Rating: 3 starts out of 5
Movies with a message are usually tough to pull off. Too heavy and everything might come across as overly preachy and in your face. Fortunately, Director Gerald Lee (Auntie Lucy Slam Dunk) and script writers Danny Yeo and Lee Shyh-Jih do nice jobs of gently creating awareness about breast cancer, while spinning a tale of love and hope. Unfortunately, Love Cuts is bogged down by a poorly paced narrative and desperately needs a few more rounds in the edit room.
Zoe Tay plays Sissy, a 40 year old mother of two and gifted seamstress. Besides taking care of the household and ensuring her kids eat right, she juggles doing favours for half her neighbourhood and single-handedly running her mother’s tailor shop. Generally taken for granted by her children (Edwin Goh of Fighting Spiders and rising young talent Regene Lim) and sulky husband (Hong Kong actor Kenny Ho), Sissy’s world initially falls apart when she’s diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The rest of the film explores how her optimistic and vivacious nature helps her cope with the tribulations of her illness and shape the lives around her.
Love Cuts opens up to a bright start with a lovely patchwork of imagery and metaphorical parallels with Sissy’s occupation, but then proceeds to plod along like an old, tired workhorse. 15 minutes into the story and it feels like you’re going through a bunch of film rushes. Understandably the director and writers were probably trying to set up a premise for Tay’s character, but watching Sissy amble about her daily activities in real time, or what felt like it, can grow tedious. Love Cuts is also plagued by extended long takes that seem to be the de rigueur of Singaporean directors everywhere. When used appropriately, long takes can work magic in enhancing dramatic elements in a film. But if they practically become the whole movie, then it just looks lazy.
It’s a monumental pity that Sissy’s husband’s, Wai Mun (Ho) is written into a forgotten corner, as his character shows a lot of potential at the start of the film but soon fizzles into wallpaper status. And it doesn’t help that Ho displays the emotional range of a wooden plank; scenes that are supposed to be poignant are instead cringe-worthy. Even Malaysian sexpot Christy Yow appears more comfortable in her role as an insecure supermodel with a secret, who also strikes an unlikely friendship with Sissy. This is despite the fact that Yow seems to have landed herself one of the most redundant characters ever created and might want to work on her crying technique.
Indeed, Love Cuts’ female cast clearly outshine their male counterparts from the get go. Which is fitting considering this is a movie about celebrating the resilience of the feminine spirit. Zoe Tay shows us she’s truly Caldecott royalty as she injects Sissy with a quiet strength that’s very moving to watch. Just when you thought Tay had since resigned herself to portraying unmemorable over-the-hill aunties, she pulls out all the stops and doesn’t leave a dry eye in the audience. Veteran actress Li Yin Zhu also carries her role as Sissy’s slightly neurotic mother with her usual flair and grace. The true star however, is 14 year-old Regene Lim, who comes this close to stealing the thunder from her more experienced co-actors and weeps like a pro. She even manages to coax a decent performance from an unremarkable Edwin Goh (who plays her rebellious brother). The final leg of the film, where she kneels on the ground and clutches her mother’s clothes, is absolutely heart breaking. Makes one want to reach out and give her a big hug, then run home to your mum and do the same. Lim and Tay also share some palatable mother-daughter chemistry and genuinely light up the screen together.
Inarguably, Love Cuts tells a story that resounds and feels authentic and we are spared the excessive self indulgence that many local movies are guilty of. But even a flurry of beautiful moments can’t distract from a film that’s essentially mostly heart and low on soul.