Movie Reviews

Review: '7 Letters'

By Zaki JufriMovies - 22 July 2015 12:00 AM

Review: '7 Letters'

Our Rating

5/5 Stars

It is perhaps one of Singapore cinema’s most ambitious and audacious projects: an anthology of short films bringing together seven of Singapore’s most well-known filmmakers to commemorate the country’s Golden Jubilee this year. 

And like Singapore itself, ‘7 Letters’ is a hodgepodge of genres and styles by the seven -- Boo Junfeng, Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Tan Pin Pin, Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong, each with their own disparate styles and cinematic voice.

A DELECTABLE SEVEN-COURSE SPREAD

A cinematic rojak that works, this delectable seven-course spread will leave you delightfully sated knowing that you have just sampled what the best of ‘Made in Singapore’ cinema has to offer when the end credits roll.

There are no dramatic retellings of historical events, political undertones nor propaganda in any of the seven, and that's what makes ‘7 Letters’ a pleasure to watch as it shows what makes Singapore, Singapore.

LOVE LETTERS TO SINGAPORE 

Eric Khoo trains his eye on the Golden Age of Malay cinema in Singapore through the poignant opening short. Like most of Khoo’s previous offerings, ‘Cinema’, which stars Nadiah M Din, spotlights his penchant for the past, especially in its respect for the traditions of Singapore’s film history (especially the absence of mise en scene and notions of verisimilitude) and folk stories.

What’s also interesting about Khoo’s short is its movie-within-a-movie setting and parallel stories that ultimately converge. Music also plays a big part here just like in the 1950s. Featured prominently in the short film is the particularly haunting ‘Kembali’ - sung by lead actress Nadiah and written by Famie Suliman (of The Pinholes) - which harks back to the songs sung by legendary songstress Saloma.

Box-office darling Jack Neo carries on the nostalgic route with the blithely heartwarming story about first loves in ‘That Girl’. Delivered in Hokkien and some Cantonese, Neo’s story is set in a kampung and follows 12-year-old Cai Yun (Yan Li Xuan) whose infatuation with classmate Ah Shum (Josmen Lim) gets her into trouble with her parents.


Jack Neo's 'That Girl' | Photo: 7 Letters

Although he’s more familiar with full-length fare, Neo excels in this shorter format. He puts us in the middle of 1970s Singapore, and invites us for a peek behind the wooden doors. The world depicted is finely detailed and shows genuine insight, and not to mention entertaining too.

Particularly stirring is K Rajagopal’s very personal ‘The Flame’, which tells the story of his parent’s life-changing decision to stay in Singapore following the British’s withdrawal from the newly independent country. Intimate and solemn, this short goes beyond the subject of immigration, touching on racial cohesion within a familial setting.

Ray Tan Liang Yu in Royston Tan's 'Bunga Sayang' | Photo: 7 Letters

Royston Tan’s ‘Bunga Sayang’ is a profusion of nostalgia and a mini musical extravaganza draped around a boy (Ray Tan Liang Yu) and his upstairs kueh-making makcik neighbour (J. Rosmini). Unlike his previous films which range from camp to contentious, ‘Bunga Sayang’, on the other hand is a touching story about how two different individuals bond through music, and serves as a reminder about being neighbourly.

Though known more for her incisive documentaries, kudos must be given to Tan Pin Pin who directs her first drama in ‘Pineapple Town’ in 15 years.

Here, Tan brings her documentary sensibilities to her short, especially with her recurring themes of searching for personal histories and roots. In the short, Ning (Lydia Look) is a reflection of the director and her cinematic practice, playing the documenteur in search of the truth and uncovering answers for her child. Ning is adamant on meeting the birth mother of her adopted daughter, a search that takes her to a small town in Malaysia. 

Boo Junfeng’s ‘Parting’ delves into themes of history, memory and aging. Following Ismail (J.A. Halim) who travels back to Singapore by train from Malaysia in search of lost love. Unaware of how much Singapore has changed, Ismail’s search for his former beau leads him to the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station where he meets his younger self (the late Ashmi Roslan in his last project). 

Departing from his usual horror fare is Kelvin Tong’s ‘Grandma Positioning System (GPS)’ which closes the anthology. A heartwarming story on historical consciousness, family traditions and shared memories, it depicts the story of a young boy who travels with his family to Johor each year during Qing Ming to pay respects to his late grandfather.

Kelvin Tong’s ‘Grandma Positioning System (GPS)’ | Photo: 7 Letters

The boy’s grandmother (veteran local actress Zhang Jin Hua) insists on describing the changes in Singapore to her late husband during every visit, much to the chagrin of her family. However, the boy’s actions during a visit changes the family’s attitudes forever.

A NUANCED LENS ON OUR IDEA OF HOME 

The characters, locations and stories may change but the deft mix of tones keeps 7 Letters’ fresh and surprising, and whenever a story seems to be losing momentum, the movie switches gears and presents something new. 

Each short employs a brave honesty and simplicity that doesn’t seek to sensationalise the notion of what it means to be a Singaporean but instead uses a nuanced lens on it.

Through these films, we laughed, smiled, reflected and even shed a tear because each story is a reflection of our own.

Tickets for ‘7 Letters’ for its opening premiere from 24-26 July are sold out; additional screenings are on 8-10 August at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore

7 Letters