'Rubbers' ('Tao'): Filmart Review
Han Yew Kwang's gross-out three-part comedy probes the sexual lives - or lack thereof - among Singaporeans of different generations
Having previously attained both commercial and critical success with a film with gender-bending, bra-related jokes aplenty, Han Yew Kwang has finally gone the full monty with the self-explanatorily titled Rubbers. Building on the sporadic moments of gross-out comedy which drove his 2012 comedy When Hainan Meets Teochew, Han's new film is an unabashedly populist and unflinchingly bawdy omnibus of condom-infested libidinal farce.
Featuring - among other things - a talking human-size condom, an adult video actress (literally) getting stuck while performing an act and Ilo Ilo's award-winning thesp Yeo Yann Yann playing a sex-starved woman, Rubbers generated laughter when bowing at the Singapore International Film Festival in December. Such buzz has already led to the film - which will open in the notoriously morally restrictive city-state on April 30 with an unsurprisingly adult-only rating - becoming one of the most anticipated domestic releases in Singaporean cinema in years.
But Rubbers should prove to be much less elastic in its ability to travel than Hainan. Young and hip Singaporeans might want to support an artist breaking social taboos and consider watching the (partly crowd-funded) film as an fashionably rebellious act. Beyond Singapore, however, the film's humor might seem passé, and its politically incorrect vulgarity too contrived to propel the film to cult status. Bookings at genre-specific Asian programs might be forthcoming, but wider exposure on the festival circuit looks difficult.
The first of Rubbers' three interwoven but unconnected features Adam (Alaric Tay), a lewd man who resorted to watching porn when his partner walked out on him because Adam refused to don protection. When the starlet (Oon Shu An) emerges out of the TV, Adam's lucky day seems to have arrived - but slapstick mishaps follow, leading to, at one point, the appearance of a saw-wielding Taoist exorcist (played by the director himself).
Another loner is Bao Ling (Yeo), a writer whose work as a "condom critic" is revealed to be nearly academic. Egged on by an unopened durian condom (Lee Chau Min) who has earlier threatened to hang herself rather than go past her expiry date (don't ask), Bao Ling tries to call a plumber in the hopes of getting some random action - but the seduction goes very wrong, her advances failing to work their magic on her god-like but morally upstanding object of desire (Julian Hee).
Meanwhile, retirees also get a slice of the action in the form of Hua (Catherine Sng), who is considering divorcing her long-time husband Niu (Marcus Chin) because of his relentless philandering. Hua's purchase of a dildo from a sex-toy salesman seems to point this story in yet another outré direction, but the couple's troubles only bring about nostalgia for their young innocent days.
With a few strokes of superb social satire - the consequences of Adam's tweaking the audio channel of the porn film, for example, is a sharp and genuinely original jab at language use in Singapore - Rubbers offers raucous, base and unwieldy entertainment.
Strange as it might sound, Han's film offers a timely illustration of the late Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's legacy in the country he created. The release of Rubbers is evidence of the way official control over morality in the Lion City has changed since Lee left the stage; that this film is considered culturally subversive, however, tells us quite a bit about the struggle of a national cinema to break free of the conservative mindset brought about by a regime reliant on restrictive politics and pragmatism.
Production companies: 18g Pictures
Cast: Marcus Chin, Catherine Sng, Yeo Yann Yann, Alaric Tay, Oon Shu An
Director: Han Yew Kwang
Screenwriter: Han Yew Kwang
Producers: Lau Chee Nien
Executive producer: Han Yew Kwang, Kelvin Lau
Director of photography: Liu Long Fei
Art directors: Junior Foong, Han Yew Kwang
Costume designer: Lynn Yong, Ang Geck Geck, Han Yew Kwang
Editor: Jack Shuo
Music: August Lum
International Sales: 18g Pictures
In Mandarin, English and Cantonese
No rating; 83 minutes