Jean Yeo's Leap Years: Wong Li Lin & Ananda Everingham2nd Singapore Film Festival

Reviewers Susan Peake & Ed Farolan

The first day of this two day event was chock-full of entertainment. Festivities began with warm greetings by a number of festival members – Albert Lee, Chair/Co-founder, Louisa Cheong, Director/President, as well as many eager volunteers whose purpose was to be sure that everyone enjoyed themselves.  A lovely Singaporean lunch was served and was followed by the music of the Chinese stringed instrument, the gu zhen, and then a unique and amusing lion dance.

The short films began with a bonus animated contribution by director, Su-An Ng – entitled “Nature On Its Course” that, through contrasts of black and white, cleverly reminded the audience of the power of mother nature.  Next was “Madam Chan”, a compelling story of an aging single mother who has been consumed with resentment since her daughter married a Canadian, moved to Canada and left her alone. 

Cheong Soon Foon as Madam Chan convincingly portrays the role of an annoying yet pitiable soul who has lost her grip on reality.  “Man in a Snow Globe”, directed by Koo Chai Meng, tackles the world of a blind man who has his sight restored after he has been implanted with memory technology.  Although it is challenging to follow, this film is beautifully filmed and captures the intensity and mood of the story. 

A very short animated film called “Hush Baby” was next and, in a mere 3:40 minutes, ingeniously conveys the sense of restriction and confinement that infants may feel.  “Ah Ma”, directed by Anthony Chen, is a heart-wrenching depiction of one family’s agonizing experience as one of their dear family members passes away.  When the youngest member approaches the death bed, he strokes the hand of Ah Ma and there is a brief moment of understanding between them.  You will need your tissue for this one.

After a short intermission – that included dessert – the feature film, “The Days” by Boi Kwong, began.  This film was embraced by the Singaporean government to be used in the school system to act as a deterrent for youth thinking of joining gangs and using drugs.  The story is set in 1989-90 and in spite of the seriousness of its message, the exaggerated characters often create comical exchanges resulting in lots of audience chuckles.  Overall, the film, which is based on a true story, was amateurish.  Compared to the kinds of gang warfare that take place in North America, the tale did not carry enough weight to send a ‘don’t join gangs’ message to the youth in this part of the western world. 

The Vancity Theatre is the perfect venue for the Vancouver Singapore Film Festival.  With the energy and enthusiasm held by the Society in preparing this festival, I look forward to next year’s event. SP

The second day of this two day event was the screening of two feature films, "The Leap Years" byr Jean Yeo, and Royston Tan's "12 Lotus," an age-worn musical tragedy of love and betrayal. I had a brief conversation with the chairman of the VSFF, Albert Lee, who gave me background of the religious undertones of Getai music presented in festivals for the Dead, similar to the ones in Mexico during All Souls' Day,

Although "12 Lotus" was entertaining, it gives a very pessimistic picture of life. It depicts a girl with dreams of being a Getai singer, and throughout her years as a child and teenager, she is constantly abused by her father. When she marries, she is duped by her husband selling her to gangsters who rape her. She has a nervous breakdown and despite her prayers to the goddess of mercy, her prayers are left unanswered. This was a depressing film despite all the lovely costumes, singing and dancing.

The second film was introduced by Ms. Steph Song, an up-and-coming actress born in Malaysia but studied acting under Director Jean Yeo in Singapore. I also had a brief chat with her regarding her current activities. She's in the TV series "Smallville" and will be coming out soon with a film starring Val Kilmer. She said she needed to keep working to pay off her mortgage,

Jean Yeo's film is the kind of film that romantics and sentimentalists like to watch. I could hear some sniffles from the audience at the close of the film which, unlike "12 Lotus," ended "happily ever after". There are some beautiful scenes of Singapore by night, and you could tell how cosmopolitan and modern this city is. Despite the fact that the film was mostly in English, there were portions where Chinese was spoken, and I think there should have been subtitles. I was also amazed to see how English is well-spoken in this tiny country, and how multicultural it is, from just looking at the actors who, for the most part, looked Caucasian.

This was a small but interesting festival. I was informed by Chairman Lee that the First Singapore Festival held last year was not open to the general public. But he hopes that the Festival will grow even bigger next year with perhaps more films. EF

© 2009 Susan Peake & Ed Farolan