By Lim Jia Liang
Warning – SPOILERS. SPOILERS EVERYWHERE
“7 Letters” was very, very good. I’m sure there will be a proper cinematic release in time to come, but there is poignancy and urgency in watching it now.
Eric Khoo’s Sinema was a heartfelt homage to the Golden Age of Singapore Cinema back in the 1950s, where studios like Cathay-Keris and Shaw Brothers presided over an explosion of creative input, making movies and legends like P. Ramlee. Sentiment aside, I wasn’t very attracted to the narrative, which was very drab and boring.
Jack Neo, as I have always suspected, is a competent director, and Money no Enough and I Not Stupid has always been quintessentially Singaporean films that I enjoy. That Girl manages to show his strengths and that he still has an impeccable touch in terms of wordplay and physical humour. He also practices good cutting that enhances the humour, and has an eye for spotting young talent. Although the film ends on a flat note, it was still a very fine addition to 7 Letters. You really wonder where all the finesse has gone with his affairs with SAF that come off as very masturbatory shows without any craft. Come on, don’t chase the money already! You have enough of it. Make smarter films please.
Royston Tan’s Bunga Sayang reminded me a little of KPK’s Mama’s looking for her cat, what with the two main actors not having a common language of conversation. It is the kind of work that finds resonance in multiracial Singapore. The 881-esque sequence in the middle made me laugh and go, “yup, Royston.”
K. Rajagopal’s The Flame features an Indian family that has received British Citizenship as The British Army pulled out of Singapore in 1969. Absolutely loved this from a production standpoint, easily had the best sound design between all of the series. There was no wasted movement in that short film. Given the same script to someone less competent, this would have been a very hackneyed short and possibly painful to watch.
Tan Pin Pin crafts a poignant tale of adoption, involving border-crossing, where the mother (played by Lydia Look) tries to look for the birth mother of her adoptee. I half-expected another documentary-style film from Pin, but this narrative-driven film makes me wish for more of such films from her. Feature film next perhaps?
Boo Junfeng’s Parting Points is lovely in the trademark tranquillity that I saw when watching Sandcastles. I find it hard to explain how he manages to achieve that effect, but I suspect that it’s the long silences that accentuate the unspoken that creates it.
Kelvin Tong’s Grandma Postioning System stood out in a series of films that were already exceptional in their own right. Delicately mixing comedy and drama, it had me bawling with laughter and sobbing with tears within a manner of minutes. There is a portion where the grandma explains to her husband how to find her way home – speaking of the land in the past, and remarking what has replaced it now. That was for me one of the more emotive moments in the whole anthology. Loss, so effectively conveyed.
There have been other anthologies of this fashion like the Singapore Shorts series, but the themes of loss, nostalgia, belonging and identity seem to be predominantly featured in the seven films. It was very lovely that the final 3 shorts involved crossing the border, and reminds us of a Singapore before 50.
7 Letters is important because its cinematic imagination is beyond what we have achieved in 50 years, but also what we have lost in these 50 years.
In a year that seems to be festooned with commercialism and straight out propaganda that manages to create a toxic mix of jingoism and blind obeisance to Singaporean exceptionalism, this was heartfelt and vital. I’ve been quite excited about it since it was announced last year, but seeing it come to fruition in this manner makes it one of the most significant projects for me this year.