Fikri Jermadi puts his thinking cap on in rounding up a two-part look at the short films of the 2nd Kota Kinabalu Film and Video Association (KKFVA) Golden Wind Awards.
A film veering towards the now-familiar territory of horror is ‘New Tenant’. We start with a man (Ken Fu, in addition to acting as the film’s producer) rushing up the stairs to his room, looking to charge his phone, as he is awaiting the announcement of some results. However, just as he is doing so, there is a mini-blackout, leading to him seeing what he believes to be a ghost (Albee Chung). Of course, this film stays true to the tradition of Oriental girls with long black hair scaring the shit out of people by standing very still in the dark.
Disturbed by this, he engages the help of his landlord (Chua Chun Kiong), who comes along to show how it appears to be little more than figments of the imagination. It made me think of that relationship between modern and pre-modern worlds, in which the mind deifies the fantastical at the expense of simpler logic; one century’s magic is another century’s science. However, the film’s ending suggests how there is more than meets the eye. I can understand why codas, the way certain blockbusters have popularised it, can be popular, but there is also the risk of adding more spice to the broth than is needed.
There is also a certain disconnect that occurs on two levels. One, the music used at certain points makes this short film sound more like a corporate video than a horror film. Secondly, there is a day-and-night issue as well. It’s possible that the director, Aks Kwan, was shooting day-for-night, but there needs to be a greater distinction between timeframes. When the landlord visits him, the interior was dressed as if it is still night. However, the previous shot clearly established this to be the day time. The same goes for the usage of on-screen text, denoting the time. The specificity of the timing (such as 23:53) felt somewhat unnecessary; beyond the midnight factor, there’s little in that that offered a bigger-picture narrative payoff. Simply put, it tells us what we are already sensing (if not seeing), but at different points of the film, it does not quite add up to a balance equation, becoming a disconnect which distracts more than it disturbs.
‘Oh My Husband’, therefore, is a lovely change of pace, at least in terms of treatment. Director James George (who also wrote the story and had a cameo as a policeman) tells the story of Angkat (David Nail), unfortunately more of a deadbeat than someone who can uplift his family. For instance, he is more interested in gambling and cockfighting events, and when he is home, we see (and hear) him do more complaining about the limited dishes his wife (Marina Sitim) provides for him. This sets things off between husband and wife, with Angkat justifying his activities as a maintenance of tradition.
While I’ve never really given it that much thought before, that is a logic which intrigues me. I’m no fan of cockfighting myself, but it does raise the issue of what should be preserved as we move forward into future decades and centuries. As an academic, in certain fields I feel excited when even the smallest morsels of historicised tradition is found. This is especially true for films (and maybe that’s why I pay a lot of attention to short films), as it allows for all sorts of possibilities to be considered about what life must have been like way back when. Far from this being a line of argument for the legalisation of cockfighting, I find myself intrigued nonetheless by a train of thought that had previously skipped my station.
It’s also funny in bits. In trying to overcome his nemesis Angkis (Azis Dangkilang) and his cock (ahem), Angkat tries hard to motivate his own: “If you lose, you will end up in my cooking pot.” That drew a chuckle from me. The title led me to believe that the film would have been from the wife’s perspective. We do get some snippets of this (flashbacks show how she had to be the breadwinner by selling fish at the market, for instance), but it seems that the focus is more on Angkat, the camera encouraging a more dispassionate view of him, perhaps reflecting the resocialisation this film may be attempting.
‘On the Line’ takes an even more overt approach to the same issue. However, instead of focusing on families being torn apart from within and without, the story’s core deals with suicides. We follow Onix (Dale Owen, also the film’s cinematographer), manning the lines on his first day at Sabah Suicide Prevention Hotline. He receives a call from Bella (Judith Joseph), a pregnant 16-year old with no one to turn to. Depressed, suicidal, and abandoned, we don’t see all of her. A back shot here. A close up of the mouth there. Mark Ronnald’s decision to do this is clever, for, in only showing us bits of Bella, she stands in for the more familiar faces in our lives. These are the blanks we fill in with someone we know who is like that, making the film more personal.
What’s more disturbing, however, is what is shown at the start. We get some handheld footage, recorded as a portrait video, showing someone jumping from the rooftop into the crowd below. This is followed by a montage of news reports discussing suicide as an issue. The voiceover speaks of a million suicides taking place annually, but what’s more disturbing is the footage itself. Given its actual difference in quality with the film as a whole, I am led to believe that the film is one randomly taken from a video-sharing site such as YouTube. It did not appear to be a stunt either, which means that the person in that footage may well have suffered serious injuries at least (or worse).
I’m not sure whether the filmmakers had the permission to use that footage for this short film (nothing was indicated as such in the credits), but even if that’s the case, this is far more serious, controversial and harmful than taking music from Studio Ghibli films. It seems like a real thing, tempting me to draw a line in the sand somewhere. It’s a pity, because ‘On the Line’ does stand out as a decent short film. Technically, it seems like a neat enough effort, but all of this once again has connotations of a public service announcement. I applaud Mark and his team all the same for tackling what is a serious issue.
Last but most certainly not least, ‘Where Sisterhood Takes Us’ tells the story of Emma (Debbie Ho), who is suffering from a sight-related disease. Her father (Nigel Majalang) and mother (Vera Chong) wants the doctor to do something about it, but it’s an expensive operation that will set them back more than a few quid. Her sister Andrea (Elaine Audrey), however, appears to be treating her more normally; in spite of Emma feeling discombobulated and disconnected and from the rest of the world, Andrea is keen to make sure she remains on an even keel. This is an approach becoming more common, helping to build up that sense of respect and self-esteem. Instead of being tagged as a disabled, the one being helped at least projects an image which could inspire positive changes within.
It would be nicer if we get more of the same from the parents. The mother berates Emma, for instance, for breaking things inside the house. Perhaps that is the frustration speaking, but all the same, I felt that more patience should have been afforded. That’s still not as bad as the father, who appears to be reading a newspaper almost every time I see him. He is doing exactly this when Andrea suggests donations as a way forward. He immediately shuts her down, before turning to his wife, “And you. What else do you want me to do?” “Stop reading the newspaper, you dick” is one publishable response I had to that question. Perhaps the director, Jeremy Tan, had intended to show how this strains relationships in families (and we do get that as well; Emma crying alone in the room as her parents argue outside), but all the same… what a prat.
Speaking of Emma crying, these were showcased through short jump cuts in time. It shows that it is not only a singular narrative event, but a repetitive one, adding to the strain over time. This was very well done by Jeremy (also the film’s editor). He also knows when to stay silent, letting Emma’s sobs drive the emotions of one particular scene, for instance. The cinematography by Al Hanafi Juhar is also aesthetically pleasing, making me think that this is a filmmaking team which has spent some years making wedding videos and the like. All in all, this is a lovely little film with a lot of heart. Even me wanting to roll the father’s newspaper and smack him on the head with it is indicative of how effective ‘Where Sisterhood Takes Us’ is, so kudos to the gang for imbibing such violent emotions in me.
Overall, it’s been an interesting journey through some films from Sabah. In terms of quality, it’s a mixed bag, with a wide range of filmmakers from different backgrounds and levels of experience. I do like the different films, though, because they touch on a number of very different stories. What’s intriguing is that horror remains a popular genre; perhaps there’s something deeper there that could be discussed. Films like ‘Oh My Husband’ also offered something very different from what I’ve seen before, and ‘My Little Angel’ reminds me that you don’t need complex settings to tell complex emotions effectively. In a more political context, the KKFVA Golden Wind Awards provides an important space for recognition and respect in the Sabah filmmaking scene, and I look forward to future editions.
The following is a full list of the nominees at the 2nd KKFVA Golden Wind Awards, with the winners highlighted in italics:
Where Sisterhood Takes Us
Meet My New Friends
My Little Angel
My New Phone 2019
Oh My Husband
On The Line
People Choice Award
My Little Angel
Felix Tai (My New Phone 2019)
Jeremy Tan (Where Sisterhood Takes Us)
Mark Ronnald (On The Line)
Dale Owen (On The Line)
Edward Ho (My New Phone 2019)
Lucas Wong (My Little Angel)
Debbie Ho (Where Sisterhood Takes Us)
Cindy Foo (My Little Angel)
Elaine Audrey (Where Sisterhood Takes Us)
Al Hanafi Juhar (Where Sisterhood Takes Us)
Alvin Chang (My New Phone 2019)
Dale Owen (On The Line)
Ashbee Rainal (On The Line)
Saiful Zwan & Weil Wincent (Meet My New Friends)
Jeremy Tan (Where Sisterhood Takes Us)
Featured image credit: The Lutheran World Federation