Stories About Love
Reviewed by 1. Ernest Khoo 2. Xiao Jinhong 3. Wong Lung Hsiang
Directors: James Toh (The Music Teacher), Abdul Nizam (Haura), Cheah Chee Kong (Click)
Cast: Mark Richmond, Amy Cheng, Beatrice Chia, Andrea De Cruz
Year Released: 2000
1. Review by Ernest Khoo
Rating: *½ (out of four stars)
Some films are so intense and powerful that after the end credits, you're still awestruck by the images you have just witnessed on celluloid. Sadly, this film is not one of them. Much as I would like the Eric Khoo-produced Stories About Love to succeed, I was more dumbstruck when the lights in the movie theatre came on.
That is not to say this film is 100 per cent bad. It's just that as a feature film, it doesn't gel. Granted that it's an anthology of three different stories done in different styles by three different directors, the devices used to link the shorts together (for example, getting characters from one story to appear in another) are pretty lame. For a feature film that's supposed to be about 'love and lust,' it reeks of a shoddy non-committed cut-and-paste job.
The first story by 12 Storeys co-scribe James Toh, The Music Teacher, kicks off with nary a fanfare. Chronicling the tale of a violin teacher Su Wen (Amy Cheng), who finds a soulmate in her 17-year-old student much to the indignation of her ang-moh hubby (Paul Zach), this segment looks and feels like it is written and shot for the goggle-box. With stiff, awkward acting and a lack of chemistry between the characters, this 'love story' that's supposed to have music as its driving force simply lacks passion. If music be the food of love, then I'm quite certain that the lovers will go hungry.
Singapore International Film Festival Best Short Film Award recipient Abdul Nizam's Haura is next. Bordering on the experimental and adopting a zen-like tone, this segment is about a young woman (Andrea DeCruz) who discovers that the man of her dreams (Mark Richmond) is not what he seems. Although intriguing, this story fails primarily due to weak acting from the two leads. As part of a commercial feature, the ostentatiously philosophical approach of the script and camera work would also not go down well with your average Joes in the audience.
After an hour of tedious viewing, the third story directed by MTV exec CheeK may seem like a breath of fresh air. About the fantasy of a guy (Gerald Chew) obsessed with the internet and becoming a successful technopreneur, this segment features over-the-top acting by Beatrice Chia (playing an internet sex goddess) and cheeky scenes that provide the entire feature a much needed humorous lift. However, the laughter it elicits mask the fact that the film rides more on its ability to shock with blatant sexual innuendoes and images of bare breasts rather than on the story itself.
Perhaps these three stories might operate better as separate shorts rather than lumped together as a full-length feature. In short, Stories About Love fails to ignite any amount of passion in me. If you're hoping that this digitally-shot release will bring some respectability to local films after flops like 2000AD and Tiger's Whip, well, no such luck this time round.
2. Review by Xiao Jinhong
Rating: The Music Teacher *** (out of four stars), Haura ** (out of four stars), Click *½ (out of four stars), so that's an average of ** (out of four stars) for Stories About Love
Tiger's Whip. Lucky Number. The Truth About Jane And Sam. Street Angels. 2000 AD. All these followed the insurgent success of the monster hit, Money No Enough. All flopped, and deservedly so. Liang Po Po sucked too, but the massive marketing muscle behind it was enough to bring it barely into the black.
The only releases in the wake of Money No Enough that weren't total flops were Eating Air, which garnered some critical success but failed commercially, and That One Not Enough, which was good but suffered from Jack Neo's over-exposure.
So what about Stories About Love, the latest film to bear the Eric Khoo stamp of approval? Produced by Khoo. Backed by Geoff Malone, founder of the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF).
Boasting a host of stars, ranging from babes Andrea De Cruz, Amy Cheng and Celest Chong, through established TV stars Mark Richmond, Chong Chia Suan and Irene Ang, to rock critic and DJ Paul Zach, Eating Air's gem of a find Benjamin Heng, and stage actors Gerald Chew and Beatrice Chia.
Directed by three critically acclaimed short film directors. Three stories, three styles, three visions. One theme: "Love, Longing and Lust," as written in the production notes. The promise of embedding the experimental edge of the short film milieu within the structure of a conventional feature film.
Shot and produced digitally - the first full-length digital feature film to be commercially released in Asia. Which means lower costs, a rawer look (think slightly grainy, with severe bleeding in shots with bright lights), instantaneous evaluation of the results, and more freedom to experiment than with conventional film.
Stories About Love promised much, but delivered little. In short, it flattered to deceive. The film opens with James Toh's The Music Teacher. Toh co-wrote the script for 12 Storeys, as well as two of the episodes of Drive, the Eric Khoo-produced TV anthology series that brought the depth and beauty of film to the idiot-box. He also directed the finale of the series.
Toh must have learnt the lessons from Drive well, because he delivers a strong work here. Amy Cheng (Andrew Seow's girlfriend in the TV series Growing Up) plays Su Wen, the married violinist who is attracted to her 17-year-old student (Aaron Tan). While Tan is unfortunately raw, Toh manages to coax a creditable performance from Cheng.
But it's Paul Zach, playing Su Wen's husband, who surprises with his thespian ability. He's very natural on camera, save for some awkwardness in the scene where he's in bed talking with Su Wen. Lucilla Teoh and Irene Ang also weigh in with excellent cameos. The latter, in particular, shows that she can do drama as well as comedy with her portrayal of a neglected and betrayed wife.
When Stories About Love is viewed in its entirety, The Music Teacher probably benefits from its conventional straightforward narration. That's because it contrasts so starkly with the experimentalism of Abdul Nizam's Haura and Click by Cheah Chee Kong (aka CheeK).
Haura's main weakness is that it allows the form to suffocate the substance. Andrea De Cruz plays the title character, a woman who, in the words of the mysterious narrator, confuses sex with love. She thinks Mark Richmond is her dream man, but he turns out to be a neurotic, obsessive, messed-up junkie who ends up destroying her life.
It's not the plot that is problematic, but the execution. Firstly, Haura is rather similar to Datura (the SIFF Best Short Film in 1999), which suggests that Nizam might not have developed a full cinematic palette to draw from. Secondly, certain sequences are superfluous. For instance, if the voice-over sequences at the start or the narrator were cut, the film would lose nothing. Indeed, it would become more compact and streamlined.
That leads to the third criticism, that some parts are perhaps too experimental to belong in a full-length feature targeting the mainstream movie-goer. When a character suddenly spouts poetry in between scenes, that only disrupts the flow. It does not help the story along, especially when it's not so easy to discern the meaning of the dense poetry.
Having said that, some of Nizam's experimentation does work. The use of drawings showing a penis penetrating a woman in the middle of a sex scene is surprisingly effective, and it may in fact be the best sequence in the entire film.
And that brings us to CheeK's Click. The third and last story doesn't sit well with the other two because it's not really about love. That's notwithstanding CheeK's claims to the contrary, and the predictable twist at the end which brings in forbidden love.
But Click is primarily a send-up of the ongoing Internet "New Economy" dot-com mania that has gripped our sunny island. Gerald Chew (last seen as the husband caught in the middle in AlterAsians: Or Else The Lightning God) plays a loser who lives in a fantasy world where he starts an erotic fetish site called lovelove.com that barely stays within the boundaries of the law and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.
Chew performs well, and Beatrice Chia is deliciously campy as the Internet porn queen Elaine Love. But the script is too weak and the premise too thin for Click to work. It's as if CheeK is trying too hard. More than a few of the jokes, such as those about stock options, would appeal only to dot- com insiders, while some outright fall flat on their faces. All in all, Click is a decidedly poor offering from this two-time winner of the SIFF Best Short Film award.
Eric Khoo said in July's BigO (#175): "It's important to tell a story well and the ones well told are the ones worth thinking about." Sad to say, only one out of the three stories here are well told.
3. Review by Wong Lung Hsiang
Stories About Love is a compilation of three urban love stories set at the beginning of 21st century Singapore.
When I wrote this review in 2000, I started by warning readers that one of the segments contains a scene which is sexually explicit. True, other Singapore films like Bugis Street and God or Dog contain sexually explicit scenes too, but they do so in a more superficial manner. Stories About Love, on the other hand, drills into our soul and psychology because it tackles "taboo" subjects (from the standpoint of the more conservative Singaporeans). These include teen prostitution, a one night stand, the fantasy of an office orgy, menage-a-trois, swear words aplenty, an animated presentation of how a male organ plucks into a female organ, and the subtext of incest. There is one topless scene, but the eroticism is generated less by the nudity and more from the "riding" and moaning in bed.
Nowadays, how would the general Singapore audience respond? Without blinking an eyelid. I guess times have changed. The type of edginess found in this anthology would be considered pretty tame for most international film festivals. And today, I think most Singapore audiences might even feel that the segments are somewhat boring, especially Abdul Nizam's Haura, which is the most experimental of the three.
1. The Music Teacher: A seemingly traditional story about love and betrayal ends up with a surprising twist. Screenwriter James Toh's montage toward the end of the story is no less intriguing as compared to the "Ying E Chi" directors from Hong Kong.
2. Haura: This really looks like an experimental short film, with the mixture of reality and fantasy, present and past, interwoven with paintings and animation. Abdul Mizam, a Malay director, casts a Chinese to "play god" - as the objective narrator that occasionally pops up to explain the psychology of the female lead ... in Mandarin! The rest of the characters, including that Ah Pek, speak English. Unfortunately the execution turns out to be highly confusing (from the general audience's point-of-view). Judging by the atmosphere of certain scenes, one can detect the influence of Indonesian director, Garin Nugroho. The Java-style soundtrack adds to the exoticism. I suggest you pay close attention when the film comes to the end, because it is a quick series of montages, and if you miss one short portion, you might miss an essential element of the plot.
3. Click: This is a comedy with a twist at the end. It explores the thin line that separates a winner from a loser. Your desires and fantasies are represented by the Internet. Writer-director CheeK's stylistic approach is very different from that of Abdul Nizam in Haura. Nizam emphasizes more on montage while CheeK is more into the set, the color and mise-en-scene. The whole story is a sort of "spiritual masturbation" of the male lead. By the end of the story, we see the male lead, who dreamed of becoming a technopreneur, staring at his dream. But he is left with nothing else, except a sense of loss, loneliness and helplessness... and CheeK is not talking about the bubble of dot.com, but the bubble of urban life. "Let the Internet suck you!"
The movie plays a trick reminiscent of Kieslowski's Three Colours, Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express and Fruit Chan's Little Cheung (the ending scene). We see the leading characters of one story having cameo appearances in other stories. And in the ending of the last story, characters from the three movies appear at Raffles Place.