At The Chinese Shop

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This afternoon, I found myself having almost an hour of free time after lunch in a shopping mall. My next meeting was in the next building. I remembered a shop selling artefacts, almost entirely Chinese, to mostly tourists. It is run by an elderly couple. They speak Cantonese and sometimes a brand of English I guess some tourists may understand. Last year during the mid-autumn festival promotion, I saw the husband exhibit their wares in the common area of the mall. I walked into the shop and the husband welcomed me. After a while, he mentioned something I bought from him years ago, perhaps to register he remembered me. The artefacts in the shop looked the same, not much has changed. I asked after his business and he said, same same, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. I looked around and was about to ask. He stopped me. And said, “她不在了.” She is not here anymore. He looked slightly pained but he looked straight into my eyes. I could not look away and kept the gaze, not knowing exactly what to say. After a while, I said I was sorry, but he perked up and told me not to say I was sorry. This was life and he needed to carry on doing what they did, just that now he would do it alone. I asked if he needed someone to help him. No need, he said. He could manage. By now, he had moved to the table at the end of the shop. He sat down. I saw food and realised I had interrupted his lunch. Before I could apologise again, he said, pointing to a framed photograph of his wife on the table, “she still has lunch with me.” His wife smiles widely from the picture. I was silent. Then this old man said something, almost like a parting shot. “I was sad. I allowed myself to be sad. But only during the time of mourning. She is gone. I am still alive. Sadness is easier because it’s surrender. I will not surrender. Not when I am alive. She will want me to live my life…”

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Film-making — From Made in Singapore to Made by Singapore

03 April 2018 |  Daniel Yun  |  Today

Director Eric Khoo (centre, in jeans) with the cast of Ramen Teh.  The author says the film, which has been sold to over 40 countries, is an example of how boundaries between countries, between races and between cultures are crossed and blurred.  Photo: Facebook / Ramen Teh

Ramen Teh marks coming of age of co-productions with foreign partners

Recently a young guy I know, who we sometimes broadly categorise as a millennial, asked me gushingly: “Do you know Takumi Saitoh is in a Singapore film?” I nodded briefly. I thought he should be referring to the Eric Khoo movie starring Japanese pop idol Seiko Matsuda alongside Mark Lee and Jeannette Aw.

After watching Ramen Teh, I left the cinema feeling a little overwhelmed.

The perennial and single biggest challenge our semblance of a film industry faces has been our small market. The two most logical solutions have been to produce movies that can travel to foreign markets, and to co-produce with overseas filmmakers.

Yet our filmmakers have taken decades to come around to fully comprehending these seemingly simple solutions as well as adjusting their approaches and skill-sets to finally yield some results. Continue reading

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Ramen Teh

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When was the last time, while watching a movie, you realised you have started caring for a character without knowing? And when something momentous happens to the character, you feel all the significance. At a special screening of ‘Ramen Teh’ last evening, many in the audience started to tear without fully comprehending why. Such deftness in character portrayal, the incredible lightness of unraveling a story, can only come from an experienced hand. There is also a simplicity that can only come from matured understanding of the human condition. Even when a seemingly heavy subject matter is introduced, there is no judgement, the film still feels light, there is no unevenness in tone. In fact, there is an enjoyable leisurely pace consistent from start to end; the whole movie is an exercise in simplicity and lightness. Yet it does not take away from the most endearing reason to watch this movie – at its core, ‘Ramen Teh’ has a big heart. There is tenderness in ways the director handles the characters, as there is love in ways he directs and shoots the food dishes. I have never felt more proud of our local food. To have famous Japanese chefs enjoying and aspiring to master cooking some of them! To have a foreigner describing a famous local dish in details we always knew but never heard in Japanese. This a film Singaporeans at large can be proud of. As a collaboration between Singapore and Japan, the narrative feels real, the local and Japanese elements are integral, the ingredients organic to each other. ‘Ramen Teh’ opens in cinemas today. If there is a Singapore film to watch, one you can savour both the taste of local and Japanese cuisines, one with an ensemble cast, one with the indomitable Mark Lee, and one with the ageless Seiko Matsuda…

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Youth

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Feng Xiaogang’s ‘Youth’ celebrates how rich the narrative texture of Mainland Chinese cinema can be. How its stories can be as real and turbulent as its modern history. It sweeps through the lives of members of a Chinese military performance troupe from the 1970s to the 1990s in a whirl of grand, dramatic gestures. Based on novelist Yan Geling’s adaptation of her own novel – which in turn was based on the writer’s 13-year spell as a dancer in an arts troupe in the Chinese Army, Feng, who worked in a military arts group himself in his youth, seeks to remind modern audiences how those young soldiers from a seemingly more dogmatic era could be just as selfish, sexual, superficial and human as anyone their age in the here and now. And how fate can twist at the expense of the stained, even the faultless who are outcasts. But life goes on. By the third act, it appears this can be Feng’s most pessimistic film to date. Until the narrator offers some semblance of poetic justice from her insights. George Bernard Shaw may say youth is wasted on the young, but at the end of 2 hours and 26 minutes, audiences would have lived the full lives of the characters and savoured what it was like to be a part of that colourful Chinese history.

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I, Tonya

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How many of us can say we know a world-class figure skater? After today, I think I can. After watching this seamless fusion of docu-drama, real-life drama and mocku-mentary, where characters constantly break through the fourth wall, where one of the biggest scandals in sporting history is turned on its head as a black comedy, I feel I know Tonya Harding personally. The opening credits states upfront it is ‘based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly’. It culminates in the 1994 knee-bashing of Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s Olympic skating teammate and rival, the ‘incident’ that made Harding the most notorious woman in sports. ‘I, Tonya’ shows her as the foul-mouth, chain-smoking outsider the sports world was not ready for. Try as she would, she could not separate her bold proud-to-be-a-red-neck image from her skating. Her mother, husband, his best friend, along with Harding herself, collectively became a skater career’s biggest enemy and worst nightmare. We see a train wreak unfolding, a disaster waiting to happen, complete with familial abuse, wife beating, and the wonky scheme to take down a sports rival going down in Olympics infamy. Working with an excellent cast, it is clear director Craig Gillespie is faced with a script in which the truth was irrefutably stranger than fiction. Which is why, while we find ourselves rooting for this white trash of a sportswoman, along with feeling a great sense of missed opportunity and wasted talent, we are made to laugh at and with the tragedy.

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