Before the night's double bill (at the late hour of 2115!), we settled at Archipelago for a
tipple pint and more with Lauren and Nic, Pinoyers at large. Sitting and chatting with them makes my duck feel perky from close proximity to three sweet young things his age. Evie tells me Lauren has been blogging since ten and is the Philippine equivalent of xiaxue, only tons better. Too bad I didn't know that earlier as my duck blabbered and blurted out all sorts of indiscrete notions while stealing sips from juicier glasses. Now this bird will probably meet a virtual fate worse than soft-boiled balut in a well-deserved tarring of his sordid fingers feathers upon Lauren's touchdown early on Wednesday.
War movies by a post-modern generation were the highlights of tonight's Singapore Film Festival instalment. "The Changi Murals" by Boo Junfeng is a brief but intensely personal (and probably overly indulgent for some) retelling of the biblical murals painted by Bombardier Stanley Warren (15 Field Regiment, Royal Regiment of Artillery) during his internment at the dysentery wing of Changi Prison in 1942-43. Full credits for the film are listed on its official website.
The short film charts Warren's agonising task of creating icons of devotional hope in a time of despair and regular scenes of brutality and deprivation. Brushes are forged from clipped scalps and set in place by crude tools. Boo has a penchant for in-your-face close-ups with an intrusive quality that can discomfit. The acting is uneven (the Japanese guards are much too casual) but the two leads (though much less gaunt than their roles would have called for) are by and large compelling in intensity and earnestness. (Apparently, Boo was once given the suggestion that he cast a local in the titular role, but I guess he didn't in the end as Mark Lee was
unaffordable not available.) The past, as lived and relived in reluctance by a post-war Warren on his way to a restoration session (a replica of the POW Chapel is now housed in the Changi Museum, as the original prison has since been demolished; the original chapel is now in Australia) becomes a memory of contention for the souls of mates lost and minds forsaken on the path to glory.
Boys and bombs
A stark contrast in tone and tempo, "Aki Ra's Boys" by James Leong and Lynn Lee explores the aftermath of war through eyes untempered by the baggage of conquest but no less shattered by its undying implements. A former child soldier for the Khmer Rouge and sower of mines, Aki Ra
now runs a land mine museum in Siem Riep (see the filmmaker's blog for an update on Aki Ra and his museum) and works to uncover and deactivate the millions of fatal footsteps that lie across the country.
Between bouts of mine-seeking with a handheld metal detector and a disarmingly nonchalant approach in deactivating active mines, Aki Ra serves as foster father to a bevy of young land mine victims displaced from their homes and families. Among them are Boreak and Vannak, two 12-year old boys with blown-away right arms and irrepressibly explosive attitudes to life. Visitors to the museum help to fund their education, which in turns fuels a furious pursuit of fun in all its forms: football with just one leg a-kicking, girly card games with lasses who laugh off lost limbs, victorious wrestling matches over fully-limbed companions and barely affordable video games.
In one of those strange twists in life, children such as Boreak end up 'better' for all their early tragedy, with more than half a chance of an educated pathway and exposure to urban possibilities (he gives a solidly deadpan tour of mine diversity and mortality rates from mortar bombs and anti-tank devices to directional claymores and waist-cutting bouncing betties) than their unmaimed siblings in distant villages where a television is the ultimate luxury.
There is unbelievable swagger in both Boreak's boastful brawls in a half cape as well as Aki Ra's demining team, who prefer to dice with death in the confidence of their own hands than suffer surprises from second-hand loads. Fate may be cruel but its fatality is blunted by the will to live and lust for life in these children caught up in an arms race between powers and ideologies beyond the reach of a human touch.