Just watched "Men in White"... actually missed the first coupla minutes 'cos I was trying to find a copy of the Business Times for the good review of Georgette.
Yeah, I'd read the negative reviews of the show in the press. But it's written and directed by Kelvin Tong, and I loved "Eating Air", "The Maid", "Love Story"... so I figured I had to at least see this one for research purposes. And hell, it's a cool concept (the same one I used in the play "Hungry"!) and it's a fun trailer, if you understand Mandarin.
But the show...
Well, let's start off with what it did right. A lot of the film is very very funny; the 10:05pm theatre was crowded and people were laughing their way through the first half with pretty regular consistency. Kelvin's got the goofy Jack Neo-style "boiing" brand of slapstick going on here, with rapid non-sequitur jump-cuts, even to animations and hip-hop music videos in Hokkien, Cantonese and English.
But I've gotta mention what another audience member said on the way out - "I feel like I've grown stupider watching this show".
Kelvin's definitely not stupid, but he hasn't quite shown an ability to use comedy for concrete satirical purposes - you can figure out some kind of allegory on how to live a purposeful life in the actions of the ghosts, as well as hints at the undercurrent of government surveillance that's part of the Singapore psyche. But that's not quite stuff that you appreciate subliminally, the way you do in, let's say, "12 Storeys".
And in the meantime, his comedy makes caricatures out of everyone - I really am pissed at the portrayal of the new homeowner that tries to chase the ghosts out from his apartment as a flaming fat queen, whom the contractor insults as a "chao ar kwa". Sure, you can claim that any representation of queer characters in Singapore cinema is welcome. But everyone in the audience is laughing whenever someone says "chao ar kwa". Am I supposed to enjoy that? Am I supposed to enjoy the fact that we're reinforcing the idea that saying "chao ar kwa" is okay???On reflection, Singapore cinema has a terrible tendency to make fun of Indian Singaporeans in a similar way, portraying them as clownish buffoons - it's done in this film, as well as with a security guard in "Just Follow Law", and arguably via ethnic/gender drag in "Liang Po Po: the Movie". "Army Daze" could also be said to mock Indian culture, but it's an equal opportunity offender, and Kumar and Lathi are given solid enough roles to suggest some interiority. "Unarmed Combat" is fairly unique in the way it features a Indian character as an important role among a Chinese-speaking clique - he's sarong-wearing and comic to a certain degree, but the other characters digest the cultural difference rather than othering him - they teach him mahjong and they've learnt enough Tamil to count to three (which is more Tamil than I have).
We need more Malay and Indian film creators in Singapore, and more Chinese language film directors who're willing to create significant roles for non-Chinese characters. (Come to think of it, "The Maid" was already a step forward.)
We have lots of budding queer directors, luckily. :)