At first blush, pairing a coming-out yarn with an anything-goes commemoration of the May 1998 ethnic riots against Chinese in Indonesia seems more a disconnect instead of an overture to set the table for the ensuing drama. But the Reel Asian programming wizards most certainly realized that the films’ elements of fear for being queer and deadly dread of visual identification have more in common than many viewers may care to see—much less admit. The “I love you” lyric that permeates Edwin’s stunning début cements both productions together inseparably.
The Golden Pin
2009, 15 min.
End of the line
Shot largely at York University and featuring fine underwater photography (Stu Marks) of the stars (Kris Duangphung as Long, Ben Bela Böhm plays teammate Ryan) and men’s swimming team, Ngo takes the oft-told marriage-of-cultural/familial-convenience and lovingly achieves Long’s metamorphosis from denialist to realist. (If Long opts in to his male partner’s offer of a happy life together, the family tree—save and except for increasingly common adoption, itself no walk in the park—will necessarily truncate cross-reference below.) Ngo employs a marvellous symbol of true love which engenders a confession (his mother’s golden hairpin and family history revelation—her own wedding was not without complications when a previous lover suddenly reappeared).
Composer Mike Freedman’s rich string-and-piano music establishes quiet empathy from the first dive; violinist Tyco Tat’s Christmas carols add universal festiveness to the holiday gathering where the announcement of Long’s engagement to Vanessa (Lily Nguyen)—whose “real” name is outed by her uneasy fiancé—causes a jaw-dropping moment of mammoth proportions.
With so much honesty and emotion in every frame, it seems a tad off that—despite the surfeit of openness in all other aspects—everyone showers in their suits and not a dollop of soap is lathered up to wash away the chlorine. That aside, here’s to more from Ngo and Company: this engaging short demonstrates their collective ability to venture into feature territory.
Blind Pig who Wants to Fly
2008, 77 min.
Karaoke with a punch
Every once in a while (real originality is becoming as rare as telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth) a filmmaker comes along who manages to channel his anger, outrage and insight into a personal statement that bursts onto the screen with passion, patience and punch (cross-reference below).
Gluing the then-and-now decade divide and its characters together is, incongruously (to many) blind-from-birth, singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder’s hit “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”
Edwin constructs a film that truly uses all aspects of shadow and light to set the stage for an exceptionally powerful climax. Linda and Cahyono (in both 1998 and 10-years later) discuss the notion of looking down when walking in public. These “Chinese brats” have good reason to do so given the swarming they receive as kids (by other “not-Chinese” kids) and much ruder awakenings as young adults (Cahyono’s bloody lips—so vampire-like—are at one with the colour of his image-making Japanese baseball uniform). Reinforcing that notion comes in the form of Sidi Saleh’s camera panning slowly up and down at key moments.
A tantalizingly long, out-of-focus shot finally tightens on a snorting, tethered pig—the animal of disdain for Indonesia’s majority morphs into a frequent taunt and jowled metaphor.
Halim (Pong Harjatmo), a blind dentist, desperately tries to lose his “Chineseness” by finding Islam, slicing his eyebrows with precision tools then opening every orifice he’s got to be poked, prodded and oh-so-realistically drained by his gay patients who simultaneously use the penetration-that-dare-not-speak-its-name to work out some of their conjugal problems.
This scene is most certainly not for the faint hearted (only a couple of patrons felt the need to vacate the premises prematurely) but, like the rapes and brutality 10 years back, was truly terrifying in its grim reality. Filling out the U.S. immigration lottery form only added more weight to Halim’s internal despair.
The payoff combination of Karaoke unleashed, with its slinking lyrics spilling over archival footage of the riots (replete with half-step modulations) is unforgettable. A more telling indictment of selective-love run amok can—other than from this film—only be imagined. JWR