Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Red Dragonflies" Flits Between Past And Present

Before the special media screening of "Red Dragonflies" at Iluma's Filmgarde, producer Tan Bee Thiam was frank and warned those invited, "It is not a film that is very likeable... it is a film that requires a lot of patience. It is a film that will move you if you really want to 'see' it."

True enough, Red Dot Diva felt it wasn't an easy film to sit through.

However, that didn't mean it wasn't good.

The 90-minute movie, directed by local Red Dot Islander Liao Jiekai, is definitely not targetted for the mainstream film-goer who is used to big-name celebrities, loud explosives or copious amounts of teary-eyed emo-ness. There are also no sparkly vampires nor hunky superheroes in this movie.

What one gets with "Red Dragonflies" is a quiet, reflective and very personal art film that encapsulates the innocence of youth and the relentless passing of time.

"Red Dragonflies" begins with the awkward return of artist homegirl, Rachel, who had been based in New York for many years. Now in her mid-twenties, Rachel is back in Singapore to host an art exhibition, and the story tells of her attempts to embrace her memories, reconnect with her past, and accept the present.

The setting for a large part of the movie was the lush and dense rural forests surrounding the unused Jurong railway line. The walk along the railway track became an almost mystical journey for the three exuberant junior college students who were eagerly in a search for some kind of adventure outside the urban landscape that they live in.

Director Liao Jiekai used mostly untrained actors in the film. Mainly because of this decision, the raw performances of these actors were best appreciated during the teenage "flashback" scenes.

As young Rachel, Oon Yee Jeng was the main spark and spirit behind the movie. Red Dot Diva loved how Yee Jeng really lights up the screen with her light-hearted manner and easy laugh.

The other two male actors, Yeo Shang Xuan and Ong Kuan Loong, who portrayed young Rachel's fellow adventurers Tien and Jun, were also very believable as young men on the verge of adulthood. Shang Xuan plays the moody and brash Tien, and yet manages to convince during the scenes when he was being protective of Rachel. Kuan Loong managed to showcase an introspective, elusive Jun - the dreamer whom no one really knows or understands.

When together, the trio's chemistry was very evident and a joy to watch on screen. Their easy-going, ad-libbed Singlish dialogue was genuine and surprisingly, wasn't jarring to listen to.

Speaking of dialogue, this was sparsely used in the movie. The almost silent visual journey was also not scored with any music except the beginning and the end. And this could be one of the main points where the usual film-goer may find "Red Dragonflies" uncomfortable to watch.

The longdrawn aural stillness is more than made up by the poetic beauty of the shots used in the film. Many of the scenes were captured like a pensive coffee table art book. Raindrops falling on fern leaves. Sunlight streaming from the other side of a dark train tunnel. Old housekeys in a bowl.

Sometimes the nostalgic snapshots of the images spoke for the older Rachel (Ng Xuan Ming) and Tien (Jason Hui), who were now more sombre, and seemed disillusioned and lonely as adults.

There is a somewhat "Lost"-like flash-forward and flash-backwards non-linear story-telling style used in "Red Dragonflies". One will find that the film flits between the past and present with dream-like ease, and the time dimensions gets a little blurry towards the movie's ending.

Red Dot Diva wishes that more was told about reserved Jun. He seemed to be the elusive mystery in the story and she thinks the movie would have been more satisfying if he was featured just a little more.

After the screening, Red Dot Diva's initial thoughts were that "Red Dragonflies" was a tad too ephemeral and confusing. However, many days after watching the movie, a few key images and scenes continued to echo in Red Dot Diva's mind and soul. That was when she realized that "Red Dragonflies" is one of those rare local movies that has truly managed to capture the sentiments of what it was like being a Singaporean living in a fast-changing landscape. And how, in these shifting times, people and things can no longer stay the same.

In all its murky story-telling, "Red Dragonflies" makes sense.

"Red Dragonflies" has gone around the world in various international film festivals, winning much acclaim bagging the Special Jury Prize at the 11th Jeonju International Film Festival. It is now finally back home, and has opened exclusively at Iluma's Filmgarde on May 5.

For a peek, check out the trailer here:

If one is feeling patient and up for some reflective soul-searching, go check it out. One might be surprised to find that it's a evocatively good film.

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