By Sara Merican
This set of films that are part of the Singapore Shorts ’19 programme — Club 555, Trailer Boys and Bare — tell the stories of people that move in peripheral or unseen spaces in our country. These short films are, for the most part, documentaries. We move through night clubs, trucker groups and naturist communities. Through these conversations and revelations, stigmas are unfurled, differences are embraced, and narratives rewritten.
Film always contemplates, sometimes inspires — and every now and then, demands change. These three short films force us to confront our biases and offer grace and mercy to the people who also call this island, home.
In the pulsating neon lights and energetic dance sequences, director Chew Jia Hui assembles a mosaic of life inside a Singapore “fusion” nightclub — one that is made up of lives converging from all over the region and from different walks of life.
The film skirts past the biases and assumptions associated with careers here, allowing the club’s employees to rewrite and reclaim the narrative, on their own terms and in their own words. Primarily made up of talking heads, with no voiceover or commentary, the film lets the music fill the remaining space. Chew’s work accomplishes a nuanced balance between the hedonistic escapism and the creeping anxieties associated with participating in this site of nightlife, and vehemently refuses to moralise.
At the same time, it is difficult to shake off the sense that this space is still not an entirely comfortable one, at least for some people. Numerous faces are blurred out, a reminder that this is a place where some patrons, at least, desire anonymity and privacy.
With their long, noisy, honking motorcade, they are seen as a public nuisance. But Trailer Boys reveals a softer side to this crew of truck-driving men, who call themselves Abam2 Trailer Singapura — complete with printed group t-shirts.
In this film by Yusri Shaggy Sapari, we see these drivers criss-cross the island delivering goods, navigating the tricky challenges of finding parking space to unload products at 7-Elevens and supermarkets — and trying to dodge the ire of other road users. Spending long hours on the road, often alone in their vehicles, the Abam2 group provides a sense of community and support for these drivers. As they soap and wash their vehicles and unwind together in a public carpark, there is a sense of familial tenderness shared.
It about doing your job — even if it is often thankless and misunderstood — with care and pride. Though money is tight for many of these truckers, they find it worthwhile to spend a part of their salary on curtains, LED lights and other decorations for their trucks — making these monstrous beasts a bit more personal, carving a space they can call their own.
Bare features naturists who subscribe to the idea that the human body itself is not obscene, and try to encourage others to embrace nudity, as a form of body positivity. The film includes both male and female naturists, Christian and non-Christian ones. Directed by Martin Loh, this short film mixes the talking-head documentary style with abstract performances as a way of provoking deeper questions about societal norms and “natural” states.
There is an incredible tactility to Loh’s work. Close-ups of skin and clothes become a kind of interrogation of form and function, an investigation of colour, weight and dimension. What is the difference between water on skin, and water on clothes? Does curry stain skin the same way it stains clothes?
Arguing that nudity is frowned upon because the naked body has only ever been seen and portrayed in a sexual way, Bare fleshes out the stigma attached to the nudity, and attempts to recast and restore the naked body as one that is perfectly natural and normal. Where film has historically been dogged by a heightened self-consciousness and censorship of bodies, in this work, art becomes a redeemed medium for the display of the bodies.
About the writer:
Sara Merican, 23, is a final-year undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She is an alumnus of the Singapore International Film Festival’s and Far East Film Festival’s film criticism and journalism programmes. Besides film, she loves playing soccer, hiking and reading.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Asian Film Archive.