“Pain” is the film that, in essence, kickstarted Eric Khoo’ career. As he mentions in his interview:
In 1994, I did a short film named “Pain”, in black and white, 30 minutes long. With no dialogue. And I got a call from the festival and they said that your film was banned but the government will allow it to compete because the judges are foreigners. So the foreigners could watch the film and that year, in 1994, they came up with a new award. The short film competition started in 1991 and in 1994, they introduced the special achievement prize. So they gave me the Best Director and Special Achievement prize for “Pain” and the latter was actually a sponsorship from Kodak, from cameras to facilities to post production etc. So with that award, I made my first feature “Mee Pok Man”
The film deals with a young man, following his “endeavors” in the city he lives in, which mostly comprise of him roaming the streets aimlessly. In the beginning, he seems peculiar but still normal, but as the story progresses, the portrait of a sadomasochistic man is revealed quite eloquently. In that fashion, the images of him crossing out ads from the newspaper and roaming the streets outside of buildings like the one that belongs to Shaw Bros, soon give their place to ones where he pierces his fingers with a needle and later to the torturing of a man he kidnapped on the street, after which the film turns to genuine exploitation. Images of comics, of a cat roaming the streets, of a woman cooking, along with sounds that seem to derive from sex or martial arts films and a kind of industrial/noise music complete the package.
If one was to describe “Pain” with one word, that would be raw. The short is filmed in truly guerilla fashion, with almost no budget and in essence, with all scenes just being shot once in monochrome, with no dialogue. This rawness however, is what gives the movie its tremendous energy, through both the images and the speed of the succession of the scenes, which is implemented by the very fitting editing, again by Khoo.
The exploitation elements come to dominate the film eventually, but some social comments about the lack of direction of youths at the time is also present, as we watch a young man who seems to have no purpose and no perspective in life, thus, almost inevitably, succumbing to violence.
Darren Lim in the protagonist role is quite good, as he embodies all the essence of the short in the most fitting way.
Evidently, “Pain” is not a film for everyone, but one that cinephilles will definitely appreciate, and a testament to the talent of its creator that would flourish fully in the next years. Personally, I place it in the same level with Sion Sono’s “I am Sion Sono”, another great prequel of an impressive career.