Endnote, and Goodbye. For now.

Despite having watched all the films—and it was truly a fun experience—I have to admit that it is a massive struggle trying to juggle the impending examinations whilst doing adequate research, analyzing key scenes and drawing frequent parallels between films, as well as maintaining the stamina of the standards of the write-ups that I have set myself since Day One.

Alas, the deadline of the project is coming right up, and I still have six films that I have yet to do a proper write-up for (the dates I’ve back-posted to the date I watched the film). I am not about to make excuses for myself; I have to admit that I got lost midway through the project with all the other assignments and readings that were piling up as well.

Yet whilst I was straddling the pros and cons between running the risk of not being able to finish on time versus sacrificing the consistency of quality of the report (at least, I would like to think that they are pretty good) I write for each film, I opted to go with the former instead, creating pieces that are on average 800 words long each (35,200 words *gasps*)

Hopefully this blog will be the start of something special, and will not die off after the conclusion of the FIL230 Asian Film History module, that indeed has taught me a lot about Asian films, their value and their innate quality, as well as the skill sets required to analyze a film, whether for aesthetic/cultural/historical context.  For that, thank you Bee Thiam for your patient guidance throughout the length of the course, and I apologize if I have not been a good student in any way. I have tried to include as much as what I’ve learnt as I can, and I certainly do hope that it has been a fun read.

I would like to hereby apologize once again for not being to keep up with the work I have done on the blog so far. But for now, here is a brief summary of the six films that I have not touched on, including a short analysis of the pertinent aesthetic style and my reflections upon watching the film. And no promises – but I’ll try to relook at this after my examinations end.

Blissfully Yours (2004, Thailand)

  • Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival
  • A believable experimental film (no, that is not an irony) set in a jungle near the Thai-Burmese border
  • You suspect that there is more to the jungle than meets the eye in this deadpan funny film
  • A lot of full-frontal nudity occurs in this movie. And sex. But it is admirable that Apichatpong Weerasethakul approaches the taboo head-on rather than shy away from it by creating shots that obscure the gist of the action. Reality has always been in your face, and when you’re out in the woods in the middle of nowhere there shouldn’t be anything to hide.
  • The opening credits only appear 45 minutes into the film, and that took me by surprise.
  • Rather than scrutinize the film for any political innuendoes that many online critics have done (I’ve read some that proposes connections to the shaky Thai economy, the Burmese military junta causing the collapse of the Burmese economy, which from the rather hilarious and tragic hyperlink it is easy to draw a correlation why), I much preferred to appreciate the film for its simplicity, and the rawness of the desire and longing for love.
  • Ultimately the film meanders but it is ultimately akin to listening to a jazz piece play on the stereo, ethereal and romantic.

Jellyfish (2007, Israel)

  • Israeli film directed by Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen
  • Winner of the Camera d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and was part of the official selection at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and 2008 Telluride Film Festival.
  • The cinematography is stunning little wonder it clinched the Camera d’Or prize, with poetic images cast against the emptiness of the sea.
  • “Life Stings” as the movie tagline perhaps the only connection between the title to the film, the allegory being quite an intangible one unless you consider how the jellyfish has no control over its movements – somewhat akin to the lack of direction of the characters in the film who opt to go with the tide rather than yield control over their lives.
  • Happenstance and chance occurrences are favored in a zero-sum game that gives perhaps just too much emphasis on fate.
  • An arthouse film that packs a punch in its very abstract yet ultimately haunting tale weaving the narrative threads of the three interconnected women together.
  • Some have even termed this film “spiritual”.

Shutter (2004, Thailand)

  • Thai film directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
  • One of the most genuinely creepy horror movies of all time, and it has also cemented Thailand’s reputation in producing scary horror movies.
  • Rather than adopt cheap in-your-face thrills like—for the lack of my ability to conjure Asian examples at the moment—the American Saw franchise or a complete psychological affair like Paranormal Activity, Shutter is successful in being, simply, a marriage of both horror techniques. It eats into you, it toys into your psyche, and it leaves you scared.
  • Adding to its weight is how it revolves around analog photography – one of the most leisurely and common hobbies today – and how the darkroom scenes are at once creepy because there is no option of flicking a light switch on. Circumstances force the room to be dark, and the protagonist’s job as a photographer forces him to be in the darkroom. It is not like some B-grade horror flick like The Human Centipede that has the victims luring the killer to their doorstep themselves.
  • As in a horror movie, it is worth contemplating the elements of sound effects that can really add to the atmosphere of the film. By far one of the best elements of the film, it literally jolts you at the sudden moments, and pre-empts you in the scariest moments. The funny thing is, the sound usually precedes the imagery, but no matter how mentally prepared you are, you still get taken aback.
  • And no, do not bother with the remake. At all.

Nobody Knows (2004, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
  • Yuya Yagira won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, while the film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.
  • This is an emotionally affecting film based on a 1988 real-life event that is known as the “Affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo”
  • A mother has four children, but each fathered by a different man. Abandoned, they are left to fend for themselves.
  • There is no need to wring about any lengthy ethical discussion about the moral righteousness of the mother, who is plain in the wrong. But at least she had the decency to turn herself in.
  • Critics have lambasted the film for not being true to the original story and for painting the children in a more positive light as compared to their real trials and tribulations, but I find this necessary for the movie to be taken seriously. Any further sensationalization and it would have been degraded into a major sob story.
  • The stoic resilience of childhood is paralleled against the aloof nature of the big major city, pretending that everything is okay so as to escape the purview of the social welfare system.
  • There is hardly any dialogue in this sentimental tragic masterpiece that has evoked plenty of visceral emotions that are admittedly hard to grapple with – the senseless cruelty the root of it all.

Rashomon (1950, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • Clinched the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as an Academy Honorary Award at the 24th Academy Awards.
  • Minimalist sets convey Akira Kurosawa’s love of silent film and modern art.
  • The crime/murder mystery unfolds in flashback sequence as the four characters, also involving the raped wife and the murdered husband, each respectively recount the events one fateful afternoon in a grove.
  • The audience is tempted into becoming the judge, the determinant of who is right and who’s wrong as the movie unfolds. Kurosawa dangles the carrot of taking sides, of forming judgment in such a cinematic arrangement.
  • This is perceptual cinema as its best, casting light on the respective characters and their different perceptions of the same event.
  • Lighting is an aspect of the film that has garnered plenty of accolades, with the clever use of natural lighting, albeit reflected by a mirror that creates a dappling effect that creates beautiful shadows amid the trees and branches, while the rain was tainted with black ink so as to appear visible on film.
  • But is there really a resolution to what must definitely be Kurosawa’s most defining film?

Eros Plus Massacre (1969, Japan)

  • Japanese film directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
  • Black-and-white film that contravenes the color technology that was already available at that point of time. Why? Could it be because of the need to create a more realistic flashback of 1923 Japan, that would otherwise only be seen in black & white sequences on film?
  • The story is a biography of an anarchist, Sakae Osugi, who was assassinated by the military in 1923, and the story of the relationship with three women, while two students research on and discuss the ideologies of love that he upheld.
  • Moulds time and space within the confined edges of narrative cinema to create a world where the characters are real. It does not attempt to conform at all – as seen from the color choice. It is simply different from all the cookie-cutter biographical films out there. The movie doesn’t seek to solve questions and conjure answers, but to encourage more questions to be asked, thus is the elusive nature and ephemeral quality of the expressionistic scenes.
  • Could there have been an influence from Japanese theatre given the narrative devices used?
  • A cinematic classic, and a milestone in Japanese cinema for sure.

Pleasure Factory (2007) 快樂工場

Country: Singapore, Thailand
Language: Mandarin, Tagalog, English, Cantonese
Theme: Romance/Erotica
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Starring: Yang Kuei-mei, Ananda Everingham, Loo Zihan, Katashi Chen, Jeszlene Zhou

Ratings: IMDb: 5.1/10

Film Festivals:
2007 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard (official selection)
2007 Pusan International Film Festival

Awards: N/A
Nominations: N/A

This is a film that is notable for truly blurring the lines of national ownership. It fully embraces the age of cross-border collaboration and ownership. The director is Ekachai Uekrongtham, a Thai theatre and film director who is based in Singapore and is the founding artistic director of local theatre company ACTION Theatre. His repertoire includes the popular stage musical Chang & Eng. The film is set in Singapore, in particular, its red light district of Geylang. But among the film’s financers are Singapore-based Spicy Apple Films and the Hong Kong-Netherlands company Fortissimo Films aside from Singapore’s InnoForm Media. Amongst the multi-national cast is Taiwanese starlet Yang Kuei-mei (who has appeared in Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) and Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)). There is up-and-coming actor Ananda Everingham, who has appeared in the Thai horror film Shutter (2004) and the Singapore production The Leap Years (2008), and he himself though born in Thailand, is of Laotian-Australian nationalities. There is also Singaporean writer-director (and ADM alumni) Loo Zihan.

I opted to classify the film both under Thailand and Singapore. Singapore, primarily because there is definitely no shying away from the fact that the story is based there. And Thailand because of Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Thai roots that definitely becomes pertinent in his direction of this film. Unless helmed by Loo Zihan himself, one of the few Singapore directors who is open about his homosexuality and about discussing controversial themes in his movies, Pleasure Factory would certainly have taken a wholly different angle. Uekrongtham’s involvement, however, has lead to an unusual masterpiece in South-East Asian cinema that embraces traditionally taboo topics such as prostitution, same-sex relationships, and that features explicit male nudity. The film was selected under the Un Certain Regard section of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Pleasure Factory revolves around three distinct stories set around the theme of “pleasure seekers and pleasure providers”. They involve the young army cadet, Jonathan (Loo Zihan) who wants to make the passage to manhood by engaging the services of a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, a young teenage girl (Isabella Chen) who gets initiated into the monotonous pleasure-manufacturing process of the brothel, and the jaded prostitute, Linda (Yang Kuei-Mei) who pays a young busker for a song that he never gets to sing. These three stories are later united as the characters visit the same roadside stall, a characteristic feature of Geylang.

The film’s cinema vérité shooting style adds to the realism and spontaneity of the film. Despite its provocative theme or title, the film does not sensationalize or offer gratuitous amounts of nudity just for the sake of it. Neither does it border on cliché eroticism; instead what we get is the characters moving around in the genuine environment of Geylang. We as viewers are captivated by their emotional conflicts and turmoil rather than what goes on outside. An example is a key scene where Jonathan “prepares” himself while the female prostitute takes a shower. We are treated to a full three-minute sequence of the nude man shifting his body into different positions and trying to stimulate himself for her. His insecurities that are purveyed through these little actions are what makes the film so real – it pays attention to the minute details and does not attempt to gloss over any perculiarities or trivial habits. The lack of stylistic perspectives that typical films use makes Pleasure Factory a very raw and compelling watch. Further, a heavy reliance on visual language creates a minimalist feel.

Further, there is a notable lack of dialogue and music throughout the course of the film, probably to help in the creation of a more realistic feel and also add to the emotional tension between the characters. The director of Pleasure Factory says in an interview, “To me, what was really nice was the silence, the silences at the right time, because I think the film requires you to be part of the process. What we try to do is to make a film that allows the audiences to discover at the same time as the characters.” (Tan, 2007).

But the film does not focus solely on the sex trade plying around Geylang that has given the district its notoriety. Rather, it proffers a multitude of perspectives, befitting as Geylang is not just about the prostitutes. It’s a bustling and thriving community of people, driven by the desire to survive and make ends meet, and this multitude of perspectives is conveyed through the different characters and stories entwined throughout the entire film.

A personal qualm is that the movie comes across as rather disjointed at times. Midway through the movie, for instance, Uekrongtham inserted two excerpts of interviews he did with real people who work in Geylang via a documentary style footage. This sticks out of the running narrative like a sore thumb, There does not appear to be any clear motivation surrounding for doing so, and neither did it run in congruence with the rest of the film. It is, however, tempting to postulate that this is because of the need to pander to international audiences, and to bring them further into Geylang as a community.

Finally, the open-ended narrative style adopted runs the risk of viewers failing to develop any sense of emotional attachment with the characters. Rather, the viewer is the aloof onlooker that judges and criticizes without any feeling or empathy. This is a pity as emotional engagement is important to relate to the characters in any film. At the end of the day, Pleasure Factory may come across as being too vague and aloof, stylistically brilliant but lacking a certain innate oomph.

References

Tan, V. (2007, May 27). Channel NewsAsia: Singapore film on Geylang sex workers debuts to full house at Cannes. Retrieved on December 2, 2010, from: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/entertainment/view/278745/1/.html