Chasing the dragon

3 05 2011

(Liao Jiekai’s Red Dragonflies that is)!

I recently attended a special screening of Liao Jiekai’s celebrated Red Dragonflies, which starts a theatrical run at Filmgarde Iluma from 5 May 2011, during which an introduction was given by the Director himself and the two Co-Producers Tan Bee Thiam and Lyn-Anne Loy, who provided a little insight to the background and making of the low budget film. What was interesting to learn was that Liao, sees himself as a teacher rather than a filmmaker (he lectures at the School of the Arts), and considers filmmaking a hobby of sorts. That I guess frees him from the conventions of commercially driven filmmaking, and allowing him to focus on the expression of himself in the 96 minute movie. The movie is by no means one that can be described as entertaining, it is, as Tan mentioned, not a movie that is very watchable if it is entertainment that one is after, and the absence of much dialogue does make it a little heavy going at times.

Red Dragonflies, a film by Liao Jiekai that revolves around three teenagers' exploration of a disused railway line, with begin a theatrical run on 5 May 2011 at Filmgarde, Iluma.

The film does start off with giving the audience the sense that it would be painfully slow-moving. The opening scene brings in the main character, a young artist Rachel, who has returned to Singapore from New York. It is the scene that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, in which a lack of dialogue did is offset by the mood the scenes sought to convey. The next scene had Rachel walking by a old shop stepping into it and sitting on a chair, a primer perhaps for the theme of the movie which the following scene in which she visits her grandmother, does bring in. The scene in which past is juxtaposed with the present, centres on memories evoked by the familiarity of what was around her. In that laughter and the carefree days of Rachel childhood, seemed to be held in contrast with the almost melancholic silence of the present which Rachel finds herself in.

It wasn’t difficult for me to identify with the movie or its theme. A large part of the blog I maintain does touch on much of the same theme: a juxtaposition of past and present, and an attempt to reconcile the carefree days of a softer and very different Singapore that I interacted with in younger days with the cold modern it has become in my adulthood in which very little is left in which I can identify with. My relationship with my surroundings has in fact changed in a way that provokes a longing to go back to that world in which I had planted my roots in.

The juxtaposition of past and present is used to convey the contrasts in relationships and the strain that time and space may have had on them.

A significant part of the movie revolves around an attempt to rediscover the joys and the carefree days of youth, centring on the exploration of a disused railway track, a track that I have myself taken to discover in the present day to rekindle memories of a greener and rural Singapore that has long disappeared. We are taken through what has become for me scenes that are familiar as well as ones through a dense forested part of the old Jurong Railway Line that has been overtaken by nature. It is not so much in the scenes that bring the movie out, but in going back to the adventures of simpler days of youth, that a contrast is made with the a rediscovery of the past in the complication of living the present, as Rachel seeks to rediscover and rekindle relationships that have changed with once familiar faces and surroundings. Overall, it is a movie that will be appreciated for its expression and one that perhaps can be appreciated only for what it is and what it represents. It is a movie that captivated me throughout as I sought to discover the mystery behind each and every scene, and one that left me spellbound and intoxicated in a way that perhaps one that chasing the dragon would.


Synopsis

Rachel and her two friends explore an abandoned railway track that runs through a dense forest, but an unforeseen incident brings their little adventure to an abrupt end. Elsewhere, 26-year-old Rachel rekindles an old friendship with a high school friend. When a little boy from her past reappears, Rachel finds herself retracing a trail of iron and wood. Wistful and mysterious, the film depicts a world littered with incongruity, absences and traces of childhood dreams.

(from BAFICI programme notes)
A young artist goes back to Singapore from New York. She returns home, to old friends and familiar places. Not everything fits in. Memories and friendships are like roots but also like mysteries, and like such, they’re inexact, slippery, at times revealing, at times mere detours. Two teenage boys and a girl, all in their school uniforms, walk near a train track around an area of abundant vegetation; their gait is an exploratory one, charged with fears, amazements and new things (yes, there’s echoes of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me) One of them gets lost. In that loss, and in the memories of a grown woman, there’s a sense of unease, a search, and the chance of meeting with the past and the people from it. A film of derivations with a subtle and singular sensibility, Liao Jiekai’s opera prima leads us to discuss the always hard to accomplish –even to mention– idea of cinema as poetry, which in this case is made of soft connections, juxtapositions, rhymes, and bars, that seem as free as necessary.

Awards:

Special Jury Prize, International Competition: Jeonju International Film Festival 2010
International Competition: Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Films 2010 (BAFICI)
FIPRESCI Competition: Hong Kong International Film Festival 2010
Winds of Asia Competition: Tokyo International Film Festival 2010
Göteborg International Film Festival 2011


Filmmaker Biography
Liao Jiekai is an award-winning filmmaker and artist based in Singapore. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lectures at the School of the Arts. His debut feature length film, Red Dragonflies won the Special Jury Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival, especially noted for discovering independent filmmakers. The film was also selected for international competition in the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Films (BAFICI), Asia New Talent competition in the Shanghai International Film Festival and Winds of Asia-Arab Competition, Tokyo International Film Festival. Most recently, he is the contributing artist to Nedko Solakov’s The Flying Method of an Artist with a Fear of Flying at the Singapore Biennale 2011. He is a founding member of 13 Little Pictures and his active involvement in the Singapore film scene brought him credentials as producer and editor of several independent films.

About 13 Little Pictures
Driven by a love of cinema, 13 Little Pictures is a film collective bound by the spirit of collaboration and shared hope of creating films with unique directorial visions. Making films and friends at the same time, 13 Little Pictures works together in the belief that taking this journey together—challenging, inspiring, helping, and supporting each other—fosters a sense of community in our individual exploration of the possibilities of cinema. To date, 13 Little Pictures has made more than 15 feature and short films that have screened to international audiences in Rotterdam, Berlin, Vancouver, Tokyo, Bueno Aires, and more.


Red Dragonflies opens 5 May 2011 exclusively at Filmgarde Cineplex, Iluma. Tickets are available for online booking from today (3 Mat 2011).


[Photos and trailer courtesy of 13 Little Pictures]

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