Happy Together By Alice Shih

in 50th San Francisco International Film Festival

by Alice Shih

In this modern world which emphasizes individuality, creative control is hardly something a director would want to share. There are directors’ teams but these are not very common, and the more notable ones are all brothers, for example, the Coens, the Pangs and the Farrellys. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who co-directed Little Miss Sunshine (2006), may be the only prominent husband and wife team in the U.S. Sharing the same creative chair may add unwanted stress and tension to a relationship as sometimes it is very hard to separate work from your personal life when your work partner is also your home partner. However, there are two such creative couples from Asia featured in the 50 th San Francisco International Film Festival.

Singapore Dreaming (Mei Man Ren Sheng) is the second feature co-written, co-produced and co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh. Dr. Woo was a teacher and Mr. Goh was a lawyer from Singapore before they decided on a career change after their debut short eAhLong.com won the Special Achievement Award at the 2001 Singapore International Film Festival. Filmmaking brought them immense pleasure and since then they have produced a steady output of well-received films.

The film introduces the characters one by one in their own spaces; it is only revealed later that they are all members of the same family: Dad and Mom, daughter and her husband, finally son and his girlfriend. The family is completely dysfunctional, loosely held together by the authoritative father on top, and the submissive yet nurturing mother underneath. This family is under a lot of financial and emotional pressure, as are the other citizens of Singapore depicted in the film. Although they have good intentions, they all end up working antagonistically with one another. The biggest antagonist of all is, in fact, the heartless city of Singapore, where people get measured by their possession of the 5 Cs: Credit card, Career, Car, Condominium and Country club membership. Everyone struggles blindly to acquire the 5 Cs without realizing the inevitable coming of the 6 th C: Coffin. When it comes, nothing else matters anymore.

Woo and Goh unfold the story in a restrained manner, turning what would otherwise be a melodrama into a highly enjoyable emotional journey. There were a few moments when the actors went a bit over the top, mistakes new directors usually commit. The director team cited Edward Yang and Yasujiro Ozu as influences, and certain traces of these masters are definitely evident, especially in the serene pacing of the film.

The second couple is the creative team of The Other Half (Ling Yi Ban), co-written by Ying Liang and Peng Shan, produced by Peng Shan and directed by Ying Liang. The two met when they were first-year students at the Chongqing Film Academy in China and have been partners in filmmaking and in life. They made numerous shorts while they were still at school; this is their second feature, after their award-winning debut Taking Father Home (2006).

The Other Half could be described as an experimental mockumentary about tying the knot, and getting out of it. The protagonist is a twenty-two-year-old woman who works as a legal clerk in a small town in Sichuan. All day long she sees clients from all walks of life seeking legal advice for divorce. Her mother keeps pressuring her to marry and presents her with potential suitors, who are usually twice her age. She is living with a gambling drunkard who is unworthy of her affection.

Like Singapore Dreaming, the town that they are living in becomes the main antagonist, as men of ability have all left for greener pastures, leaving behind men of little interest to her. The film was shot entirely on a static camera, except for tracking shots on bus rides and one pan shot in the police station, encouraging the audience to decipher the narrative from the mise-en-scène within the frame. Non-actors are used; their performances vary from fair to convincing. The film is, however, very innovative in mixing fiction with documentary, giving it the feel of an edgy and raw street-style experiment. Seeing the harmonious outcome of these creative teams, one can really appreciate the magic of cupid, when he is on your side.