Friday, February 24, 2006


Today I watched the Singapore film Fifteen directed by Royston Tan. It is Royston's first feature film as he spends most of his time doing music videos, shorts for film festivals and advertisements for mobile phones. The only other film that I know of that has a director with a Music video background is Casshern which has an unbelievable level of visual styling. Until I seen that I through The Matrix was visually ahead of it's time, but now I realise that cinema has progressed much further since then and that The Matrix was long overdue when it arrived. Anyway with a music video director as the director, 15 is certainly a good looking film, but more than that Royston allowed Singapore and the gang / drug culture he was delving into to influence the film.

On first viewing I thought it was a visually nice film about some young kids who where on the wrong side of the tracks and that the film explored the more sensitive sides of their nature to show that they where still hoping for a better future, but there is a scene that caught my attention with one of the guys cutting himself with a knife. It looked very real and with that and a few other scenes I wondered how Royston got such realistic performances out of his young actors. So I watched it again with the commentary on and normally commentary is like "This is how we did the camera for this scene, isn't it so nice how the light shines off that curtain", but the commentary here is honest and that is when the film blew my mind. Turns out that the knife wasn't a fake knife and the guy wasn't acting.

See Royston did a short called 15 in 2002 and it is that which he turned into a feature length version by the same name in 2005. The short featured a script preformed by real gang members and that went well, but Royston had a problem with them playing upto the camera and getting them to follow direction. So for the feature length version he chose new actors and allowed them to be themselves by filming them for a few months before making the film and then filming the actual shooing in a more documentary style of filming while still following a script. To make sure none of them ran off he let them all live at his flat during filming and incase any of them actually ranoff he had several scrips written so he didn't loose any vital characters. At onepoint in the film a character called Armanie is sitting crying on a couch on his birthday and the narrator says "and that was the last time I seen Armanie". On first viewing I though this was the voice of his friend reminiscing, but turns out it's Royston, because Armanie was actually crying about something, then got arrested for stabbing a guy outside McDonald's and that was the lastime he ever seen Armanie.

The film is classed as a Drama, but really it is a Biographical piece about these kid's lives. The script is written based on all the actors personal experiences and a lot of observations by Royston. The through of these kids so young having to deal with so much shit is humbling for me.

I have read a few comments about the film and it has very fast dialogue subtitles because the audio dialogue is in Mandarin, possibly the worlds fastest language. And the film doesn't have a nice big western plot twist or love story or tragedy or anything else you would expect from a western film. So a lot of the comments that have been made about 15 haven't been kind or even accurate because it is perceived as a drama. My perception of film making changed a little today and that is all down to 15.