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Singapore International Film Festival

27th Singapore International Film Festival - sort through more than 160 films to be screened

Here are some works to look at from the festival's more than 160 films

The Singapore International Film Festival claims to have something for everyone.

Variety is great, but there could be a downside - paralysis. With more than 160 films on offer this year and a standard ticket priced at $12, pulling the trigger on a purchase can be hard.

Here are the works The Straits Times thinks deserve a second glance, based on press previews, awards and festival reviews from around the world. They are not marquee films with stars - those will find an audience with no problem - but films that have character.

The Woman Who Left (rating to be announced, 228 minutes) is the winner of this year's Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

  • VIEW IT / SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

  • WHERE: Marina Bay Sands, The Arts House, Capitol Theatre, Filmgarde Bugis+, National Gallery Singapore, National Museum of Singapore, Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, Shaw Theatres Lido

    WHEN: Nov 23 to Dec 4

    ADMISSION: $12 to $25 (films), $5 (masterclasses and talks)

    INFO: sgiff.com

This is a revenge drama, but do not expect an operatic romp of blood and violence in the South Korean fashion. It comes from Filipino film-maker Lav Diaz, whose films are known for their seriousness and length. At just under four hours, this film is only half as long as his last work.

It tells the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a woman released from prison after 30 years. She is poor and the man who framed her - a former lover - is rich, and so unfolds a story that, like so many of Diaz's works, digs into class and wealth in Filipino society.

For those with shorter attention spans, the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition section is the place to find plenty of variety, usually of a high quality.

There are three anthologies, broadly grouped under the classifications of "political landscapes", "the Asian psyche" and "loss". In the loss section is the gorgeous nine-minute animation, Grandma Loleng, from 21-year-old Che Tagyamon from the Philippines. This wordless neon-coloured collage of drawings, photographs and music deals with how a joyful present cannot be safe from terrible memories of wartime.

The Road To Mandalay (NC16, 110 minutes) deals with strife of another kind - the exploitation of foreign labour in Thailand. Celebrated Taiwanese film-maker Midi Z likes to go back to his birthplace of Myanmar for inspiration and, in this Golden Horse-nominated work, two young people, played by Wu Ke Xi and Kai Ko, find romance and terror after they make an illegal crossing into hostile territory.

The feature-length movies in the Singapore Panorama section usually get all the attention, but the short films need love too.

Recent School of the Arts graduate Khym Fong directed the nineminute Mao Shan Wang, about an elderly man and his reveries as he picks durians. The 18-year-old, speaking to The Straits Times, says the work is about "the rituals of grief".

"People cope with adversity in different ways," she says, and in the case of the older man, he finds comfort in the slow process of hunting fruit in the jungle.

The Cinema Today section is the place to find works from North America and Europe that have set festivals buzzing.

Standouts this year include British documentary Notes On Blindness (PG, 90 minutes), based on the audio diaries of writer and theologian John Hull, who went blind in 1983 after years of failing vision. The Guardian gave it a full five stars, calling it an "articulate, eloquent and soul-searchingly honest" look at what it means to lose one's sight.

Certain Women (rating to be announced, 107 minutes) stars Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams in an anthology based on the short stories of Maile Meloy. The rugged terrain of Montana is the common thread in this work from a stalwart of independent cinema, Kelly Reichardt, who is known for telling stories from the female perspective.

In contrast to Reichardt's portrayals of women's lives, Tickled (rating to be announced, 92 minutes) is all about men being men, but in ways some might find strange.

New Zealanders David Farrier and Dylan Reeve follow a tip about the bizarre underground sport of "competitive endurance tickling" and go to the United States to make a documentary about it. They got what they wanted, but not without a fight from the secretive and litigation-happy organisers of the event.

This work was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Virtual reality (VR) is supposed to be the next breakthrough in cinema.

In the talks section of the festival, a Singapore production house is about to embark on an ambitious project that few have done - make a VR film that tells a story, rather than take viewers on just a virtual tour of a location.

Mr Pok Yue Weng, 44, co-founder of the Creative Room label, will speak about the planning and work that will go into his yet-to-be-made mystery-thriller and there will be a chance for the audience to test the technology.

His five-minute film, commissioned by cable television provider StarHub, will be a "big gamble" because of how it takes the plunge into uncharted waters.

His proposed VR-360 project - which lets users wearing headsets look around a space and interact with it - will be filmed using real objects and actors, rather than the commonly used computer graphics.

On the Web, there are VR haunted-house tours, music videos, and tours of space or the sea. These do not have a narrative, but that is what he wants to do with the technology.

"The real challenge is using VR to tell a story," he says.


Fascinated by the timelessness of large families


French film-maker Tran Anh Hung is behind Eternity, starring Audrey Tautou (right). PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL


French film-maker Tran Anh Hung (above) is behind Eternity, starring Audrey Tautou. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Vietnam-born French film-maker Tran Anh Hung will appear at the festival to give a talk and to show off Eternity, his latest work.

The sumptuously staged historical drama, spanning generations of a French family and several time periods, stars three of France's best known names: Audrey Tautou, Melanie Laurent and Berenice Bejo.

For Hung, 53, this is his most ambitious work, in both scale and calibre of the stars.

As a film-maker who made his career with intimate works set in Vietnam - such as the Oscar-nominated The Scent Of Green Papaya (1993) - Eternity marks a turning point because it is set in his home country, with French actors.

  • VIEW IT / ETERNITY (PG13)

  • WHERE: Shaw Theatres Lido, 350 Orchard Road

    WHEN: Nov 24, 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: $12 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Director Tran Anh Hung will attend the screening

    BOOK IT / MASTERCLASS WITH TRAN ANH HUNG

    WHERE: Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road

    WHEN: Nov 26, 11am

    ADMISSION: $5

    INFO: sgiff2016.peatix.com

He says that going home, as it were, was never a career goal. It all began with L'Elegance Des Veuves, the 1995 novel by French writer Alice Ferney.

"I was moved by the book," he says to The Straits Times over the telephone from his home in Paris.

He was fascinated by Ferney's depiction of a sprawling family with deep roots in French society, which contrasted with the one in which he grew up. His family fled to France from a war-torn Vietnam when he was 12.

"I have only my parents and my brother, feeling fragile in this world," he says. Large families endure many years and it was the idea of the timelessness that he wanted to capture.

"Man and woman meet, they have children, some of them die, and there are new children. I move fast. I wanted to get a new emotion, a feeling of looking at families from the point of view of eternity," he says.


Capturing the struggle of old and new


Malaysian director Dain Iskandar Said says Interchange (above), is a clash of cultures and ideas, much like the cities of South-east Asia. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL


Malaysian director Dain Iskandar Said (above) says Interchange, is a clash of cultures and ideas, much like the cities of South-east Asia.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

In the Singapore International Film Festival's opening feature, Interchange, men mutate into birds while forest shamans cast spells on cynical cops trying to find a serial killer in a high-tech tropical city.

It sounds like a rather odd mishmash, but Malaysian director Dain Iskandar Said says his supernatural thriller, which he also co-wrote, is a clash of cultures and ideas, much like the cities of South-east Asia.

Under the concrete of Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is a layer of myth and folklore going back to tribal times.

"There are two worlds. In the film, you see the jungle taking over abandoned buildings," he says.

It features a mix of actors from Indonesia and Malaysia, with Dain and cast members scheduled to appear at the screening.

  • VIEW IT / INTERCHANGE (PG13)

  • WHERE: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Nov 23, 7.15pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic

    INFO: Director Dain Iskandar Said and cast will attend the screening

The struggle of old and new, of myth versus science, held dramatic appeal for the artist who has done work with folklore and tradition. Interchange is his third feature.

The need to make a film about the subject was triggered by a book published in the early 20th century by Norwegian explorer Carl Sofus Lumholtz, which contains some of the earliest known photographs of Borneo tribal people.

"I was struck by this shot of women bending over in a stream. The caption said, 'Women washing themselves to remove the evil of being photographed,'" Dain says to The Straits Times over the telephone from Kuala Lumpur.

"The irony for me was that their washing was photographed. I wondered how many times they had to go through the cleansing ritual. People all over the world believed that photographs take away your soul," he adds.


Optimistic on Hong Kong film industry


Anthony Wong (above) stars in The Mobfathers by Hong Kong writer-director Herman Yau. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL


Anthony Wong stars in The Mobfathers by Hong Kong writer-director Herman Yau (above). PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Writer-director Herman Yau is upbeat about the Hong Kong film industry he works in, in spite of others saying it is a shadow of its former self.

The prolific 55-year-old releases two films a year, sometimes three, covering period dramas (The Woman Knight Of Mirror Lake, 2011) to martial arts (Ip Man: The Final Fight, 2013) to horror (The Second Coming, 2014).

The work coming to the festival fits into yet another genre: triad movies. The Mobfathers stars Chapman To and Anthony Wong as gangsters in a war of succession.

Yau says he is glad the film was made - the growing importance of China-Hong Kong joint film ventures to produce films for the mainland market has lowered the number of gangland pictures.

"The censorship system doesn't allow triad films," he tells The Straits Times over the telephone from Hong Kong. To access the lucrative mainland market, crime films need to show the baddies hauled off to prison, but in Yau's movie, the cops barely show up; the focus is kept on internal gang politics.

  • VIEW IT / THE MOBFATHERS (R21)

  • WHERE: Shaw Theatres Lido, 350 Orchard Road

    WHEN: Nov 29, 9.30pm

    ADMISSION: $12 from Sistic

    INFO: Director Herman Yau will speak at the screening

Yau has worked in China co-productions, such as Mirror Lake, and does not see mainland money diluting the boldness of Hong Kong filmmaking as some do.

"It's a not very significant portion of Hong Kong cinema that is now trying to match the mainland's censorship standards. It is not the whole film industry that is following the trend," he says.

As for how prolific he is, he says it is all down to his speed. He gets hired, he guesses, because he is "efficient". Time is money, he says.

"I've made more than 80 films and just a few have lost money. They are mostly profitable and that is because I stay under budget."

He also has other ways of stretching the budget.

"In The Mobfathers, I used 100 extras, but onscreen, it looks like there are several hundred of them," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Explore revenge, tickling, blindness'. Print Edition | Subscribe