In the first of a two-parter, Fikri Jermadi trains his eyes on the finalists of the 2nd Kota Kinabalu Film and Video Association (KKFVA) Golden Winds Awards.
Being a firm believer in the power of short films, I decided to sit down and discover more of the films of the second Kota Kinabalu Film and Video Association (KKFVA) Awards. Somewhat shamefully, I am not as aware of even the first edition, so perhaps this effort will go some way towards making up for that.
The first film we’re looking at is ‘Juru Karmaera’. You would be forgiven for thinking that the film is about a radio DJ, as the film opens with precisely that, DJ Carlo (Ramli Carlo) delivering a news report about the dangers that await women after dark. What I found was a little turn off was how that report signed off with advice for women on steps to take to keep themselves safe, which, while not entirely impractical, is also in line with some of the victim blaming mentality that pervades much of Malaysian society whenever people are attacked. That’s not the main line of argument in this film though, just something I happen to notice and think about.
The main strand of narrative follows the story of Alistair (Redzman Ukun), someone who presents himself as a professional photographer. He takes a picture of Kristy (Clara Clarinda), a stranger who happens to like Alistair’s cat. However, the flash from his photography appears to hide a darker secret that is harboured beneath Alistair’s friendly demeanour.
Things turn dark very quickly, as the director, Debbie David, played around with a number of different tones. When Alistair met Kristy the first time, for instance, the colours and sounds were more dreamlike and picturesque, almost as if this is not particularly real. Credit must also go to the likes of Ajaz Putra, Booby Faiz and David Michael Abbie for making this lo-fi film stretch further than it should. However, I must also admit that the shifts in tones were probably a little too drastic for my liking.
Perhaps that was ‘aided’ by the usage of sound effects, which were a little jarring at times. The latter half of the film was more punctuated with jump scare sound effects than I thought it might have needed, so perhaps more subtlety would have been the way to go. Overall, such differences lead to a sense of disconnect, which could have potentially been confusing otherwise. The radio scene, for instance, was one and done, being so far removed from the rest of the film that it is arguable we could have lived without it. A slimmer version of the film could have packed a meaner punch.
There’s a similar playing of the same narrative elements for ‘Meet My New ‘Friends’’, which tells the story of three friends hiking through the woods. One stopped for a quick pit stop, relieving himself, before catching up to his friends. The film itself started really well, with a pitch black screen overlaid with a creepy voice saying lines from the classic Simon and Garfunkel song, ‘The Sound of Silence’. Unfortunately, this was eventually interrupted with some of the film’s opening credits. It’s a bit of a shame, for the filmmakers, Saiful Zwan and Weil Wincent, did a really good job of setting the film’s mood and pace. However, the text on screen had a potong steam impact on my suspension of disbelief, and it’s probably best to cut straight to the action instead.
For the action is good, as much of the movement on screen is well done. Being set in wooded areas, I would have imagined the shoot to be a tricky one, with limited on-the-ground-contingency at best. The restriction comes primarily from the environment, as, with limited space, the camera had no choice but to traverse much of the same paths the actors do. This could have been tricky, but the camera operator’s steady hands (supplemented by some post-production stabilisation, perhaps?) helped to make the journey a smoother one. The cameras dynamism, moving forwards and backwards as and when is appropriate, enhances the narrative impact. Some visual effects were also included in the film, including a trick which reminded me of ‘The Talisman’ by Jeremy Jecky.
I also like the inclusion of children’s voices singing over parts of the soundtrack. As pointed out by John Oliver in one of his segments for ‘Last Week Tonight’, the inclusion of such singing, reminiscent of a choir, can make anything creepy. Here, it really stretched that ringgit further, making the film more effective than it would have been otherwise. If anything, it could be argued that the film is too effective; upon realising what and how the story may turn out, I found myself not wanting to continue, mindful of unintentional connections made to a recent case in Malaysia of a kid gone missing. A part of that is down to my membership in the fatherhood club, but let’s give more kudos fo the filmmakers for a job well done all the same.
Speaking of offsprings, a lovely change of pace was brought about, courtesy of ‘My Little Angel’. No, not my son (although he is indeed that), but the film by Ho Wai Kei. His effort here is worthy of a mention, particularly the single-camera setup employed for all its scenes. Not only would this mean an easier time in post-production (single-take scenes won’t take long to edit), but also a greater amount of effort from the actors; much like the editor (also Wai Kei), there’s not much room for a mushrooming of emotions.
Thank goodness, therefore, for Lucas Wong (playing the father) and Cindy Foo (the daughter). He is keen to ensure that his daughter can stand on her own two feet, to the extent of helping her look for jobs. However, her lack of confidence and language skills are barriers too big to overcome even with his help. An apparent unwillingness to step outside of her comfort zone is exemplified in a scene where she is seen hugging a big teddy bear. It recalls theories of infantilisation particularly prevalent in East Asian communities. I’m not suggesting that this is a Korean film by any stretch of the imagination, but contextualised in that discussion, such behaviours are often encouraged to enhance not only the cute factor, but also a reification of an overarching patriarchy.
Staying in that bigger picture discourse, there is also a sense of the dissatisfaction that comes out of being shut out of the mainstream. Not being able to speak English should not be a deal-breaker in Malaysia, a country that’s actually not a Western nation by any stretch of the imagination. Greater focus should have been placed on factors such as aptitude (she is, after all, only applying to be a cleaner), but this marginalisation on faux pretenses grates with me all the same.
Though it’s difficult to not think about the above, both are not the main foci here. The focus is on the character and their conflict instead. On that point, there is a change in the daughter’s behaviour for the better, but this shift did not fit the narrative sequence as laid out by Wai Kei. It’s not entirely unrealistic, it’s just something that seem a little too sudden for a short film. It remains a sweet film to watch, but an extra scene, perhaps, to smoothen that landing would probably help. This is not a slight on the actors, who appear to hit all the major spots as well as could expected. It probably helps that I like single-take approaches, and so credit should be given to Wai Kei and his camera operator, Reynold Wong.
If ‘My Little Angel’ slowed things down for more than just a little bit, Felix Tai’s ‘My New Phone 2019’ ramped it up as a comedic feature or sitcom episode squeezed into a short film. We begin with an opening shot of three friends on a beach, Big Bro (Charles Wong), Middle Bro (Edward Ho) and Third Bro (Joel Chee). Nearly lulled into a nice, post-lunch nap by the Ghibli soundtrack, my peace was intruded by their sudden decision to dump Middle Bro into a car, taking him all the way to Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu is shown as the big city here, where a rural boy like Middle Bro would find it difficult to adapt to. His old school Nokia phone was quickly discarded for a smart phone capable of playing King of Glory and using WhatsApp. This prop became a signifier of urban modernity, in which people disconnect from day to day reality, even as the Internet links them to a larger, more digital world. This means that there’s a sense of this being an entry in a public service announcement competition, with technology cast as the Big Bad.
This is exemplified through Big Bro and Third Bro’s visit to Middle Bro’s office. They arrive bearing coconuts, which was so ridiculously funny I burst out laughing in the office. Apart from reminding me of Ibrahim Mat Zin and his attention-grabbing coconuts (read that however you want) when MH370 went missing, it also represented an urban-rural dichotomy that’s not often internally discussed within intra-Sabah dynamics. “It’s just the Internet, you don’t need it!” said Big Bro; somewhere in the world, Sherry Turkle is beaming with pride. “Before, we had simple phones. We were happy to only have those.”
Not to be ignored is how the medium is the message, and here there is a wonderfully comic delivery that’s not often seen in such films. Perhaps it’s more to do with my sense of humour, for wrapped around that public service announcement is a layer of ridiculous comedy that tickled my funny bones.
Perhaps it will do the same for you.
Featured image credit: MarketWatch