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Perth, brutal and to the bone.

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Posts: 2308
Joined: Thu, 21 Oct 2004

Perth, brutal and to the bone.

Postby dot dot dot » Sat, 20 Aug 2005 2:01 pm

After reading this below, for me a must see. Already reading this article about this Singapore made movie, it makes me hungry watching this real life movie. Not the usual Hollywood crap (arty sin city, silly comedy bewitched), but one from the heart, from the streets.

looking forward to this one...

Aug 20, 2005
No pain, no gain

In the movie Perth, the characters are vile, and the language is vulgar. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. But don't miss it
By Richard Lim

HE DRINKS Guinness for breakfast, and often chases it with Bacardi, neat. His Housing Board flat in Tanglin Halt is cheaply furnished, but it is well stocked with liquor.

Lim Kay Tong plays Harry Lee with so much anger and anguish, one wonders if he may have tapped into inner demons which he previously didn't know existed.

As he takes long drags on a Texas Five, he puts a gold chain round his neck, and slips on his fingers gold rings as big and mean-looking as knuckle-busters. He performs this morning ritual with meditative silence, under the watchful eyes of Guan Gong, the God of War, on his altar. His hair is permed, so he doesn't have to comb it. He is ready for work.

After having served in the merchant navy for 30 years and seen the world, the only work he could find back home is that of a security guard in a small shipyard with one miserable slipway. He is on the wrong side of 50, and he doesn't have a piece of paper. His years of experience count for nothing.

But that is fine with him. He doesn't plan on sticking around for long. He's going to retire in Perth, 'the most beauuutiful city in the world', as he tells anyone who will listen to him.

The new Singapore, bright and shiny and full of smooth-faced, bespectacled kids who earn big bucks by just sitting in front of a computer screen, has no place for someone like him. In his day, a man earned his living by working with his hands, not with his fingers.

In Perth, Djinn (above) has crafted a much-needed Singaporean tale whose protagonist is an early babyboomer.
In his time, more than half of the people around his age did not finish secondary school. He didn't, too, but you wouldn't have guessed that of him. As a Caucasian fare tells him in his cab, which he drives at night, 'You speak perfect English.'

Of course, he does. As first mate in the merchant navy, he worked with the British. Yet, his command of the language is superficial, his vocabulary limited. He doesn't have the words to articulate the toxic anger eating him up from inside out. If he had the words, he would have found the context for his anger. He would have a better sense of himself, and better control over his often violent actions.

Harry is not like his supervisor, Angry Boy, a lout in his 30s. He's the prototypical Ah Beng, the chap who knows little English, but is fluent in his native, peasant Hokkien. He knows his place in the world. He is not deracinated. He knows that whatever you do, you have to cho sui-sui (Hokkien for do it nicely, in the customary way).

He may be angry like Harry, but he knows why he is angry. He may not know the phrase, but when dealing with others, he doesn't get mad, he gets even.

Harry is a Baba, a Straits-born Chinese. His great-grandfather might have married a Dayak in Borneo, for all he knows. The point is, he cannot speak Chinese. Which makes him doubly estranged from his environment. Already, he cannot cope with the new high social expectations. And caught as he is in the low-life milieu where Chinese is the main currency, he is a boat on dry land. He may be dimly aware of his displacement, but that adds only to his confusion.

He follows the customs of the Chinese - he prays to his Guan Gong deity, he visits the columbarium where the ashes of his late mother are kept in an urn - but he has no comprehension of them.

Long ago, he married a Chinese who spoke no English. Words did not get in the way in their marriage, which was good. But later, because she started gambling and sought out men who would keep her company at the mahjong table, and because he began to drink more, they needed words to fill the silences between them when they sat down together at the dinner table. But they didn't have the words. He resorted to the fist. She bailed out.

The one person Harry can relate to most is his buddy from his national service days, an Indian who can speak English. Victory Selvam is a taxi-driver like him. He was a full-time non-commissioned officer until he was rendered redundant and shoved off with a small pension. The two buddies share their bitterness and relive their glory days in a kopitiam over bottles of beer or a strong cup of tea stirred with thick spoonfuls of condensed milk.

Harry says loudly: 'You and I, we trained under the Mexican Jews. They were tough, man. The young buggers today, what do they know? They can only use their fingers on the computer. I'm not sure if they even know how to masturbate, man. Maybe that's why our Government has a problem with people not producing babies.'

(When Singapore became independent in 1965, it had to build an army from scratch. It had looked to Israel for help, af ter India and Egypt turned down its request. Israel sent 18 officers. To prevent the possible antipathy among the Malay Muslims in Malaysia, their presence had to be kept from public knowledge. They were passed off as Mexicans. As Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew records in the second volume of his memoirs, 'They looked swarthy enough.')

Selvam is your regular guy. He drinks, but not too much. He gripes about the young too, but he doesn't get too worked up over them. He has a wife to go home to. He is enough of a Hindu to make jokes about his religion. At the same time, he is at ease among the Chinese and can swear as colourfully as Angry Boy. Harry is his friend, he is loyal to him, and he will put down his life for him.

Seeking redemption

THE movie Perth opens with Harry being retrenched by the shipyard. He will be replaced by computers, his supervisor Angry Boy tells him. AB has a certain affection for Harry. Perhaps he sees in the older man traits which he has, but which he can keep in check better than Harry does.

He takes Harry and Selvam to see his Geylang gangland chief, who's also a pimp. The two men land a job ferrying Vietnamese hookers to and from their assignations.

A quiet young woman called Mai reminds Harry of a woman he had known in Cambodia when he was running small petrol tankers up the Mekong during the Vietnam War. She gets beaten regularly by a john, and it hurts Harry to see the bruises on her face. Gradually, in his muddled mind, he thinks he may get a shot at redemption through Mai.

Harry has tried earlier to reconcile with his university-educated son, who had disowned him. The young man, with his smooth face and spectacles and oh-so-proper manner, is having his wedding reception at the gleaming five-star Marina Mandarin Hotel. Dressed in his old wedding suit, Harry rides up the hotel's bubble lift. He sees himself handing over a hongbao, or red packet, to his son, who will embrace him and cry tears of forgiveness.

But he pops into the bar first, and by the time he arrives at the banquet hall, he is sloshed. The contempt on his son's face makes him lose what little control he has left over his senses. He goes berserk, and is carried out screaming and kicking by the hotel's security guards.

Now, he's shooting for redemption. But is he, the fallen man, redeemable?

Them and us

DIRECTOR Djinn Ong, 37, could not have made Perth if he had not done his national service in the late 1980s, before he left to pursue a history degree in an English university.

He came from a fairly privileged background, studied at Anglo-Chinese Secondary School, and it was only in the army that he got exposed to folks on the other side of the economic divide.

In the army, he was made a physical training instructor and a sergeant. Despite the fact that he could speak little Chinese, he won the trust of the regular non-commissioned officers who spoke mainly in Hokkien among themselves.

They allowed him to join them in their beer sessions. By day, they might seem like cocks on the walk at the parade square, but in those drunken evening gatherings, Djinn saw that they were vulnerable and bitter.

Rightly or wrongly, they felt they had been marginalised by the influx of scholar soldiers whom the Government introduced by the mid-1970s. Without a piece of paper, they could not rise up the ranks. They saw themselves as failures, condemned to a life of hentak-kaki (Malay for marching on the spot, going nowhere).

They were the inspiration for the Harry character in Perth. An uncle of his, who had been at sea for much of his life and who had actually navigated unlicensed boats to Cambodia during the Vietnam War, was another inspiration.

Not many Singapore artists in their 20s and 30s can relate to the early babyboomers, much less create authentic works about them.

Most of Singapore's creative works in the English language have been produced by the early post-colonial poets, like Edwin Thumboo, who had a cause, and the post babyboom artists who, growing up in a relatively affluent society, have the luxury to reflect on and record their life experiences, however meagre (it's no coincidence that their style is 'postmodern minimalist').

Of course, there is the delectably youthful Catherine Lim, but without revealing her age, I can tell you she's no babyboomer.

The early babyboomers grew up in a time of intense nation-building. Theirs was all reflex, and little or no reflection. Many had come from poor homes. They were too busy making a living, and in many cases, making good. They had witnessed Singapore transform from a mangy outpost to a sparkling metropolitan centre.

They have so many stories to tell, if only they would sit down and record them. And even if they would, not many can, because they have little education. And then there are those who are too demoralised to share their stories, except when commiserating with one another in the coffeeshops.

In Perth, Djinn has crafted a much-needed Singaporean tale whose protagonist is an early babyboomer. My colleague Tay Yeak Kek had said in his 3 1/2-star review of the movie on Wednesday that Harry 'is the best and grittiest character study of rage, regret and redemption yet seen in a Singapore film'.

I will venture further to say that Perth, despite its title, is the most coherent and authentic Singaporean film ever made. The pace may be slow in the beginning, but it picks up momentum, and the viewer is taken right into the story.

No other recent Made-in-Singapore film has a principal who is a non-Chinese. If Malays and Indians were featured at all in the films, they were token characters in walk-on roles. A. Panneecirchelvam, a real-life cabbie who plays Chelvam, has enough screen time for the character to be fully drawn.

Yet, credit must be given to Eric Khoo's Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys, which paved the way for Perth.

Harry is Lim Kay Tong's first lead role in a feature film, and he has invested his all in it. He takes his craft seriously - remember how he gave gravitas to the TV series Growing Up? - but he has yet to pick up any award, unlike his younger brother Kay Siu.

Towards the end of the film, when the Harry character goes out of control, his anger and anguish are so real, one suspects the usually reticient Lim may have perhaps tapped into some inner demons which he previously didn't know existed.

Many critics have said the film is a homage to Martin Scorsese's landmark Taxi Driver, which stars Robert De Niro. But Lim Kay Tong is less Robert de Niro than Harvey Keitel in the 1992 Abel Ferrara shocker, Bad Lieutenant.

Sunny Pang, a former TV stuntman, is such a natural actor as Angry Boy that it makes you wonder why no one in MediaCorp spotted this rough diamond earlier. Liu Qiulian, a popular TV actress in the 1980s, made her comeback in this movie, which was first screened in the Singapore International Film Festival last year. It was last year, too, that she had a principal role in the 50-episode Channel U serial, Perfect Women. Pity then that she happened to be one of the casualties in the merger of the two TV stations.

Jack Neo, a not-too-early babyboomer, has made several successful feature films in Chinese. He is a masterful storyteller, quick with the jokes. Many believe that his works are sharp social commentaries, dressed up in comedies. But his movies, with their neat feel-good endings, really serve to preserve the status quo.

John Cleese, of the famous British Monty Python gang, once remarked: 'I sometimes think that comedy actually hinders change, by making things seem more bearable than they are.'

Djinn's Perth is not subversive art, but a quote by the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman may be in order here: 'I don't want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically...I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.'

So if you want to just switch off and be entertained this weekend, go catch Kelvin Tong's The Maid. It will most certainly make more money at the box office than Djinn's outing.

But don't miss Perth. The characters are vile, and the language is vulgar. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. But it is art, brutal art.

Well, time to go experience the stuff, isn't it?



Postby Guest » Sat, 20 Aug 2005 3:16 pm

For once something useful- been wanting to know more about this....
thank you

dot dot dot
Posts: 2308
Joined: Thu, 21 Oct 2004

Postby dot dot dot » Sat, 20 Aug 2005 3:40 pm

dot dot dot
Posts: 2308
Joined: Thu, 21 Oct 2004

Postby dot dot dot » Mon, 22 Aug 2005 11:59 pm

I just came home from watching this little raw diamond of a movie.

Be warned, this is not a nice entertaining comedy, this is as rough as it can get and then a whole lot more rough, rude and in the face. It starts quite innocent, lots of people in the cinema had to laugh about the rough language (be sure you understand hokkien, especially the really rude swearing), but halfway the movie everybody was seriously looking, one could hear a needle fall on the floor.

This movie really cuts deep, it is tough to see, but it is imho a real little raw diamond indeed.

Go watch it and see a different side of Singapore.

Hurray for Lim Kay Tong and Djinn Ong, fantastic!


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