Letters From The South


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Letters From The South
"Like many a portmanteau film Letters From The South is an uneven collection, with some films enchanting while others frustrate in equal measure."

Like many a portmanteau film Letters From The South is an uneven collection, with some films enchanting while others frustrate in equal measure. The films, six in total, all centre around the Chinese diaspora with sections taking place in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. A variety of themes are expounded upon taking into account globalisation, family relations, generational change and landscape.

The first of the films is among the most successful. Now Now Now is set in Thailand as a teenage schoolgirl is visited by her big cousin from China. The cousin is two years older than her Thai sibling, and is seen as more glamorous, beautiful and popular to her little cousin, who reflects on their fleeting childhood relationship. Directed by Aditya Assarat the film is charming and quietly evocative of teenage uncertainty and anxiety.

Pophiah, directed by Royston Tan, is the most enthralling of the films on show here. Set in Singapore the film is a meditative look at generational change as a father struggles to connect with his son. While father is firmly rooted in the traditions of the past, and insists on hand making his pohpiah wraps rather than buying in the pre-made variety, his son is more interested in the iPhone glued to his hand. A family gathering, and an encouraging aunt, help to develop a shared bond between the two as the traditions of the China of the past and the wizardry of the China of the present find common ground.

Taking in the globalising impact of both China and the USA on the Chinese diaspora in Singapore, New New Panda is a satirical account of the buying out of a local radio station. The new Chinese executives ask the old hands at the station to perform a new radio play telling the story of a panda who wants to become an orangutan, aimed at a primarily Chinese audience. Worse still, the radio show’s host’s sister and kids come to visit from the US and can barely speak a word of Mandarin.

The remaining three films are less narratively conventional, encompassing a cine-poem on the experience of a Chinese outsider in Thailand (A Night In Malacca), the death of a grandfather and arrangements for a funeral (Burial Clothes) and a meditative look at a childhood in Walk On Water, which brings a otherwise enterprising set of films to a tedious close.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2014
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A portmanteau film about six cross-cultural encounters.

Director: Aditya Assarat, Sun Koh, Chui Mui Tan, Royston Tan, Ming-liang Tsai, Midi Z

Starring: Lu Huang, Kang-sheng Lee

Year: 2013

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, China


EIFF 2014

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