In The Room(2016)
- RatedR21 /GenreDrama
The hotel room.
Most don’t really give it much thought. It is just a place to sleep, a temporary abode and a transitory living space.
In his new movie ‘In The Room’, Eric Khoo takes us behind the doors of a hotel room and shows us the people that pass through it.
The movie weaves several vignettes spanning several decades, all of them happening in room 27 of Hotel Singapura — and all of them involving sex.
It opens during the hotel’s heyday in the 1940s where we first see a British expat (Daniel Jenkins) trying to persuade his Chinese male lover (Koh Boon Pin) to leave Singapore prior to the Japanese invasion. The illicit affair sets the overall tone of the movie where each story involves surreptitious rendezvous, secrets, shame and regret.
Josie Ho (centre) in 'Pussy' | Photo: Encore Films
The movie then skips a couple of decades for a brash ‘60s set comedy featuring a mamasan (a sexed-up HK actress-singer Josie Ho) teaching her underlings the finer points of seduction, and how to embrace the power of their sexuality. In a quirky scene, her character demonstrates her genital strength using ping-pong balls and goldfish as projectiles.
The decades-spanning film also runs the gamut of cultures and languages – ‘Change’ features a tryst between a transgender Thai woman and her lover as she prepares for sex reassignment surgery. In ‘First Time’, an uninhibited Korean girl (Kkobbi Kim) who is heart-broken over a recent break-up shares the room with her innocent male best friend, to disastrous results.
Lawrence Wong and Show Nishino in 'Search' | Photo: Encore Films
Surprisingly tender is ‘Search’ where Japanese adult-film actress Show Nishino’s character Mariko is filmed in passionate coitus with her lover. It turns out that she is married and her young beau (Lawrence Wong) attempts to persuade her to leave her husband for him.
Khoo pulls no punches depicting sentimental sexuality. He uses the hotel room as a device to illustrate the ephemerality of sexual connection and relationships in a space where there are no strings attached.
Here, he creates an inviting experience, a space for us to not just play voyeur to the bodies cavorting on screen but to engage with them by disappearing into our own memories.
Ian Tan and Nadia AR in 'Listen' | Photo: Encore Films
While the stories are different, a consistent thread exist throughout. The ’70s-set ‘Listen’ follows a musician, Damien (Ian Tan), who dies of a heroin overdose. While his band engage in a drug-and-sex fuelled orgy in the room, he bumps into a pretty hotel maid Imrah (Nadia AR) outside, and promises to write a song for her. Before he can do so, Damien dies but his spirit doesn’t leave room 27. As a ghost he is tied to the room and Imrah, charged with forever keeping an eye on her and observing the sexual exchanges of the room’s many residents.
We also see the progression and regression of the hotel: from its grand beginnings in the '40s to its eventual demise as a cesspool of vice in a distant future.
The film teeters between art-house aspirations and gimmickry, using the sexual appeal of the film to draw its audience in.
The performances themselves range from serviceable to completely adequate, with Ian Tan taking the spotlight in almost every scene.
Once you strip away the flashy distractions, there is a real sadness to the film. There is no doubt that ‘In The Room’ is Khoo’s boldest work but its unevenness hampers from being one of his best.
'In The Room' opens 25 Feb 2016