Internal Struggles: It’s All in the Mind

by Deepagcharan

Presented by the Asian Film Archive (AFA), Singapore Shorts ‘22 expands on the lexicon of a short film by providing a diverse range of genres—from animation and music videos to experimental films by multi-disciplinary artists. Despite its lean runtime, shorts remain an integral means of telling stories offering explorative avenues for filmmakers. Featured as part of Selection 3, we witness a documentary and a horror film contribute to the inventive and genre-defying potential of short films in the local context. Both films converge on the idea of expressing the state of mind of their respective protagonists despite stylistic differences.       

Still from HIS BOTTOM LINE (2021), dir. Chew Yun Yan

HIS BOTTOM LINE is a documentary short directed by Chew Yun Yan which features an unusual subject that piques the viewer’s interest instantly. The documentary focuses on Ah Guan’s personal life as he journeys from Singapore to Vietnam in pursuit of marriage. He openly states his requirements for marriage, carrying a placard indicating that he is looking for a spouse with a nice back, which is certain to perplex viewers. Viewers are drawn in by their curiosity as to why Ah Guan behaves in such a peculiar manner.

Propelling the narrative is the filmmakers’ constant prompts for Ah Guan to explain his unorthodox actions, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in his cognitive processes. Audiences are bound to face the dilemma of empathising with him or being left baffled by his decisions. 

Still from HIS BOTTOM LINE (2021), dir. Chew Yun Yan

While some may admire his determination, I was slightly taken aback by his imposed constraints. Coming from a conservative society, one is bound to receive backlash for openly expressing their desires. As permissible as it is to have a personal preference for the type of partner one desires, the documentary examines the extent to which desires cross the threshold into the voyeuristic. With a real-life character like Ah Guan, we are compelled to evaluate our latent prejudices, particularly those concerning physical appearance. Does being candid about our views have an impact on our personal lives?

As Ah Guan succumbs to finding a spouse in a neighbouring country, deeming that he has a higher possibility of doing so, his perseverance in finding a spouse of his personal preference is admirable. While it isn’t a fly-on-the-wall-type documentary, HIS BOTTOM LINE does reap generous benefits from its approach providing a candour experience and connection with the character.

Still from YOU WILL SEE (2022), dir. Kathleen Bu

Following her last work, which dealt with pandemics, local director Kathleen Bu surprises with her horror short, YOU WILL SEE. The film had its world premiere at the recent Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and is bound to send chills down your spine. A technically sophisticated short, coupled with a top-notch terror-inducing score—evoking a ticking metronome—was a profound experience, reminiscent of the works of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento. By gradually imposing a sense of mystery on the viewers, we are constantly on the edge as we try to decipher the imminent. 

Gwyn, an aspiring photographer, questions her competence as her mentor expresses discontent about the quality of her images. Multi-layered characterisation begins with an aspiration for perfection and progressively escalates into obsession. With a mysterious camera handed to her by her mentor, she begins stalking a deaf carpenter, on a quest to capture the perfect image. As such, the film poses a nuanced perspective on the politics of the ocular and the power dynamics in orchestrating a frame to capture the perfect moment. Is there a cost to obtaining this ideal shot?

Still from YOU WILL SEE (2022), dir. Kathleen Bu

Bu’s oeuvre includes a strong focus on character development, particularly the emphasis on voiceovers that convey her protagonists’ inner thoughts, which is a feature of her earlier works. In her latest, dialogue is used sparingly, and the utilisation of low-key lighting, creates a ghastly experience. Perrie Tan, the cinematographer, deserves credit for defining the protagonist’s sense of uneasiness with precise compositions and tracking shots.

Based on the range of genres featured in this programme, it is certain that short films offer a unique form of consumption. They can provide a concise opportunity for developing original ideas in a palatable way. In the instance of His Bottom Line, a short documentary format was ideal for capturing the character’s emotions while simultaneously allowing the audience to resonate with them. Nonetheless, both directors’ films have distinct voices, and they dare to break the conventions of their genres to deliver works that are original. I am certainly looking forward to their upcoming work.

This essay was produced through the Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, co-organised by *SCAPE and The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.

About the Writer

Deepagcharan loves to watch movies and MUBI is his favourite application. Because cinema is his passion, he is constantly on the lookout for innovative voices as well as iconic films that have contributed to the history of cinema. He also volunteers with the Singapore Film Society, where he assists with programming.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Asian Film Archive.

About the Writer