Review - From Print to Animation in Utter 2015

Screened over the weekend, from 28 to 30 Aug, were 5 short films which had origins in literary works of 5 very accomplished writers. These 5 short films were part of Utter 2015, a segment of the Singapore Writers' Festival that brought to screen works from print. This year's films were all animation pieces. Here are our reviews of the 5 short films.

The Tiger of 142B 
Inspired by: The Tiger of 142B by Dave Chua
Published in The Beating and Other Stories (2011) by Ethos Books 
Author: Dave Chua
Animators:Henry & Harry Zhuang

Tbe story begins dramatically – a grisly resident murder. And no less by a tiger on the loose in a typical HDB housing estate. We then cutaway to witness the deteriorating relationship between an unemployed man and his girlfriend / wife.  The couple look to be struggling to communicate with each other. Where as he tries to overcompensate for his lack of employment, she seems to grow increasingly tired and frustrated of his inability to move on. The back story is never fully explained but the exchanges between the couple are realistic and heavy with meaning. As the story progresses, the tiger re-appears to commit a number of additional murders including that of a loan-shark. Residents then begin to wonder if the tiger is indeed a protector of the estate – a theme further developed in an alternate reality sequence which ends with a stand off between man and tiger. There is tension, which concludes with the tiger sparing the man’s life , only to have that kindness repaid when he in turn saves the tiger’s life. While the story holds no immediate start or conclusive ending, it weaves in elements of hope as one goes through individual everyday struggles. The story text is complex and this is mirrored in the clever use of animated close ups, and visual and sound effects to give equal animation depth.

The Great Escape 
Inspired by: The Great Escape by Alfian Sa’at
Published in The Invisible Manuscript (2012) by Math Paper Press 
Writer:  AlfianSa’at
Animator: Tan Wei Keong

Crossing lines between alternate realms of existence, The Great Escape is fantasy coloured with strokes and hues of realism. Set against photographic backgrounds, supposedly captured in a rustic place in Japan, this animation features human characters as well as fictional alien-like white figures but with human sensibilities. The alien couple dreams of growing olive trees in their backyard and keeps a couple of olives in a jar, both for immediate use and perhaps to reproduce. From one of the olives, pops out a new living being who looks like a human boy. Pressing against the glass walls of the jar, he displays a desperation to escape. In a well-foleyed cooking scene when the couple is making dinner, one of the ‘aliens’ contemplates whether to use to the olives. After a broody moment, he decides to fling the contents of the jar out the window, facilitating possibly the titular ‘Great Escape’ of several olives and a boy. While the original text deals with the issues of being a minority, the animation does not translate this clearly. However, it does present a world where desires collide and the characters are playing a game of blind chess, whose meaning requires our omnipresent view of things, as the audience, to take shape. The visual juxtaposition of un-textured drawings and figures against the richly textured real backgrounds accentuates the activities and moments, yet with the help of seamless sound design, blends both elements together to remarkable aesthetic results.

Inspired by: Three short stories by Amanda Lee Koe – The Ballad of Arlene & Nelly, Flamingo Valley,Carousel & Fort
Published in Ministry of Moral Panic (2013) by Epigram Books. 
Author: Amanda Lee Koe
Animator: Samantha Seah Yu Er

Love is likened to a carousel in Samantha Seah’s ‘Round’, based on 3 short stories in Amanda Lee Koe’s ‘Ministry of Moral Panic’. The film takes a fatalistic view towards relationships, likening them to being on separate horses in a carousel chasing one another in on an endless run. Unlike the other print-to-animation works in Utter 2015, this piece amalgamates 3 short stories into a film, joined by a common theme of love that was not meant to be. The result of the narrative mish-mash is uneven. The intercutting between moments in ‘Carousel and Fort’ and ‘Flamingo Valley’ punctuates the narrative and amplifies the message in the story, that pitfalls in love transcend situations. The film gains a more complex rhythm and texture from hopping between the worlds of the 3 stories. One moment you are facing a reticent and intense exchange between a reporter and her subject, who is apparently her lover as well. The next moment you enter the echo-filled world of Malay indie rock and observe a Chinese girl trying to plant her own feet into the culture of the Malay rocker she adores. Unfortunately, the third story in this piece, ‘The Ballad of Arlene and Nelly’, appears as a weak connection to the other stories for its anemic visual presentation of its titular characters in a faded grey palette. The film also suffers from overly-instructive nature of its narration. The narrator could really have worked a little less hard in explaining love trap’s when we are being served stark visual imagery like a blood dripping down the horses in the carousel and the carousel itself going up in flames. Where the film succeeds though are its attention to little interaction details between the characters and very remarkably, emotional timing. What the paper-cut characters lack in aesthetics, Director Samantha has thoughtfully choreographed their responses to each other to create some very poignant moments.

5 Shades of Solitude 
Inspired by:  5 Shades of Solitude <<5种孤寂与静默>>                
A poem by Chow Teck Seng周德成
Published in the book The Story of You and Me《你和我的故事》by Chow Teck Seng (Lingzi Media; 2012) 
Author: Chow Teck Seng
Animator: Ang Qing Sheng

This short video approaches love and loss from a melancholy standpoint, shifting between colors and vignettes from a nameless boy's life to illustrate five diverse forms of loneliness brought on by heartbreak. The various scenes, each rendered in a different color and animation style, exhibit a high degree of technical competence – with perhaps a knowing nod to the aesthetic and audio-visual influence of post-rock and indie music videos.

While the transitions between scenes are smooth, the narrative doesn’t always follow, leading to a slightly disjointed emotional impact. The melodramatic one-liner voiceovers at each scene’s abrupt end are just a bit unnecessary as well, only serving to distract from the minimalist storytelling. Sometimes, less really is more.

While the ending may come off as a little too avant-garde, it helps infuse the whole piece with a sense of magical realism and provides closure to both the boy’s thoughts as well as the viewer’s.

That Fat Cat Ate Dad’s Hat! 
Inspired by: That Fat Cat Ate Dad’s Hat! by Vanessa Ng
Published in the short story anthology From the Belly of the Cat by Math Paper Press (edited by Stephanie Ye) 
Author: Vanessa Ng
Animator: Darran Kuah

This short film of slightly less than ten minutes revolves around the life, or should we say lives, of a cat from the first to the ninth. 

It is interesting to capture tales and perspectives from the cat and not from fellow humans. It brings a shift of thinking and places the viewers to understand, be more aware and maybe even sympathise with the cat in various scenarios portrayed. 

Capturing the realities and plights of domestic as well as stray feline creatures in our world today, this film does not paint only pretty pictures for the audience to see. With gory accidents and bloody animation, the team delivered scenarios of abuse and negligence inflicted upon cats which were rather painful to watch despite the effort to be true to reality. 

An interesting quality of the film would be the fact that the style of animation changes with each story portrayed, keeping the audience entertained and constantly suspending their disbelief to keep up with the story. Even though it does take time to adjust to the new presentation and art direction, it is refreshing and a bold choice to make. 

The voice actors for the cat changes with each story as well. This propels the story-telling forward and makes distinguishing between past and present very clear for the audience. However, the constant change in accent was slightly jarring for me since clarity of speech and narration styles were affected. That became a bit of a setback, considering that it is heavily reliant on the text to spur the simplicity of the animation forward. 

All in all, the film is enjoyable without trying to hide the cruelty of everyday life to furry creatures all around us. It is a wake up call but done in a gentle manner. This is definitely a film all cat lovers will resonate with and feel deeply for. 

Reviews by Ivan Choong, Gwen Xu, Dawn Teo and Jeremy Sing
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