[Reminder: All opinions are subjective. They always are.]
Just watch one. Forget the others. (Okay, that's not a very democratic suggestion. Watch them all to make up your own mind about them. But if you want to save time, then yeah, take this recommendation.)
Just watch Quek Shio Chuan's GUANG.
You see, for years in Malaysia we've been suffering through (mostly, but certainly not entirely) purportedly symbolic or metaphorical arthouse short films that are pretentious in a muddle-headed manner, or else moralistic and didactical short films that shallowly portray what (the filmmaker thinks) is good and what is bad without a serious attempt in actually telling an engaging story. Repeat finalist Tan Ce Ding's short film "How To Say I Love You" is one such example.
Or, as you can find in themed short film competitions like BMW Shorties, contestants often produce not a narrative short film but what is really a visual essay that addresses a theme – they often consist of monologues laid over some images, or have lots of title cards that try to be poetic. Repeat finalist Moh Chee Leong's "Let The Plastic Fly" is one such example. (Malaysian Chinese filmmakers love doing this, to my disappointment. It's an import from HK and Taiwanese filmmaking. "Bringing others joy is the happiest thing in life." "Finding happiness is more important in life than chasing after money." Siiiiiiiigh.)
Is there a story? A little bit, perhaps. Nothing that would satisfy me though; I look for stuff like setups and payoffs, conflict, rising stakes, etc. (Not these elements by themselves, but working together to tell the story.) And these are inevitably absent when directors look at the theme, "Joy", and simply think of what words or what images can be associated with it and just added those things together as if it's arithmetic, with less emphasis on character and plot.
Which is why GUANG pleased me so much – I've been waiting for a short film like this to emerge from Malaysia for so long.
GUANG basically takes what I think of as the Hollywood approach – a balanced and synthetical marrying of theme and storytelling (without making it on the nose; you certainly don't go through the
short film thinking about "Joy", it's just inherent in the scenes). Watch the film till the end - did you notice the editing and the sound editing? I didn't. Now watch it again, see how smoothly it transitions from shot to shot, from one scene to the next? Pacing is just nice, not too indulgent, not too rushed. Did you notice the cinematography? It looks beautiful at places, when it counts, but it doesn't try to look stylistic in every shot. You would've noticed the rainbow colours in certain shots – there, that's the director inducing a theme into his film without having to comment on it. The camera movement isn't flashy, but unlike so many Malaysian short films they are also not static.
And of course, the story touches your heart. A very good reason for that is because it's the director's own story – that old adage, start with what you know. But he didn't make the easy mistake of making it too autobiographical, or at least, it didn't feel like it. It's not a diary, it's a story.
Quek Shio Chuan will go far in his career if he keeps this up, even if he doesn't win this thing. But, if he and his team don't sweep all the awards à la Titanic or Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (except for the actress category which it wasn't nominated for) then it's a travesty. I've seen all the nominated short films (disclaimer: some I only skimmed through because they were just too blah to sit through), and almost without contest this was the best film in all the categories – Actor (my, so naturalistic, so buried into the role), Cinematography (more than the other nominees, it was all about telling the story through the camera ... how on earth did "Come Home" get nominated here?), Editing (didn't notice it, unlike the other nominees), Sound Design (didn't notice it, unlike the other nominees), Production Design (just works), and Screenplay (tells a narrative tale and uses many film storytelling tools to great effect, right down to details like the setup of the 'retarded brother' line; how on earth did "Come Home" get nominated here?).
I would be very interested to see what Quek does with the RM75,000 when he wins that. And I hope, for once, that it's a short film that improves on the winner's entry sent in for BMW Shorties and that it looks like RM75,000 was spent on it.
Alright, now, to be fair, of the remaining nominees THE LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP was a reasonably well-made short film as well, so after watching GUANG do check that out. Can't say the same about most of the other ones; I'm sorry to say that I felt that this year's crop of nominees were not as interesting or engaging as last year's.
And, of course, clearly some of the cast and crew behind GUANG were experienced industry people (the DP for this was also the DP for Yeo Joon Han's Sell Out! for example), which almost all the other productions probably did not have access to and are thusly disadvantaged. But you work with what you have.
And to give credit to BMW Shorties, their format for the nominations where not just the top 10 finalists but any of the 107 entries can potentially be nominated for the smaller categories makes a lot of sense, makes it a bit more Oscar-like. They should stick to it next year.
From freethinker to free person
1 day ago