7 Letters (21 Aug 2015)

7-letters

This film anthology by 7 local directors has been given accolates like “… they will knock your socks off” (The Straits Times) and given a rating of 4.5 stars.

This certainly piqued my curiosity! (Other than Anthony Chen”s Ilo Ilo, I had not come across any local movie that rated above 4 stars.) With great expectations, I caught the first commercial screening. I left slightly disappointed.

Most of the stories are nothing to shout about. Only two stood out.

Eric Khoo’s reminisces the local film industry in the 50’s, and succeeded in putting across the message that people of different races and religions could co-exist and leave a legacy to the next generation. The female lead’s lengthy delivery of ‘River of Tears’ (in Malay) did not make as much an impression on me as the short snippets of simple notes played on a piano with a heavy ostinato (i.e. repetition of the same note) in the bass. The simple violin and drum accompaniment created a more apt atmosphere than the voice!

‘That Girl’ has the typical Jack Neo touch : a fair bit of dialects (Hokkien and Cantonese), some humour, a simple story. His theme, “some of our blessiings are the sacrifices of others” is told through a teenage crush. I don’t see how this ties in with the SG50 tribute about our country’s history. And it is blatantly obvious that the setting is in Malayisa! The only redeeming feature is the use of Teresa Teng’s ‘Wen Bai Yun’ (‘Ask the clouds’) at the end because it reflects the characters’ feelings well.

K. Rajagopal’s ‘The Flame’ has a better theme (‘Home is that journey back to myself’) to suit this anthology. The opening music played by trumpets is arresting and appropriate in setting the tone. This story tells of the British withdrawal from Singapore and how one couple decides to stay put instead of migrating to England.

‘Bunga Sayang’ by Royston Tan is beautifully executed. The title sone is written by Dick Lee (whom I greatly admire, as mentioned in a previous blog), and I fell in love with the song when I first heard it performed by Vocaluptuous (an A Capella group comprising of 6 members, including Dick Lee’s brother, John).

It is a gentle story of a young Chinese boy becoming friends with his elderly Malay neighbour. It also captures life in the 80’s very well, including music from the Courtesy campaign, a scene of a row of primary school boys brushing their teeth together (‘Brush Your Teeth’ campaign), the use of cassette tape recorders and even using a piece of old bar soap to bathe and wash hair.

The music used at the beginning of ‘Pineapple Town’ by Tan Pin Pin is ‘Dayong Sampan’. It is nice, but I do not see how it helps explore the theme of adoption and that “we are what we know”.

I am not surprised that the Straits Times review did not mention Boo Junfeng’s ‘Parting’. (Perhaps this is the missing half star in their rating?) Boo says, “This is for the ones we love the the place we call home. Majulah Singapura.” I don’t see the connection between this and the story about how a man with dementia travels from Malaysia to Singapore to look for his old flame who has migrated to Australia.

The best of the short films is Kelvin Tong’s ‘Grandma’s Positioning System’ or ‘GPS’. It is a simple story with a lot of heart. It is so touching and moving that my tears started flowing and grew into a big sob. The message is simple, ‘Home is the road travelled together’, and we also see a lot of footage of old Singapore. there is even an old photograph of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his wife touring a sauce-making factory decades ago.

The icing on the cake is the original song, Precious, composed and performed by Serene Koong, a local singer-songwriter. The song is a tribute to love and to Singapore, our home. It reflects on life growing up in Singapore and how we have journeyed as a counrty. It is about that special place in our hearts for our loved ones and our country, which grows fonder each day, and which transcends the changing of times.

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