mins
Released By: Zhao Wei Films & Shaw
Rating: NC16 (Brief Nudity)
Official Website: www.zhaowei.com/430

Release Date: 29 June 2006

Synopsis :

4:30 traces the relationship between Zhang Xiao Wu, an eleven year old Chinese Boy, and his tenant Jung, a thirty-something Korean man. Told entirely from the perspective of the boy, Xiao Wu, this story of two very different characters is less about friendship than about a shared experience and appreciation of solitude. 4:30 starts with Xiao Wu sneaking to the room of Jung in the early hours of the morning, and stealing from the Korean man. Just as getting intoxicated is a habit for Jung, who only staggers back to his rented room when drunk, soon stealing for Xiao Wu becomes equally as compulsive. We soon realise that Jung’s true intention for staying in Singapore is suicide. It is only through Xiao Wu’s encounter with Jung failing in his bid to die that Xiao Wu begins to understand his true fascination with Jung. Ultimately, 4:30, as the title suggests is about a moment, a boy’s attempt to cling to it escaping his drab reality, in a life yet fully lived. Yet it too opens us to the possibility that in this age of the urban, of the tall apartment blocks, of the cityscape, that the loneliness that a city-dweller feels not only transcends cultural and geographic boundaries but that it is also not inevitable.

Movie Review:

Royston Tan’s 4:30 is much more than just a character study of a 11-year-old boy who’s left in the care of a reclusive Korean tenant who spends more time in a drunken stupor than he does outside his room. It’s an intricate and personal look at isolation and loneliness in a bustling and fast-paced society where there are those who impose it upon themselves while there are also others who find it beyond their control. Much like Albert Camus’s book, The Stranger, it follows a singular character through a journey of desperate solitude that touches on death, observation and estrangement.

As expected, time plays a significant part of the film’s motif. It’s almost palpable, serving as a boundary for the boy, Xiao Wu (Xiao Li Yuan) to cross the lines that he would not dare pass when there is light. The other and possibly the most essential element of the film that is easily conveyed would be detachment and the general sense of alienation felt by the youth in Singapore. The film is by no means an exposition of this subject but an observation. In the case of Xiao Wu, he yearns for the attention and care of the adults around him, to no avail. Unlike the tenant, Jung (Kim Young Jun) who voluntarily shuts himself from everyone, to a life lacking meaning and affection.

Exploring the boy’s intimacy (and privacy) issues, Tan shows early on how Xiao Wu acts on his fascination with the man next to his own room. Sneaking in before dawn, he rummages through his possessions and quietly observes the man’s slumber. Taking pictures and collecting items including body hair, he mementos them into his diary, detailing when and what he did. He develops a bit of an obsession as he tries to get attention from Jung by mischievously leaving messages and items outside his door. Interestingly, they share a common past time – trying to die. Now, this isn’t the crux of the film’s plot but it does show the sort of anguish they live with.

Tan places ambiguous markers throughout the film, suggesting to us that the non-relationship that Xiao Wu and Jung have are remnants of a dream or a childlike reverie concocted by a lonely boy such as when Xiao Wu chugs down a bottle of cough mixture each day. The 13-year-old actor, Li Yuan is utterly outstanding in his role. Carrying the entirety of the film on his back, his remarkably nuanced and layered portrayal of a tortured soul was the mainstay of Tan’s vision for the film.

Unlike Tan’s previous film in 15, when quick, stylish edits and a sprinting storyline formed its pith, 4:30 is slow and mellow while focusing on our country’s inner issues as opposed to the previous film’s overt nature. It never becomes tedious, as it draws attention to the every detail and action of its characters with terrific direction. With only a handful of instances in which dialogue is used, the sound design had to be impeccably effective to get the emotions across, coupled with prominent ambient sounds.

The visual metaphors are strongly attuned to the character’s emotions and the ensuing mood. Tan illustrates the ability to craft an edgy discomfort from the silence and contemplation from his actors. The scenes with the 2 leads are deeply engaging and often intense especially when his long, fixed shots are intently framed as though photographs.

With an intelligent mixture of gorgeous art direction and complex psychological perspectives, Royston Tan has probably created the most mature and accomplished Singapore feature production to date. Its ‘international’ feel goes in tandem with the local tastes and could find more fans abroad. Those who had the privilege of viewing Tan’s most prominent feature, 15, might have found it overrated due to its controversy. But with his latest bow, you owe it to yourselves to witness more from arguably Singapore’s most talented auteur.

Movie Rating:

(Quite possibly the finest Singaporean film released this year)

Review by Justin Deimen

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