Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A reader's humble review of 4:30

Thanks to our reader, hengcs for contributing this review:

The film is likely to please critics but also mainstream audience. Despite the lack of dialogue, there are numerous light hearted moments and emotionally engaging segments. At the end of the film, audience will feel for the kid, with some after effects still lingering. What brings the film
to another level is its ability to generate equivocal interpretations. Willing audiences are always encouraged to ponder and probe further.

Is everything a reality or is it all but a dream? To touch the audience, the plot is realistically grounded, so that one can identify with the characters and events. Every scenario and every occurrence seems so close to heart and feels so genuine. Certain poignant scenes will definitely
strike a chord in many lonely hearts. Despite its seemingly real setting, the film never fails to drop hints at the possibility of a fantasy or a dream. Could all these be a figment of Xiao Wu’s imagination, either due to solidarity and longing, or the overdoses of cough medicine? For
example, the dates Xiao Wu has written all depict December. The inquisitive mind would be quick to realize that it is school vacation, at least in Singapore! In yet another scene, Xiao Wu could only conceive black brushstrokes of paint when urged to draw “his dream”. He remarks
that he has no dreams. While it could be literally interpreted, it may suggest self denial. He probably has "dreams" all along, of this man that will come into his life, whether it is a fatherly figure, a partner or simply a friend. These brushstrokes resurface at the end of the film,
suggesting that all dreams could have been shattered. Also toward the end of the film, the director employs a common technique in TV/film during scenes of reminiscences -- objects will start vanishing and disappearing from sight. On second thought, these scenes can be explained differently. If one were to look intently, these items have never existed to begin with! That explains why Xiao Wu could only gaze into emptiness and nothingness. With a title such as “4:30”, it would not be surprising to know that audiences have been transported into yet another “dreamland”.

What may really spark controversy and a heated debate is the exact relationship between Xiao Wu and Jung. Apparently, there is a conscientious effort to be "tactful" and “cautious”. Audience would likely interpret the entire relationship to be that of a lonely kid seeking a fatherly figure. After all, Xiao Wu’s mother is constantly overseas, leaving him alone at home. In an essay reading, Xiao Wu has based his description of his father predominantly on this Korean man. The
credibility of it being a mere “father and son” relationship should be in part credited to the convincing performance of the two male protagonists. Throughout the film, they are rather controlled in their performance. While this relationship seems to be at the forefront and narrated explicitly, some audience may be perturbed because the relationship borders precariously on an "identity issue" of a teenage boy growing up, with only a mother and no father to emulate. Again, there are numerous hints to this interpretation. The opening Chinese song that is repeatedly sung is often construed as a love song; the kid is shown to return and
hide in a "closet"; some of the pranks may be construed as either innocent childish pranks or otherwise. In essence, I believe most conservative audience would rather believe that the film depicts a “father and son” relationship, while the more unorthodox audience might take liberty with its ambiguity and subtlety. Beyond these two kinds of relationship, it can also parallel the journey two people of different cultures undergo when trying to understand and feel for each another. Without knowing each other’s language, one can only communicate through visual connections, emotional connections, actions and behaviors.

Belying the simplicity of the plot, there are other messages that the film deals with. Apart from the issues of loneliness, desolation, communication and relationship, it could also be a film about valuing the moment in time. As the kid embraces the clock in his arms, even the audience will
pray that time can be stopped. Every single moment counts. And if we should value the present, we should value life. Not surprising, the film warns of self destruction, be it through drugs, such as the cough medicine, smoking, or suicide.

While there will be an attempt by some to compare the film to Tsai Ming Liang's (which largely dwell on loneliness), I have to qualify that 4:30 may appeal to mainstream audience slightly better, with its numerous comical scenes and slightly better pacing and slightly more dialogues,
albeit not too much. If I were to nitpick on a scene that could be better, it would be the note that is written by the Jung. The director gives away how he feels for Xiao Wu by depicting the Korean words (even if Xiao Wu does not understand). Told from the perspective of the kid, the puzzle is unraveled for those who understand Korean. Instead, I feel that the director should have shown the back of the note (or simply a portion of it) so that both Korean and non Korean audience can continue to wonder what the Korean man has written, and hence, share the perspective and non comprehension of the boy.

Despite this possible enhancement, I still recommend the film. It is one of the few films by Singapore that is artsy (due to multiple interpretations), but also commercially viable (due to its entertaining scenes).

Rating: **** Stars

moviexclusive.com review of 4:30

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