Happy Happenstances – The Umbrella

Fikri Jermadi stays dry with Lim Yue Yang’s latest short film.

‘The Umbrella’ is a film directed by Lim Yue Yang. It tells the story of Lao Beng (Poh Ken Guen), an elderly gentleman suffering from Alzheimer’s and thus has a problem of remembering things. To counter this, he has a trusty red umbrella to help him remember certain things. For our purposes, what is clear is that there is a fixed routine our protagonist sticks to, with even the briefest of interludes being potentially problematic.

This is something that Yue Yang does well to establish, with the first act showing us all that we need to know about Lao Beng. A lot is done through photographs; they say that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Reworking that adage for this film, Yue Yang not only emphasised this with the pictures in Lao Beng’s apartment, but also in a café scene later in the film, with an empty frame hanging on the wall silently signifying his condition.

The soundtrack also comes into play as a narrative tool here. The elderly man remembers what he needs to do by reciting a song his son had taught him. In a way, it’s quite rudimentary, with lines like “After passing by the hardware shop, remember to turn right” being more practical than poetic. This song has even been parodied as a rap tune well worth listening to.

This reflects the congested soundscape we live in, especially when it comes to media and advertising, with every other brand earworming a jingle into our (sub)consciousness. To that end, I’ll take the work of Chun Jun Zhe and Timmy Lim Ji Yuan any day of the week; a longer instrumental version would have kicked Japanese city pop off the throne of my markings sessions. Here, it is useful not just for Lao Beng’s needs, but also for the audience to chart what needs to go right, so they have an idea of when it starts to go wrong.

Having said that, perhaps it could have been cut down just a little bit, as it did more of the legwork than it really needed to do. Maybe that says more about me as well, as I prefer listening to the more ‘realistic’ scenes, where the music played a smaller role and greater emphasis was placed on the sound effects

The umbrella plays a key role in that regard. In fact, I dare say the umbrella works for the uncle much in the same way that our smartphones work for us; taking away the smartphone would have left us feeling a little lost and directionless. Given how reliant we are on such devices, it’s also a good bet that we wouldn’t be able to remember some of the key information we need to, like certain phone numbers and such.

That’s not to say that everything is fine and dandy. The turning point in the narrative, for instance, felt a little abrupt, which is slightly incongruent with the first act. Subsequently, the second and third acts felt at times a little ‘forced’, relying on happenstances not just to create the problem but resolve it as well. The same applies to the rain, reducing the film’s organic feel and thus cutting down on some of the tension that could have upped the ante.

There are also disparities in the film’s timeframe towards the end, where the flow between night and day felt a little forced. Zaahy Hasan’s cinematography, while effective, felt a little too pretty for some of the scenes, making it seem like an advert instead of a short film about an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s. In fact, combined with the music, the aesthetics remind me of mainstream Taiwanese cinema, for some reason. That’s not actually a bad thing, I just wonder how suitable that may be given the film’s subject matter.

The points I make in the paragraphs immediately above does not detract from what the team has achieved. It’s never easy to touch on such topics at an early stage of your career, and what the team did, they did with enough care and sensitivity. Throw in a head-turning cameo from Ian Chin as the café’s manager, and ‘The Umbrella’ is a fine film worth opening with some time to spare.

The film is an official selection of the 17th Mini Film Festival.

Featured image credit: George Becker / Pexels

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