ContactSales: Hot Cider Studio, Singapore ([email protected])
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival (Spectrum), 18 Jun 2013. Theatrical release: Singapore, 1 Aug 2013.
Produced by Hot Cider Films (SG). Executive producer: Melvin Ang. Producer: Chai Yee Wei.
Script: Chai Yee Wei, Violet Lai. Photography: Derrick Loo. Editing: Natalie Soh. Art direction: Randy Ang.
Cast: Daren Tan (Lee Jia Ming), Julie Tan (Sun Hsiao Mei/May), Seah Jia Qing (Cao Gen), Kenny Khoo (Hao Ban), Jayley Woo (Jayley), Hayley Woo (Hayley), Kelvin Mun (Xiao Pang), Sherly Devonne Ng (Liyana), Naomi Yeo (Rachel).
That Girl in Pinafore 我的朋友 我的同學 我♥過的一切
Period youth comedy-drama
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 109 mins
Directed by Chai Yee Wei (蔡於位)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 15 July 2013, 12:00 PM (HKT)
Youth semi-musical has a great A Side but utterly conventional B side. Asian events.
Singapore, 1992. A group of three schoolfriends - Hao Ban (Kenny Khoo), son of a noodle-stall owner, Cao Gen (Seah Jia Qing), son of flower-shop owner, and tubby Xiao Pang (Kelvin Mun), a dentist's son - are swotting out at Changi Airport on the eve of their O-Level exams to enter junior college. They're joined by Jia Ming (Daren Tan), who knows he's going to fail and instead has been helping out his parents at a music bar, called "Dream Boat", that they sank their savings into a year ago. On a dare, Jia Ming tries to pick up two girls studying nearby, identical twins Hayley and Jayley Woo (Hayley Woo, Jayley Woo); as the boys are chased away by a security guard, Jia Ming bumps into the twins' friend, May (Julie Tan). Three months later, Hao Ban, Cao Gen and Xiao Pang have ended up at the same junior college as the three girls; the boys make some side money hiring out porno magazines to fellow students. After a rival group, led by cocky James, tries to muscle in on the business, the three boys are discovered by a teacher, Miss Ang, and given one month's suspension. Jia Ming tells them to treat it like a holiday, and the four decide to enter the '93 Xin Yao Singing Competition, which has a first prize of S$5,000. Also entering are James' gang and the three girls. When the latter's backing tape breaks, Jia Ming & Co. help them out on stage and, to thank them, the girls agree to help revive business at "Dream Boat", which is on the verge of bankruptcy. They're joined by Liyana (Sherly Devonne Ng), the Chinese-speaking daughter of Xiaopang's Malaysian family driver, Ezzam. All goes well until May, who has a chronic weak-heart condition, collapses. Her ambitious mother, who wants her to move to the US to continue her studies, forbids her to have anymore to do with her musical friends. But she's already fallen for Jia Ming.
Seldom has a film raised as many hopes and dashed them so disappointingly as That Girl in Pinafore 我的朋友 我的同學 我♥過的一切. A tribute to Singapore's home-grown xinyao (新謡) song movement that began in the mid-'80s and petered out in the mid-'90s — a kind of group folk-pop about local life — it begins as a witty, exhilarating semi-musical centred on a collection of teenage students but ends up as conventional, toothless melodrama more suited to daytime TV. For its A Side, the movie easily rates an 8/10; for its B Side, it just about scrapes 4/10.
The third feature by writer-director CHAI Yee Wei 蔡於位, following his horror Blood Ties 還魂 (2009) and horror-comedy Twisted 撞鬼 (2011), Pinafore opens in 1992 — a year that saw the banning of chewing gum, as well as a rare by-election, in the island republic. As a group of pals all cram in the quiet, air-conditioned airport for their junior-college entrance exam the next day, the only one who isn't swotting is Jia Ming, who knows he's going to fail and has been spending time helping his parents with their music bar into which they've sunk all their savings. On a dare, Jia Ming tries to pick up two twin sisters who are studying nearby, and also bumps into their friend May. Three months later, his three friends and the three girls are all at the same junior college and end up entering a song competition, together with Jia Ming, whose struggling music bar they then all decide to help.
It's a fairly routine plot, but Chai's lively direction, the kids' excellent ensemble, and the script's cheeky wit (lightly sending up Singaporean "patriotism" and even including a joke about chewing gum) make the film seem absolutely fresh. Performances are natural and likeable — both from the kids and the adults — and the dialogue, mostly in Mandarin, has an unforced feel that's rare in other Mandarin movies from the island. The songs, too — here in new arrangements — are real foot-tappers, especially a roof-raising performance during the competition trials of the classic Heart of Dawn (黎明的心), written by xinyao pioneer LIANG Wern Fu 梁文福. At the 50-minute mark, everything looks set for a lively (if formulaic) finale that will integrate the kids' attempts to save the music bar with the finals of the competition, already imperilled by a school bully who also has his eyes on May.
But then the film starts to go horribly wrong. Ignoring the song competition — which is only later referred to in a clumsy flashback — Chai's script, co-written with Violet LAI 黎芷芸, concentrates on the Jia Ming/May love story to the exclusion of the ensemble, throws in some stiffly played scenes between May and her ambitious mother, and veers off into a soap opera-ish sub-plot that includes scenes set in New York and is resolved in an arch coda set 18 years later, in the present day. From potentially being one of the best Singaporean movies for some time — with a wit and energy that takes local production into a genuinely broader arena — Pinafore ends up being utterly conventional.
More's the pity that Chai & Co. squander a generally fine cast, and all its accumulated potential, by concentrating on the Jia Ming/May love story to the exclusion of almost everything else. Though he looks a tad old for the part, singer Daren TAN 陳世維, 30, brings a wry humour to the role of Jia Ming and has good chemistry with TV actress-model Julie TAN 陳欣淇, 20, as May. (The latter, whose looks slightly recall a younger René LIU 劉若英, also has a fine singing voice.) On the male side, newcomers SEAH Jia Qing 佘珈慶, Kenny KHOO 邱鋒澤 and Kelvin MUN 文兆保 (as the obligatory fatty) form a believable band of sex-obsessed, pranky teenagers; and on the female side, real-life twins Jayley WOO 胡佳琪 and Hayley WOO 胡佳嬑 are excellent (especially the former) as the boys' tart-mouthed quarries, joined by Indonesian Chinese actress Sherly Devonne NG 黄意軒 as a pert Malay. Though she's constrained by a soupy role, Naomi YEO 楊慧詩 pops up at the end for a moving performance of another xinyao classic, the ballad Friendship Forever (細水長流).
Technical credits are very smooth, with versatile photography by Derrick LOO 呂俊傑, clever use of split screen in some ensembles, and tight editing by Natalie SOH 蘇智韵. The Singlish-y English title refers to a school dress the boys perform in. The original Chinese title roughly means Everything That I, My Friends and My Classmates Loved.