Part of “7 Letters”, an omnibus film comprised of 7 films by 7 directors that was produced for Singapore’s 50th anniversary, Eric Khoo’s contribution is a short that celebrates the magic of cinema.
As the film begins, we witness a woman singing, in a black-and-white film that takes place inside a forest. The film is soon revealed a horror one, screening in a travelling cinema, as we watch a number of children jumping and yelling with each terrifying scene. A group of men is hunting a monster in the forest, but two of them, the most scared ones, stay behind, in a scene that highlights Khoo’s sense of humor. They soon come across the Pontianak but before anything happens to them, the singing woman appears again and asks them to follow her. Soon, however, the Pontianak appears again and blood soaks the leaves.
The viewing setting then changes to a nursing home, where a number of elderly are watching the film on a TV, in a tactic that signifies how times have changed. Almost all of them are watching apathetically as the singer reappears, with the exception of one man who soon goes back to his room, opening a box with memorabilia, including a camera and some photos from the shooting of the aforementioned film. Then, he goes for a stroll in his wheel chair where he stumbles upon Juliette Binoche. Then he visits an old associate from the movie, who helps him organize a reunion with the rest of the crew. Soon, all members are shooting once more.
As stated in the ending titles, Eric Khoo directs a film whose purpose is to highlight the Golden Age of Singaporean cinema during the 50’s, and particularly the fact that this success came because Malays, Indians and Chinese from the region came together to shoot films. The message is quite eloquent and presented throughout the short. Cinema joins us all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, language or age. The fact that initially there are children watching the film and later the elderly highlights this last aspect.
At the same time, the movie is filled with a sense of nostalgia for an era long since gone, as the magic of the then cinema is now just a memory occasionally visited on TV. The black-and-white of the film showing, the song that is heard and even the last notes add to this sense, despite the fact that the short ends in an optimistic note.
DOP Brian Gothong Tan captures the different elements of the short quite nicely, with his images adding to the nostalgia, with the same applying to his editing, which connects the parts in a relatively slow pace that suits the overall aesthetics of the narrative quite nicely.
The actors all have very small parts, but Aric Hidir Amin and Faizal Abdullah as the two cowardly men are quite funny, Nadiah M. Din as the Actress will stay in mind for both her song and her cat-like walking, and Juliette Binoche for being… Juliette Binoche.
“Cinema” is beautiful, funny, meaningful and another testament to Khoo’s directorial abilities.