I have long admired Royston Tan’s films, the latest of which were reviewed here (3688 on 18 Sep 2015 and Bunga Sayang from 7 Letters on 28 Aug 2015), so when I learnt that he has made a telemovie in collaboratiion wiht the Ministry of Communication and Information, I made sure I stayed up to watch the film on Sunday night!
Set against the backdrop of an old provision shop, the film explores the theme of social interactions and relationships betweem foreigners and locals, and presents the provision shop as a microcosm of a local community grappling witht social tensions due to increased diversity. It also shows how they grow to understand, respect and care for one another through interaction and shared experiences.
The Provision shop comprises four stories involving characters played by a familiar cast such as a shop owner (played by veteran actor-deejay Marcus Chin), his daughter (played by Mediacorp actress Sora Ma), an ice delivery man (played by Mediacorp actor Brandon Wong), his supervisor (played by Chinese actor Cui Yang), a domestic helper (played by theatre actrees Siti Khalijah), her employer “Empress Wu” (played by veteren actress Li Yinzhu) and teenaged tertiary students (played by teenage artistes Aden Tan and Sarah Daniel) in a budding romance.
This film is nostalgia-laden, but beyond that, it recaptures the sense of family and trust, human affectioa and understanding. The provision shop is also a community hub that brings all the different ethnic groups together to exchange news and information and build relationships. Though the setting is that of an old place, the film is very forward-looking as it shows the overall changes in the environment and the influx of different people coming into the neighbourhood.
I think Siti Khlaijah stands out as the one who delivers the best performance. Her lines in Mandarin notwithstanding, the Phillipines-accented English is way above Michelle Chong’s (a popular actress in the TV series The Noose). The scene wheree she appears drippeing wet because she had been walking a long distance in the rain to buy egg tarts for her employer’s birthday is most touching.
As in all Roystan Tan films, a lot of attention is paid to the details, such as a zinc roof, a hanging Milo tin can that is used as a cash container, wooden display racks and old-school snacks Kako. It also has a tight script, nice music (original composition written and performed by local duo of The Freshmen and arranged by Jim Lim) and excellent graphics.
The song, titled Remember to Ask Me Out When You’re Free, an upbeat Mandarin track, has been given a stamp of approval from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who shared it on his Facebook page. The lyrics of the chorus is especially poignant: The same place, this is our happy home/ The same corner, an accumulation of little acts of care/ Had once thought this was all changing too much/ Looking back, discovered I’ve grown a lot too.
The duo is planning to release an English (Singlish, sic) version of the track titled Call Me on YouTube and Facebook next week. I look forward to it.