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Dec. 3rd, 2010

Men in White (2007) by Kelvin Tong

on imdb.com

This movie is very different from the usual films as it uses a mix of different styles. Some parts are like a documentary as the characters speak into a camera held by one of their comrades, Sunny, a videographer, to teach the audience about ghosts. The course of the film has also been interrupted by rap music videos and an animated sequence of the dating process of ghosts which includes a ‘Discovering Channel’ to show a sperm penetrating an egg, and a health advertisement advocating ‘2 is enough’ by ‘the Ministry of Ghost Health’. At other times the film runs like a regular narrative, such as the blossoming romance between Ah Boon and Wan Yi, and the ghosts adjusting to the newcomer David. There are also sporadic moments of film rewinding, though I do not understand the purpose behind this. With this eclectic mix of styles, this movie reminds me of Kamikaze Girls (2004) by Tetsuya Nakashima. 

The movie uses some common motifs of ghosts and the supernatural, such as the opening of the movie when a girl suspects the supernatural around her, it is foreshadowed by a cat in the headlights and the meowing of a cat just as she thought she heard something creepy. Later, when she goes into the lift, weird things happen as the lift goes up instead of down and the door refuses to close when she wants it. Perhaps the claustrophobic nature of a lift makes things scarier, alongside the complete lack of control of the situation and powerless to get away, unlike if she took the stairs for instance. In the end of the movie, the ghosts decide that mummies, werewolves, and the devil are all Western concepts, but since they live in Asia, in Singapore, they should appear accordingly, so they have long hair and wear all white, just what Singaporeans think a Pontianak looks like.

There is a pretty satirical undercurrent to this film. Product placement is overtly blunt as one ghost recommends Crocodile shirts to another ghost and the sponsor is Crocodile. Ill-treatment of the elderly is taken to an extreme as Mdm. Wong continues to do the housework in her son’s home in her afterlife. Two random passers-by exemplify the tendency for Singaporeans to take down the license plate number of vehicles involved in an accident when David pushes a cab-stealer onto the road. Maid abuse is made ridiculous when the employer is unconcerned that her maid has fallen out of the window 18 stories, and in fact instructs her to run an errand.

An odd symmetry in this film is the two paranormal investigators – David and Sunny. Both pretended to be ghosts, though one chose to be actively involve in the affairs of the group, while the other passively records their activities. David is uncovered in the end because of his impatience in kidnapping Wan Yi, while Sunny is revealed when he turns to talk to the screen himself. And in the end, the tape in Sunny’s camera is played back to show the ghosts to be completely invisible, as well as the segment when Sunny is being beaten up by Ah Leng who is invisible, which makes it odd that David managed to get away with pretending to be a ghost in front of other live humans.

Dec. 2nd, 2010

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001) by Ashutosh Gowariker

on imdb.com
The differences between the Indians and the British are made clear through the comparison of a number of juxtaposed scenes. There is a sequence of dancing in the village to celebrate Krishna’s birthday, followed by the ballroom dancing of the English. The Indians’ dancing is raucous, loud, and conducted outdoors with full participation from everyone, be it dancing or singing or clapping, whereas the British are more sedate, formal, indoors, and involve only the people on the dance floor in pairs. The difference between the Indians and the English is also shown in the discussions of the teams. Captain Russell makes the batting order and the decisions, but for the Indians it is a group affair as everyone in the village gathers and village chief helps in making the decisions for the team members. Religion is also shown as more integral to the Indians as they pray before they play, and they dedicate their game to their god(s), unlike the English who make no mention of their religion, if they have any.

In a sequence of two women, Elizabeth and Gauri, singing their love for Bhuvan, the underlying music sounds Indian, the bells, representing that Bhuvan loves Gauri, not Elizabeth.

The use of sound to create the wax and wane of tension in the movie is really good. The silence creates tension in the scene when Bhuvan touches Kachra the Untouchable, and then the sporadic drumbeat marks and enhances each of Bhuvan’s declarations. As Bhuvan’s monologue reaches the peak and turns the public opinion, there is a rising undercurrent of music, then silence coupled with long shots of the people standing stock still and staring at Bhuvan, creating tension and anxiety as to whether the people will turn on Bhuvan, after that, the tension is released when the men agree to accept Kachra and the music changes to be lighter and cheerier. All this shows the importance of the music in creating and underlining the mood of the scene.

The shots of the Indian team training begins with long shots of them as running silhouettes against the sunrise and of them rising into a yoga pose on a slope reduces their individuality and marks their identity as a team, a collective whole, as does the subsequent shots of them moving in synchrony running and marching as the group is the one moving not the person.

The day of the cricket game opens with a British marching score, perhaps reflecting that it is the British who are calling the shots, they are the ones in charge, and it is their ground and their game being played. The Raja rides in on an elephant amidst British music, perhaps showing that he has been absorbed into English rule, although he encourages the villagers to crush the arrogance of the British, revealing that the people’s faith in him has not been misplaced.

Other than sound, lighting has been used to create contrasts and reflect the mood of the segment. In the scene where Bhuvan is talking to Lakha, Bhuvan is in the light whereas Lakha is half in the shadows, reflecting his status as a traitor and spy.

Gradually the colonels and majors seem to be more caught up in the game, they cheer for the villagers and express admiration in their ability in the game, instead of realizing the implications of the villagers winning the game and them losing a piece of the British empire as they were worried about in the beginning. And in the end, they clap to congratulate the win of the villagers. Perhaps they decided to see it as a convenient way to get rid of Captain Russell, whom they clearly disapprove of. Or maybe their passion for the game trumps other concerns. Even though they look down on the Indians, they are able to appreciate good sportsmanship regardless of the ethnicity of the sportsman. A case of a good game overcoming race and language?

It isn’t easy to keep the tension going for a three-day game, but the filmmaker manages to do it with focus on different players and their individual stories.

Nov. 21st, 2010

The Colour of Paradise (1999) by Majid Majidi

on imdb.com

Hands are a running motif in this movie, as Mohammad, the blind boy, uses his hands to experience the world. There are many close ups of his hands – searching in the leaf litter for the baby bird, feeling the branches for the bird’s nest, out the window trying to catch the wind, feeling pebbles in the shallow water of a river, touching his granny’s hands, amongst the plants his grandmother planted and flowers they collect to make dye, in the sand on a beach, and in fact, the movie ends with his hand glowing in the sun light twitching, indicating his revival. Thus the hands represent hope – hope for him to continue to participate in his surroundings despite his inability, and hope to his father.

The Colour of Paradise opens to dialogue in white script on black screen, the dialogue is a repetitive sequence of asking whose tape this is and a voice answering with ‘mine’. This reflects the visual world of a blind child, thus setting the mood and pace of the movie.

Nature is another recurrent theme of this movie. Mohammad’s family depends on Nature for their livelihood – crops of alfalfa and wheat, flowers for dying threads for rugs, mud and straw for their house, and chickens for eggs. Mohammad is also particularly in tune with Nature – he hears a woodpecker’s call and reckons they are talking, and he is often seen experiencing Nature with his hands, as mentioned previously. Granny is also gentle with Nature – she picks up a fish stranded on the road and puts it back in the water. Another shot reflecting that Mohammad and his family living in Nature, is the point where Mohammad realizes he is nearing home preceded by a long shot of rolling green hills. This relationship with Nature is also reflected on during the sequence of Granny’s last day. She looks out the window, sees a mirage of Mohammad in the fog, while Mohammad is gazing out the window at sunrise, and later after Granny has passed on, the boy is standing at the duck pond with his back to the camera. Therefore one could say that Nature includes the instinct and awareness the grandmother and grandson had of each other. That last shot was particularly sad as the boy looked so small and lonely as he mourned.

I think the concept of karma has been quite aptly as the father’s wedding was ruined by his mother’s death, after he sent his son away to a blind carpenter’s, a punishment for being ashamed of his blind son.

The people in the movie are quite conservative, in my opinion. Mohammad’s father, seemingly, is not allowed to interact directly with his fiancée. He hangs from a tree branch to sneak a peek at her from outside her yard. The fiancée’s father wants to push the wedding forward because the father has visited his house too many times, incurring rumours. The fiancée is also never seen involved in the negotiations.

Nov. 19th, 2010

Task 2: Children of Heaven (1997) by Majid Majidi and Home Run (2003) by Jack Neo

CoH on imdb.com, HR on imdb.com (I could not locate a trailer for HR)
(N.B.: I meant to compare these movies with Bumm Bumm Bole (2010) by Priyadarshan, but I could not locate this film.)

The movie Children of Heaven is set in the present day, whereas Home Run is a period film. In the director’s interview, Jack Neo has suggested this made Children of Heaven (CoH) easier to create in comparison, as extensive props and sets had to be created for Home Run (HR). I thought it might be because the crushing poverty is more convincing in 1965 Singapore, rather than modern day Singapore.

Certain overt differences in the two films lie in the surrounding environment of the characters. In CoH, the girls cover their hair and wear long clothes that cover every bit of their skin, whereas such restrictions are not in existence in HR. Religion is a matter-of-fact in CoH, as the father and brother goes to the mosque and the father helps by chopping sugar, whereas religion is not a part of life in HR. The environment is different; in CoH the family lives in a one-room apartment in a compound where the neighbors share the same water point in the courtyard, whereas in HR the family lives in a wooden house in, what appears to be, the middle of a jungle. Poverty is clearly linked with the countryside in HR, but it’s harder to tell for me in CoH. The room in CoH is covered in rugs, and the family does everything on the floor – there are no beds, tables or chairs. In HR, on the other hand, most of the furniture is made of wood or cane. There is a great deal more silence in CoH than in HR, watching HR after I saw CoH, I was genuinely surprised at the amount of talking in HR that I found myself thinking, this movie (HR) is really chatty, so most of the story is explained in the narration, whereas the audience must be more perceptive and extrapolate in CoH. A little difference is the way the brother request permission to speak; in CoH the boy raises one finger, whereas in HR he raises an open palm. The boys in HR wear uniforms whereas in CoH they do not. I’m not quite sure why. One of the morning assemblies at the sister’s school has the teacher lecturing on different topics – duty to the State in CoH and hygiene in HR.

Jack Neo took many scenes directly from CoH. Both movies opens with a close up shot of a cobbler fixing a shoe, then draws back to show the boy waiting. In both movies, the shoes are taken away by a blind trash collector at the grocer’s – at the green grocer in CoH, and at a general provision shop in HR. In both movies, the sister has to do most of the household chores to help the pregnant mother, such as coaxing the baby and washing clothes. Both movies have the exact same shot of the sister communicating her worries about going to school without shoes, with her brother by writing on her notebook. Both movies have a scene of the father ranting about the lack of money and scolding the son for not helping out at home more. The brother in both films tries to make up to the sister by giving her little treats: a pencil, a prize pen, or a piece of ba gua. Both has a montage of close ups on girls’ shoes when the sister seeks the shoes in school on the assembly ground. The father in both movies tries to earn a better living in the wealthier housing estate of bungalows on a bicycle. Both sisters are ashamed of wearing their brother’s shoes, as they are terribly torn and tattered, in CoH she tries to hide her feet under her bag during assembly when she compared her shoes with that of her schoolmates, in HR her schoolmates mutter behind her back about the state of her shoes.

Football is a common thing between both films, both brothers play football. I think football is quite a culturally neutral thing. No country can lay claim to football, and almost all countries play football the same way.

I think HR tries to be more distinguishable from CoH by adding very clear references to Singapore and the Singaporean-Malaysian dispute over, among other matters, water. One of the brother’s friends is called Little Red Dot, a nickname of Singapore. The national anthem played in the morning session of the sister’s school is the most obvious reference.

HR feels more open and broader than CoH because HR is filmed amongst lots of greenery, whereas CoH feels claustrophobic amidst the narrow alleys and avenues. HR is also emotionally more open and optimistic; the movie ends on a happy ending and there is music score to relieve the tension, whereas CoH is more silent and ends with the sister still, apparently, shoe-less (although the father buys a pair of shoes for her, the movie ends with the sister expecting there to be no shoes). I wonder whether this is because CoH is more focused on the efforts of the children, so a resolution to the problem by the father would dilute the emotions between the siblings. Whereas HR tried to bring in another moral, which is unconditional friendship – as Ming Shun is the one who gives a pair of shoes to the sister and it is the first unconditional thing he does. There are also a lot of comedic elements in HR, unlike CoH, particularly in Little Red Dot spouting off and the brother’s friends’ various efforts to help him.

Nov. 18th, 2010

I Not Stupid (2002) by Jack Neo

on imdb.com

I can compare this movie with Taare Zameen Par (2007) by Aamir Khan and Pathshaala (2010) by Milind Ukey. All three movies have a common theme: education.
School compared to a prison in the beginning of this film. Similarly in Taare Zameen Par, boarding school was like a prison to him as he was made to stay there against his will.

Both Taare Zameen Par and I Not Stupid talk about the pressures to excel academically. Both have a character interested and gift in art – Ishaan and Kok Pin, and both are persecuted for not being able to study well enough and their gift isn’t appreciated because their parents don’t believe that a living can be made out of art. Although Kok Pin doesn’t suffer from the same reading disability as Ishaan, he still can’t seem to study, and he too suffers as his mother canes him. Eventually Kok Pin is too afraid to go home with his terrible grades, and attempts to commit suicide. There was a rash of students committing suicide from being overstressed in school a few years ago in Singapore, showing that the incredibly odd that grades are put above life, priority-wise.

Both movies also carry the idea of parents being good at their studies, then children must be good too, Ishaan’s father wondered why Ishaan isn’t good at his studies when his parents are not bad at their studies, while in this movie, Boon Hock’s mother’s friend tells her that the government used to say that parents who aren’t educated will have children also academically poor, and Kok Pin’s mother cannot comprehend how her child can be so bad at studying when she and her husband are pretty decent in their schoolwork.

I wonder whether the above two ideas are unique to Asian countries. School is a very powerful domain in many Asian countries, if I were to hypothesize, I would say it’s because doing well academically is seen to be the way to social mobility and there are many more Asians trying to move out of poverty into a better class of life.

This movie shares the motif of children bullying each other with Pathshaala, in that movie the children ostracize the boy with a birthmark on his face, and in this movie, Tiong Ming mocks the EM3 students because he is in higher stream.

This movie has a very strong comedy element and there are many caricatures. Terry compares his mother to the government in Singapore – she always wears all white as the political party members do, she controls every decision of her children and insists that she knows best and it is all for their own good, as some complain about the government, and she only speaks English (an oddity amidst the many Mandarin speakers in the movie), as does the government. Terry himself seems to be a quintessential Singaporean with his ‘gift’ of obedience. This author once wrote about how road signs in Singapore allow people to make a U-turn, whereas in other countries, there are only road signs to prevent people from making a U-turn, indicating that Singaporeans are so conscious of rules whether they are there or not, that we need permission to do something rather than a boundary keeping us out.

Another issue brought up in this movie is the significance of Mandarin Chinese in Singapore. Terry’s sister resents having to learn to speak Mandarin, and her Chinese teacher tries to convince her otherwise. The latter says that Mandarin is necessary for being in touch with her Chinese roots, and understanding the culture and themselves. However this is the only positive affirmation of Mandarin. The teacher’s speech is intercut with a businessman talking about Chinese is not necessary to do well in Singapore, only in China and Taiwan. English and Mathematics are seen as more important than Chinese, as Kok Pin’s mother insists and Terry recognizes English as the only reason he was relegated to EM3. This is mostly accurate, and there was a campaign to revive the importance of Mandarin in the past few years. This has often been attributed to the rise of China, thus showing how economically practical the Singaporean government is.

Nov. 17th, 2010

Water (2005) by Deepa Mehta

on imdb.com

Water is a common motif in this film. I think it is because of water from the river being Holy to the people in the movie, and thus the cleansing and purifying nature of that water. When Kalyani and Chuyia bring the dog for a bath at the river, Kalyani comments that the fleas and sins have been washed away. Following that, when Kalyani is crossing the river with Narayan to get married in the day, instead of at night when she is usually taken to her clients, it is as though symbolizing the fruition of Narayan’s dreams of renewal and freedom of India from the British and the past. Therefore, by crossing the water, it washes away the old traditions of India like the way Gandhi brings about a new way of life for India, as Kalyani is defying the taboo of widows remarrying. Water also symbolizes the release of the suffering of life into death. After Auntie’s death, Chuyia runs off and builds a small raft out of leaves and twigs, as though sending Auntie off into the beyond, and when Kalyani commits suicide by drowning in the river, her torment of never being able to escape her status as a widow and prostitute is ended. Water brings about hope, as Narayan meets Kalyani again, under happier circumstances, as she accidentally splashes him with water from her laundry on her balcony. Subsequently, Narayan is walking through the rain, giddily in love.

Gandhi is also a common motif in this movie; I reckon the movie is showing the impact Gandhi has had on the ordinary people, particularly the outcasts like the widows. Narayan was influenced by Gandhi, and thus enlightened, he has no problem falling in love with a widow. It is also after Gandhi was released from jail, that Shakuntala found out about the law allowing widows to remarry, and it was to Gandhi, that Shakuntala wanted to trust with caring for Chuyia.
Faith is a very strong motivation in the lives of the widows. Kalyani has a very strong belief in Krishna, she tells Chuyia to pray to him and she would fly home. Shakuntala has very strong faith, in response to Kalyani’s death, she says it is all an illusion. Narayan disagrees and she says he must have faith, to which Narayan asked why her faith was so strong, implicitly despite the suffering she has undergone as an outcast and Kalyani’s death, she admits to not knowing. In the same scene, she asks him why widows are sent there, he tells her bluntly that it is all economic, practical reasons; save food, save bed, save room, although it is disguised as religion. Religion is the reason the fat lady, Madhu Didi, gives for locking Kalyani and preventing her from getting married, as she believes that they will all burn in hell for her remarriage. When Shakuntala asks a man for the instructions in the Holy Scriptures regarding widows, the answer given to her is three options: to burn on the funeral pyre with the husband, to live a life of self-denial, or to marry the husband’s younger brother, with the approval of the family. In the closing scene, Gandhi talks about his past belief of God being Truth, but now he realizes that Truth is God, and hopes that the pursuit of truth is as invaluable to the audience as it is to him.

I find it interesting that the only ages of the widows when they were married or widowed are single digits. Chuyia is widowed at 8, Auntie married when she was 7, and Kalyani was widowed when she was 9. Only Madhu Didi gives indications that she was with her husband until much older, as she complains about the horniness of her husband. This matter of having children married or widowed, when they are not even conscious of their marriage, as Chuyia doesn’t remember getting married, and Kalyani barely remembers becoming widowed, is quite terrifying to me. This makes the matter of treatment of the widows and the matter of marriage even more unfair and horrible, aside from the social and economic deprivation the widows suffer.

I’m a Cyborg but that’s okay (2006) by Park Chan-wook

on imdb.com

This movie opens to a girl, Young-goon, working in a machine assembly line, assembling radios. The colour of the uniforms of the workers is a vivid red, remarkably bright amidst the robotic monotony of action on the factory floor. Young-goon is the only one who shows some sign of life as she smiles at the ceiling and moves independently. But ironically, she is the one claimed to be committing suicide as she undergoes a psychotic break and follows the instructions over the PA system to wire her arm and plug into the power point.

The mental patients at the institute all have their stories, and this film slots them in quite neatly, I feel. These stories also fit in the interactions of the patients with Young-goon and Il-soon. The fat lady who thinks she has socks that makes her fly, the boy who thinks he was born with a rubber band around his waist, and the woman who tells lies about everyone, among others. The liar is the first to bring Young-goon to meet Il-soon, by telling a lie about the latter. Later, Il-soon steals those socks for Young-goon to fly, leading her to have a vision that her grandmother has a rubber band around her waist. I like the way there is no apology made for any of these patients’ behaviours, and there is no softening or romanticizing of the patients and the doctors, no doctor valiantly trying to save the patients from their own minds, no patients miraculously becoming cured. But the way the patients come together in the canteen, all attending in the event of Il-soon trying to get Young-goon to eat, all participating in synchronism as they hold their spoons up at the same time as Young-goon, shows that they are still connected with other people around them, despite their removal from mainstream society, and their seeming preoccupation with their hallucinations. The theme here seems to be that humans are social creatures, interacting and forming connections and having empathy or sympathy is something no psychotic break can remove from a person.

Another integral part of human existence is explored in this film, with Young-goon’s obsession with finding out what her grandmother said about her purpose of existence. Again and again she has dreams and visions of her grandmother mouthing the words ‘purpose of existence’ without being able to hear the rest of the words. At first she thinks her mission is to kill all the ‘white ones’ who took her grandmother away and to get the dentures to the old lady, but later she and Il-soon think they worked out that her grandmother was telling her that she is actually a nuclear bomb for world’s end. This endless search with no true answer reflects the drive and motivation of most; I dare say all, of the individuals in the world. At some point in their lives, everyone wants to know what they are meant to do with their lives, with their selves, with their potential, and we don’t always get our answers, we can only muddle around with other individuals and try to find that rainbow of epiphany like the rainbow at the closing scene of this film.

Gone Shopping (2008) by Wee Li Lin

Gone shopping on imdb.com

This movie is a commentary on the shopping culture in Singapore. The characters revolve around the shopping centers, although some of the most significant scenes take place outside the malls, all the more significant for that fact. The movie opens with Orchard road, showing an overhead view of a river of shoppers.

One of the lures of shopping is escapism. The various characters go to the mall to escape their lives. Clara, the protagonist, escapes to the malls to get away from the discontent in her family life – her estrangement with her mother and her absent husband, and to escape her inferiority complex – she sees herself as useless and without talent, hence jobless. Shopping has always been the only thing she enjoys most and does well in. She finds solace in new, shiny things like bags and shoes, and her only friend is the sales girl at her favourite boutique. Aaron is skipping work until his boss realizes his absence, and in the meantime he hangs out at the mall playing with the medieval swords in the shop, and babysitting his friend’s sister. Aaron seems to be escaping a humdrum ordinary life in favour of his fantasies of knights and princesses. Strangely though, he continues to disapprove of Hui Hui’s cosplaying, as though such fantasies should be kept in the mind and not displayed to overtly declare their incongruence with mainstream society.

This lure might have led to the ubiquity of shopping centers and the increasingly central role malls play in Singapore. A narrating voice describes a shopping fever that ties all Singaporeans together, and claims that there is no need to see a doctor, go on a holiday or scrape a career if Singaporeans can just admit to this fever. While I do not understand the second half of this statement, I can see that many Singaporeans turn to shopping, or window-shopping, to while away their leisure time. There seems to be a centripetal force drawing Singaporean society into the malls. Aaron cynically monologues about how all of Singapore is one big shopping center to his friend – “all our work, leisure, culture, history, even nature, they are all brought together air-conditioned and price-tagged”. Shopping malls in Singapore often hold events such as concerts, Chinese New Year celebrations, Christmas celebrations, and often try to incorporate greenery that thrive well indoors. So there is some truth in Aaron’s speech. Aaron goes on to explain that the reason for all these malls is for yuppies to get their ‘branded props and costumes’ to show the world how perfect and happy their lives are, and these yuppies serve as ideals for the rest of society to work ridiculously hard towards. But Aaron pops this bubble by suggesting that these yuppies are actually all bored and not as content with their lives as they appear. He makes this statement just as Clara walks by, and at the end of the film, he confronts Clara with his sword, underneath that, he is confronting his jadedness and cynicism. As Clara collapses and he tries to help her, he is surrendering and admitting his error.

The story of Renu, left alone in the shopping mall, echoes with countless announcements of lost children found, or lost children to be found in shopping centers. Although in her case, she is hiding from squabbling parents. Her parents are only seen once arguing over money matters, and later when Renu wanders away from her parents, despite panicking once, she chooses to remain in the mall instead of making her way home. Her strange encounters with the man in drag robbing women with his cheap perfume gig ends with the man relaying his and the mannequin’s acceptance of her to stay in the mall. It is only after that, that Renu chose to call for her parents on the PA system from the security guard’s office, and eventually her parents come for her. Perhaps she just wanted someone to pay her some attention, and that odd man gave her that.

Nov. 12th, 2010

Birthday (2005) by Bertrand Lee

Birthday on imdb.com

This movie starts at a point of crisis in Feng’s life. He quits his job because he is about to be fired for not doing overtime. At home, his wife is angry with him for quitting instead of getting sacked because there is no money for the bills. The next day is the birthday of their son, thus explaining the title of the film. While getting the birthday cake, Feng explodes when the shop remains closed during the lunch break. The wife tries to mitigate his anger by reminding him how they used to come here all the time. But the husband abruptly rebuffs her effort at reminiscing when he snaps at her that he knows why they stopped.

What follows is a sequence of locations, as the husband takes them retracing the steps of their courtship. First the playground, but the wife gets tired. Then the beach where they swam, but there is a wooden fence, though the husband breaks down the fence anyway. The beach is like a metaphor of their marriage: closed off, full of debris, and when Feng wrecks a hole in the fence, it is like a literal breakthrough in trying to repair their marriage. There is one scene: after their bout in the water, they stand on the beach, the broken remains of the fence and other debris behind them. This seems to symbolize their relationship: full of unhappiness and resentfulness behind them, the water represents a renewal, or a rekindling. However, the soundtrack of their younger, more carefree laughter, jars with the sorrowful, slightly bored looks on their faces. This suggests maybe that they are contemplating the impossibility of repairing their marriage, though they may be hoping for it. There is some ambiguity at this point, as their dip in the water does not seem to have made a difference, suggesting the possibility that the swim was a memory.

Over buying the cake, the wife is more worried about the lack of cash, but the husband wants to get the more expensive one because he says he has money. The relationship seems to have taken a severe step back to the dismal state in the morning. I found the husband very uncommunicative, and not understanding of the wife’s concerns. Perhaps the director is suggesting the detrimental effects of low cash flow in a marriage or family. Love alone cannot maintain a marriage, to take a very practical take on things.

The crux of the lack of communication in their relationship is when the husband goes to take the present for the son. The wife tells him where she put it, and it is revealed that he bought one too. The wife says, “Why didn’t you say?” and the husband replied, “You didn’t ask.” The presents turn out to be the same thing.

The movie ends with husband turned against wife, but wife spoons against him and reaches for his hand, he grips her hand tight, suggesting the wife wanting to make amends, and the husband tacitly agreeing. Possibly, this is to soften the harsh realities of practicality over sentimentality, and to close the movie on a more hopeful note for the future.

The camera seems to be handheld in the beginning: it twitches slightly up and down and side to side, perhaps to reflect lack of space in an office to set up the camera? The light is very dim in the office as well. Unlike the usual artificial too brightness of offices I’m more used to. Maybe this is because the content of this scene is quite dark, with the confrontation between Feng and his boss?

During the beginnings of their lovemaking, the camera shifts to the legs, this makes it feel more intimate but less personal. There is more exposed skin on legs, but without the faces, they’re just legs; there is no emotion involved, thus it simply appears to be a case of lust.

The camera is also handheld in the home for the most part; this gives me the feeling of a documentary, or a home video. Furthermore, there is no music score when the movie is handheld.

I think there is a slight flaw. The car moves very slowly, from the reflection of the trees in the windshield, so as to be obvious that they’re not actually driving.

The light is brightest when they are happy, like at the park climbing on the gym, and at the beach swimming. The light dims when their relationship takes a downturn, not just because of indoor versus outdoor location, because at the end of the swimming sequence, their faces are shadowed. This is sort of like a direct indicator of the mood in the relationship.

Autograph Book (2003) by Wee Li Lin

 Autograph Book on imdb.com

This film opens with a piano version of Majulah Singapura, which continues throughout the teacher’s speech. The National Anthem is exactly the most memorable sound of primary school to me, as all students have to sing it everyday for six years, so I found it particularly nostalgic. This movie seems to be all about nostalgia, in any case, as mentioned in the director’s notes. Autograph books capture the state of mind and relationships at that point in time, personally I have had autograph books, and though I cringe at the childishness of the messages (both in my books and in the film), nonetheless, the autographs recall a wave of sentimentality of more innocent times.

Following the teacher’s speech, the title opens; ‘Autograph Book’ appears as though someone wrote it out complete with the sound of pencil scratching on paper, this is a recurring motif with the signatures of individual friends in Tessa and Su-min’s autograph books.

Su-min seems to be the oddball in the class, while Tessa is the popular girl. They were friends, but Su-min got touchy after Tessa didn’t sign her autograph book on the bus, and declared her book to be disgusting for being yellow. Tessa didn’t catch onto this, so she doesn’t know why Su-min is angry with her. Tessa seems like the kind to indulge in romantic daydreams (like when she talks about remembering their last bus ride together as classmates), but Su-min is the less sentimental one (she doesn’t say a word but nods awkwardly on the bus ride). So, I think, to Su-min, the rare times when she puts herself out there she gets extra sensitive about being rebuffed. Su-min retaliates by complaining about Tessa to another friend, and specifically targeting the autograph book to be disgusting.

The sound track behind the montage transitions, of autographs, is perky and high-pitched, making one think of light-heartedness and happy times. On the other hand, the music during some of the scenes, when the superficial markers of Tessa and Su-min’s friendship are ruined, is lower-pitched and more ominous.

The camera is stationary for the most part, except for when it panned down from the trees to Tessa and friend talking about Tessa not understanding what happened with Su-min, but even then the camera itself does not actually move. This creates a more static feel to me.

In the end though, Su-min left her autograph book by a sleeping Tessa, and put a jacket on the latter; signs of forgiveness and reconciliation.
To me, this movie shows how children grow to learn to be spiteful and keep grudges, but in the end, still retain their ability to forgive easily. I’ve always seen children playing together without even knowing each other’s names, and being able to forgive and forget and be friends again the next moment. This is similar to an idea in Battle Royale: growing up also leads to developing a long-term memory. This incident is marked, for occurring on the last day of primary school, as the girls are moving into teenage-hood, hence the emergence of the pettiness of the disagreement.

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