Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Perth: the Geylang Massacre

The IMDb site says that the title is Perth, but the DVD and listed title in the NUS libraries is called Perth: the Geylang Massacre. I'd think that Perth would be a more appropriate title, because *spoilers* there wasn't enough deaths to call it a massacre.

In the beginning of the semester, Dr Edna Lim of the Singapore Film class wanted to include Perth as one of our film titles for screening and discussion, but after much pondering, she decided to stick to Homerun instead. I thought I wouldn't be watching Perth at all. Then after watching The Quiet American for my Farrell class, Prof Farrell recommended me to watch Perth, perhaps to see the differences in portrayal of Singapore and America in films. After completing my deadlines last Thursday, I finally had the time for some time to myself. Today, having the time between lounging and project, I went to the library to watch Perth. There are three copies of Perth in the library, after watching so many films in the library, I think this is the only film with three copies of the same title in the multimedia section. At least as far as I've seen.




The film is M18 for violence and coarse language. The film characters spew "fuck", "kanina" and "cheebye" every two seconds, not that I've anything about vulgarities, because I'm actually quite all right with them, it's just that in some cases, the vulgarities are spewed only for the sake of making the film coarse. Well, it's also possible to argue that these people in the film spew vulgarities for the sake of it and not because they really want to mean anything with it, so I accept the excessive vulgarities.

Perth tells the story of a man, subtly named Harry Lee (we all know the reason behind that name don't we? lol~) who suffers a series of misunfortunate events but harbours the hope of going over to Perth for a better life, but of course, something happened...

Harry was acted by Lim Kay Tong. Lim was absolutely amazing as Harry, he was the absolute unlikable protagonist, the street lau beng, that boor. As I watched, I pondered over Dr Edna's question of what was the difference between 12 Storey and Money No Enough, why was 12 Storey able to make it overseas, but Money No Enough would flop overseas. We talked about film style, that 12 Storey conveyed it's plot through film language while Money No Enough told the story through words, and if you don't get the language, you don't get anything. Perth was told in English, almost perfect English, but it was also a film with style, it told a story even without using words. Take character Mai for example, she didn't have many lines, and her lines were all in Vietnamese, but even without subtitles, I understood her perfectly because of the way the film was told. And also more importantly, the actors in Perth were good. Okay, good would be an understatement. The actors and actresses in Perth were so really good.

Sunny Pang's AB was comical, loved him to bits. Lim Kay Tong as I earlier mentioned was remarkable, like totally. Ivy Cheng was really good too. I don't know if it was she who spoke the Vietnamese, but I thought it was really good, with so few lines yet able to convey all the feelings and emotions, not something anyone could do. Of course, the cinematography and editing helped a lot too.

The thing about me watching it was that I didn't set the subtitling, so it ended up with Chinese subs, but most of it I relied on the dialogue, only the Vietnamese parts I read the subtitles. Some interesting things I've learnt from the subs is that "cheebye" is called "鸡巴" and "kanina" and "fuck" were both translated to be "王八蛋", a lot of other coarse terms were tamed down in the subs. Even though most of the sexually explicit coarse terms were in Hokkien, and could be easily translated to Chinese, the Chinese words were not used, instead a rough and very tamed down translation was used. It's so funny.

What is Singaporean about this film? Can this film be placed in another country and under another circumstance? yea... I'd think so. In almost a 12 Storey manner, this can be also seen as a film portraying loneliness and pent up frustrations, but setting it in a Singaporean context, we see a lot of other intended and unintended innuendos. Also in terms of story telling and style, I thought Perth also reminded me of Eating Air. I think Singapore film does have this unique style of filming that is running throughout most of our Filmfest films, ie not those Jack Neo ones.

One thing I like about this film being labelled as a Singapore film is the use of the English language as the medium. Most other films tend to portray Singaporeans as bad English speakers. But then, somehow, I'd rather this film be made in Chinese because it's so odd that this guy with no academic qualifications speaks so perfect English. It's just plain weird. Not only was that weird, but that he never uttered a single Chinese or dialect line other than "kanina" and "cheebye" makes it even weird. And more weird is that his screen wife speaks mainly in Chinese/dialect. That's the only gripe I have of the film.

There are a lot of blanks in this film that leaves us for interpretation. But on the whole, there's somewhat of a starting and an ending, quite complete. Though I thought that running for more than 107min it was a tad too long since there was a lot of scenes in which dialogue was kept to a minimum.

Still there is one thing which I don't understand about these films, why are they all portraying the somewhat dark side of Singapore when it's not even the norm? To answer this question, I thought of a quote back when I was studying literature. It seems that only in times of social upheavals that people tend to produce better literature. So I guess it's only by portraying the depressed that can evoke people's feelings and feel for the film. Sort of like most nice songs are sad songs and stuff like that.

Then thinking about the question Prof Farrell posed. The Quiet American was opening dissing America, by implying all the violence and everything, but Perth is different. It's not because of any one country that all these happened. I think a lot of problems stemmed from Harry himself. Maybe to put it in a wider analogical context of Singapore, that would then be indirect as compared to The Quiet American. I don't know, but I don't see Perth as anti-Singapore the way I saw The Quiet American as anti-American.

To me, Perth was not a place, just like Singapore is not a place in 2046. Yes, there are such places, yes, the characters talked a lot about wanting to go to those places, and yes, ultimately they didn't go there. I talked about Singapore in 2046, that Singapore is not really a geographical place the characters wanted to go but a place of hope that they wanted, likewise, Perth to Harry was not a geographical place, but a place for where Harry could escape to, a hope to him for a better life. It's so much an illusional place, that Harry's description of Perth doesn't sound to be so much like the Perth we all know, just like the use of Singapore in 2046.


The chain of events which follow Harry seemed very much like the chain of events which followed Meng from 12 Storey. The alcohol consumption, the eventual breaking down, the turing violent and a bit keesiao. Only that Perth was very much more violent, with Harry really going to extremes than Meng. Still, I didn't think Harry was extreme enough to claim that his killings were a massacre. Perhaps if he killed really everybody in that KTV lounge then perhaps it can be called a massacre.

Another thing to mention is the use of the typical quiet guy as the person who went mad. I remember reading in some criminal descriptives, most mass murders were claimed to be quiet and unassuming by the people around them, and Harry was no excaption. I think as people, we really cannot tahan so much until we go keesiao. All those pent up frustrations, all those emotions with no place to channel, all those upheavals going on inside you, they all need to be released somewhere, and if there's nowhere to release, well, the conclusion would be like Harry.

***end of spoilers***

I gave it 8/10 the points deducted for Lim Kay Tong's exceptional English and the a bit too dragy scenes. Maybe it's because I was in the library with the horrible multimedia viewing gallery chairs, so it was horribly uncomfortable. Don't worry, I've did the NEEDS survey and reflected to the upper personnels that the chairs there suck. Hope they will do something about it.

Oh, and by the way, it's said that the release of Perth was postponed in Singapore because of problems with the violence and the sex and the negativities. Or behaps it's because the protagonist was named Harry Lee? There was this little bit I laughed out when AB (who was also a Lee) was ranting on and on to Harry that since they were both Lees, he should look after Harry and so on. hehehe~

Well worth a watch~ There are three copies in the library, so can just go and watch when you have two hours to spare~

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