Rating: 2 stars out of 5
We all know Kelvin Tong is perfectly capable of wonderfully genuine yet commercially viable productions; both The Maid and Rule #1 were highly polished efforts. Then It’s A Great, Great World ambles along, a pretty painting that’s gorgeous from afar but is really a big, old mess upclose.
And that’s exactly the trouble with It’s A Great, Great World, it’s like a mega serving of fluffy cotton candy with zero nutritious value. Indeed the set and costume designs are infinitely lovely – all the familiar vintage knick-knacks and floral head bands will incite shivers of pleasant nostalgia, but sadly the film’s loose-limbed story telling and sub-par acting leave anything but a sweet after taste in your mouth.
Backdropped against Singapore’s legendary Great World amusement park in the 1940s and culminating in present day, the movie’s premise exhibits immense promise. Oliva Ong plays a modern day fashion photographer about to traipse off overseas and close down her grandmother’s (Yvonne Lim) studio. That’s not before she stumbles upon a bunch of old pictures and decides to take a walk down memory lane. Her search leads her to an elder Ah Meng (Chew Chor Meng slathered with a generous dose of prosthetic make-up), who narrates the rest of the film through various flashbacks; a groupie’s brush with the rich and famous (Henry Thia and Lai Ming), a love-hate romance tale (Joanne Peh and Zhang Zhen Huan), the unrequited devotion of a washed-out lounge singer (Xiang Yun, Huang Wenyong and Guo Liang) and perhaps the best of the lot, a marriage banquet between Ah Meng and his mute wife (Apple Hong) held at the famous Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant amidst impending civil catastrophe.
Showcasing an ensemble cast of virtually every other who’s who in Mediacorp, it’s easy to see how characterisation has been sacrificed in light of weaving a more diverse range of themes and genres. While character development remains inadequate, it’s the acting that obtrudes offensively. Peh’s one-dimensional portrayal continues to make floorboards look Oscar-worthy, even Xiang Yun who usually eases into her roles so gracefully, looks stiff and uncomfortable. Fortunately Ong sprinkles her feature debut with breezy girlishness and, once you get over all that awful ge-tai make-up, is surprisingly engaging to watch. Kym Ng and Marcus Chin also turn in touching performances as part of the boisterous, kindly crew at Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant, though by the time their story rolls in you’ve lost patience with the rest of the film.
That said, It’s A Great, Great World is definitely not completely void of its charm. Imbuing the park with personality rather than letting it languish as a mere set piece lends a touch of uniqueness that’s also quintessentially Singaporean. The inclusion of all of our major local dialects; Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin, is certainly refreshing and rings true to life, nonetheless they wind up wrestling for screen time with all the other potentially interesting facets.
While it’s fascinating to witness the vigour and bustle of old Singapore being immortalised on the big screen, It’s A Great, Great Worldnever quite makes it work. Its visuals attached to sentiment, drawn together haphazardly by a fraying thread of history – truly a great, great pity.
Beckii C is a former film production tyrant who also happens to be an insatiable movie addict. When not engaged in spirited debate, she can be found scouring the town for perfect vintage fashion and whispering at small animals. Her guilty pleasures include listening to bands who can't play their own instruments and devouring cream puffs.
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