Fikri Jermadi finally made some time in schedule to watch some short films, and he wasn’t disappointed.
The BMW Shorties have grown from a small acorn to become one of the mightier trees in the forest that is Malaysian shorts cinema. It’s not a particularly big wooded area for now, but the fact remains that it has become one of the main competitions to look forward to on a yearly basis. Though initially the cachet brought by the German carmaker’s brand ratcheted the interest, soon enough it was clear that their involvement here is rather minimal.
Instead, it has become one of the main platforms through which young filmmaking talent is cultivated. In beginning it caught the interest of many student filmmakers, but it has also since grabbed the attention of those involved in more professional mores such as the advertising industry, leading to an arms race (of sorts) to see not only who could come up with the best story, but also how they could best present it. The high level of production design and film equipment used potentially became something of a deterrent for many to enter. This year is no different, with a wide range of filmmakers telling all sorts of different stories. As it stands, the winners have already been announced, and you can check out that particular roll call here. For now, I wish to offer a mini-review of the finalists, as there are some real gems here worth checking out.
We begin with ‘Tuck’, a film by Gordon Ling. It’s story is simple enough, telling of a simple-minded boy who works at a café. One day, a girl comes in to work at the same café. Obviously, the boy gets… kidnapped? Fret not, for he wakes up, and it all appears to be a dream (or so he thinks). Plot points repeat themselves often enough that there’s more than a whiff of ‘Groundhog Day’ here. It’s always a fun concept to play around with, but also a tricky trap to be in. Storywise, how do you add something new to what could potentially be a fairly tiresome routine? The twist comes at the film’s end, without necessarily the story’s conclusion. It seems like a clever enough compromise.
‘Koci Lima Ringgit’, directed by Vaksins, is a based on a similar premise of boy meets girl. However, we are first introduced to what the boy’s life is like prior to that meet, with a series of repeated shots emphasising his daily routine. In that regard, I am reminded of the Australian film ‘Samson and Delilah’, which works on a similar premise of establishing by repetition. That part worked well here, but having seen the whole film, I find myself craving for a more conclusive resolution with a more satisfying pay off. Nevertheless, it builds well, and credit must be given to the cast and crew for their strong and concerted storytelling spirit.
In a very different context, if we are to consider the independent filmmaking spirit as a whole, there is a tendency for a lot of Malaysian short films to be fairly Chinese-centric in its narrative. One theory is that as the Chinese discourse is displaced within the mainstream context, it finds more room to breathe in on the margins in more independent film productions. One such film is ‘Highway’ by Aw See Wee. It doesn’t explicitly consider the bigger racial questions and such, but I suspect many from an identical background would be able to relate on a deeper level to the story of a young man who picks up his mother on their way to a wedding. The mother spends the rest of the journey pretty much nagging at him, often comparing him to the neighbour’s son. From a filmmaking perspective, I am a big fan of the shot management. First, the majority of the film takes place inside a (small) moving car, which limits the number of shots possible (the camera was basically in the backseat throughout most of the entire film). However, this limitation did not feel like one, due to the clever editing of Sean Yap Shao Chi. The cinematographer, Lee Ling, also pulls out new rabbits in the same old hat after a certain point of the film, with different types of shots. It made the unboring monotony even fresher.
The same could be said of ‘Fish’. Quiet and contemplative, the filmmakers are also incredibly clever, knowing that what happens off screen is just as important as what we see on it. The story of a young man whose dreams are not supported by his strict father is not a new one, with imagination stomped down by the desired imagined nation. One shot from outside the house presented the young protagonist as being ‘imprisoned’ by the window bars, capturing this film’s core perfectly. I have to say that there was a turning point in the father’s character that was not as clear as it could have been (at least to me). This film gets top marks all the same for the editing and the cinematography (done by Huang Po Hsiung; incidentally, his name in the credits was accompanied by the words ‘Republic of China, Taiwan’. I am not aware when the custom of listing nationalities in credits list started). The ending was fairly chilling as well, one that may seem slightly out of step with the rest of the film, but the message was certainly hammered home.
You can watch the films here. Have a read of part two while you’re at it. We previously wrote about the 2009 (!) finalists, and interviewed previous finalists Karthik Shamalan, Edmund Yeo and Mugunthan Loganathan.
Featured image credit: Juice Online