“My Magic” remains the only movie from Singapore to be nominated for the Palme D’Or, while it was also selected as Singapore’s official entry for the Oscars in 2009. Khoo cast Tamil actors, a minority in Singapore, in a rarity for local cinema, while Francis Bosco, the protagonist, is a real life magician. Lastly, the film was shot in just 9 days, and most of Bosco’s stunts were done in one take, since Khoo was afraid he would be injured, while the music of the film is courtesy of Khoo’s then 10-year-old son, Christopher.
The story revolves around Francis, a former magician whose wife has abandoned, leaving him to take care of their now 10-year-old son on his own. However, Francis is a raging alcoholic and does anything but care for his son, since he works as a cleaner in a bar for a meager pay, and all of his money go to booze. As Francis frequently returns home completely drunk, in the verge of drowning in his own vomit, his son, unavoidably, becomes the responsible one. A clash between the two and an opportunity from his boss to perform magic again, (which mostly consists of him torturing himself in various ways) for more money give a sense of hope to Francis, who decides to cut on the drinking. His audience, however, as much as the bar owner and a shady character that appears during his shows and proves to be a big boss, demand more, and soon the story takes a rather exploitative turn.During the 2008 Cannes Festival, Eric Khoo stated that he wanted to shoot a film about the relationship of father and son, which led a number of reviewers to criticize the film for the (under) development of this relationship. However, in my opinion, and although this relationship is one of the main themes of the movie, the actual focus is Francis Bosco, with the film functioning as a tribute to this extraordinary man, who continued to perform his chilling routine until last year, at the age of 70.
This aspect becomes obvious from the introductory scene, as we watch Francis eating the glass he was drinking whiskey from, while the plethora of lengthy scenes where he performs his blood-chilling “tricks” also point towards this direction. In that fashion, the turn towards exploitation the film takes just before the finale seems like the most natural path, with the grotesque torture scenes and particularly the last one with Francis’s boss being meaningful, as they are shocking. At the same time, these scenes also establish the distance the father is willing to take for his child, thus justifying the conciliatory aspect of the ending. Keng Yew Seet as the big boss, Jason Lim as the bar owner and Sunny Pang as one of the torturers are great picks for their roles, with their villainy benefiting the most from their physical appearance.
Adrian Tan’s cinematography finds its apogee in those scenes and the ones Francis is performing, with the darkness that seems to be everywhere, both literally and metaphorically, being interrupted only by his fire tricks. Lionel Chok’s editing gives a relatively slow pace to the film, in art-house fashion, although the performance and the torture sequences proceed quite rapidly, with the change of pace benefiting the entertainment aspect of the film. Khoo’s almost slapstick sense of humor also moves towards this entertaining direction, with the few funny moments (the wallet on fire and the way the son manages to avoid getting beaten are distinct samples) providing a very fitting relief from the drama and the violence.
The relationship between father and son benefits the most from the acting of the two protagonists, with little Jathisweran as the son giving a very natural performance as the child that has to grow up beyond his age, with the scenes he criticizes his father being the highlight of his performance. Their chemistry with Francis Bosco, who plays the loser who tries to change for the sake of his son, is great and also benefits much from their difference in physique.
“My Magic” is an impressive film that manages to combine elements of drama and exploitation in the best way, and a great tribute to a truly unique man.