- RatedPG /GenreComedy, Family
‘Wayang Boy’ is a Singapore-made movie with a coming-of-age story about a young Indian boy who learns and practises traditional Chinese opera.
This intercultural tale by Singapore writer-director Raymond Tan was first made as a 40-minute short film ‘Wa for Wayang’ and premiered back in 2011 at the Singapore Discovery Centre in conjunction with Racial Harmony Day and was very well-received then.
The feature movie version – although adopting a similar premise and casting the same boy, Denzyl Yashasvi Dharma, as the leading character Raja – is now focused on the longtime debate about local versus foreign talents, and not just about cultural differences.
The reason for Raja taking up Chinese opera has also changed drastically. In the short film, it was because of a kiddie bet with his schoolmates.
In the movie, Raja is forced by circumstances to relocate to Singapore to stay with his stepmother. He is homesick and despite being able to speak Mandarin fluently, he is still ostracised and bullied by a classmate.
A fight among him, the bully and another boy caused them to be held for detention in school and the three are later co-opted into the Chinese opera club by teachers (played by Hong Kong veteran actors Michelle Yim and Law Kar Ying). Members of the club have to work to put together a cultural performance for the visiting Queen Elizabeth II.
EXPANDED CAST BUT UNINSPIRING PLOT
In trying to appeal to a supposedly bigger commercial audience, the filmmakers have sought to expand the narrative and brought in well-known names, such as Chua Enlai, Kym Ng, Suhaimi Yusof, Johnny Ng, Chen Tianwen and even radio DJ Bobby Tonelli as the newly arrived foreign talent.
With the exception of Chua who provide a few laugh-out-loud moments, most of the other characters are largely uninspired, underused, or their comic performances and social commentary fall flat, sometimes even going the way of toilet humour or bordering on being offensive.
In terms of narrative, instead of seeing more in-depth scenes of Chinese opera training and gaining a better understanding of this traditional artform and the struggles of the practitioners, the audience is reduced to seeing the students repeat a few basic movements with the occasional nagging by their teacher.
Even the trailer of the original short film contains more authentic scenes of learning Chinese wayang (opera) than the movie.
Hong Kong actor Law, who is classically trained in Cantonese opera, is largely underused here. He appears in just one scene in opera costumes to try to “wow” the students with his wayang moves.
Another glaring discrepancy is that he plays a Cantonese opera practitioner, while Raja was trained to sing in Peking opera, two totally different dialects and disciplines.
Raja’s motive for learning the artform is also underdeveloped.
By the time the third act of the movie rolls around to reveal a plot twist regarding Raja’s father, the ensuing melodrama was expected and mawkish rather than truly being heartfelt.
‘Wayang Boy’ opens in cinemas 13 October 2014