By Yasmeen Banu
Besides being a film that had me sitting up in my chair in anticipation, Director Cheng Shian Wen’s The Line also had my attention very quickly, mainly because it was a film that had a flurry of F-words unabashedly used, cinematography that was different, the strange appearance of a mysterious lady, and an odd Taunesia leader.
The Line is a short film about two soldiers, Sergeant Jason and Corporal Ahmad who assumed their patrol duties along the border of a humanitarian neutral zone and the rest of the civil war-torn nation of Taunesia was going to be like any other day: smooth-sailing with instances of Sergeant Jason’s annoyance and Corporal Ahmad’s candidness. Little do they know they were going to come across a lady that had the three of them ambushed, running, and very quickly taking their jobs seriously.
Taunesia (though it is a fictional country), was shot entirely in Singapore at the Tampines Mountain Bike Park and is a combination of several hot spots within the region that has seen quite a lot of sectarian conflict and natural disasters, some of which the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has had relief missions to.
Filmmaking has always been one of Shian Wen’s interests when he was young. He was always fascinated by the art of moviemaking after being wowed by Hollywood blockbusters. He said,
I remember wondering how they bought the dinosaurs back to life on screen on Jurassic Park, being frightened by the creatures in Alien franchise, and feeling like one was right there along with the rangers in Black Hawk Down. The appeal of cinema for me is in the fact that it has this power to bring you to another reality and often make you question many things about the real world through the narratives at the same time.
Perhaps that is why the cinematography of the film is different than usual. Shian Wen wanted to break conventions with the way films are normally shot, hence choosing a style of cinematography which is dominated by handheld shots, much of which was improvised on the spot by the camera operators reacting to what the actors were doing. This successfully translated into a greater sense of thrill, compared to a still camera shot.
When asked about what made Shian Wen do a film about civil war, a genre not often explored, he said,
I find that the genre films on the military is incomplete if we do not explore the implications or consequences of training men to be essentially state-sanctioned killers and asking what they would do with that responsibility and power.
He added, “While we often see quite a lot of coverage of the NS experience from the training and peacetime point of view in local films like “Army Daze”, “Hentak Kaki” and “Keluar Baris”, we don’t really get much coverage on the raison d’etre of the SAF and it’s consequences- which is to take young men and train them to wage war in the event where push comes to shove.”
Addressing the subject of the language used in the film, Shian Wen pointed out that “there wasn’t a deliberate attempt to make it so that it would be relatable, it was more of what simply emerged when I told the actors to say whatever their characters as soldiers would say if they were in that situation.”
Not only does Shian Wen have a vision for his work, he also has an interesting mindset when casting the actors for the film:
I was looking for actors who could improvise and bring their own take to the character instead of following a script, which was important because I am a strong believer in filmmaking being a collaborative process by all the creative talents involved instead of being a dictatorship of the director. As such, finding actors that truly believed in the story and characters as opposed to playing to caricatures was a prime consideration.
The actor who played Sergeant Jason, surprised Shian Wen and his team the most. “Jerry was not an actor to begin with, but rather was roped in by an army friend of our Production Designer who felt that his real-life mannerisms and character suited the role. He did a rather good job considering he was playing the lead role and had experienced and trained actors as his co-stars.” And indeed, a good job it was, coming across as natural and at ease, as though he and Yazid, who played Corporal Ahmad, were really fellow soldiers, in a jungle, being peacekeepers, and didn’t have cameras and crews around.
The Line captures the concept of soldiers being peacekeepers in a war-torn country, desperation, politics and human nature.
Shian Wen’s message to all readers: “Thanks for watching, I hope you like it! Do support and share it! And yeah, support local films!”
Watch The Line here: https://www.viddsee.com/video.php?video=the_line_2011