Based on a short story by Eric Khoo, “Piece of Meat” is a stop-motion animation that uses visual metaphor in order to present a number of social comments.
The film starts with a sex scene between a champagne (=the rich client) and a lamb cutlet (the poor prostitute) with the sound communicating what is happening as eloquently as the images. As we watch the lamb cutlet move through the streets on her way home, a number of objects on screen (which represent the rich) highlight the materialism of modern society with expensive watches and shoes in contrast to art(ists) as indicated by a sign stating “will paint for food”. The comment about the displacement of art in the consumerism world is quite evident here.
The scenery then changes to a school, with the students portrayed as fruits and most of them depicted concentrating on their phones, in a comment that highlights the lack of communication instigated by modern technology. The focus is on a durian-student, who takes the bus after school, with the driver’s head portraying a series of forbidding signs (including durians in a rather humorous moment) which seems to symbolize Singapore’s many and strict laws and regulations, in a concept that is also mentioned a bit later through another plethora of signs.
The lamb cutlet returns home to a sick man (husband probably), who is portrayed as a potato, and gives him the money. The durian, who is her child, also returns home but the man soon dies. In a rather surrealistic note, as soon as the potato is dead the lamb cutlet peels it, cuts it and cooks it, in a sequence that could have multiple meanings but also looks like cannibalism of sorts (as much as a lamb cutlet eating a potato is cannibalism). Then, in a rather romantic and nostalgic moment, the lamb cutlet gets out on the balcony of the apartment and watches the stars, while a very fitting music track is heard. Eventually though, it commits suicide and soon the durian follows her, with both being crushed on the pavement, while a number of people gather around them, mostly poor ones, who are again symbolized by objects like fans, traffic signs and flip flops. The scene then changes to an art exhibition filled with the rich: credit cards, champagne (could be the man in the initial scene), high heels, perfumes and watches. The artist unveils his latest work, which is actually an image of the dead lamb cutlet and the durian, and everyone in the exhibition start applauding, impressed by its artistry. No one cared for them while they were alive, though…
Huang Junxiang and Jerrold Chong direct a very interesting animation short that manages to communicate the aforementioned messages quite well, despite its rather unusual perspective. One could say that substituting people with objects makes the film a bit detached from reality but I think that the particular approach makes the message more direct and impactful, as the grotesqueness and the drama of the story are still quite evident. Furthermore, the rather fast pace, mostly deriving from the excellent animation by Chong and Mark Wee works quite well, as it allows a number of messages to be presented in such a short time (a bit more than 10 minutes) while it also adds to the entertainment the movie offers.
Aesthetically, there seems to be a “Frenchness” of sorts that permeates the film, which derives from the music, Jiaying Lee and Nicole Danielle-Francis’s sets and the actual objects-characters (champagnes, cutlets etc). At the same time, the presence of a durian as a character highlights the fact that this is an Asian production, with the combination of the two resulting in a narrative with global appeal.
“Piece of Meat” is a very interesting short that manages to communicate a number of messages through a unique approach while not omitting the entertainment aspect..