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Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival (Boku Films /Funded by Media Development Authority of Singapore)
SHANGHAI — Han Yew Kwang, a director in his early 20’s, showed promise in his debut “Unarmed Combat,” an off-beat arm-wrestling domestic comedy that echoes early Stephan Chow, but with distinct flavor of his native Singapore. His sophomore feature is a marital comedy revolving around a menage a quatre’s fidelity crisis. However, he seems to have regressed as a director, whether in his treatment of an already thin script, or his skin-deep message on love. The juvenile humor hits some spots but ultimately, it is a cute but forgettable sitcom better suited for airing on TV.
The film has won audience awards in two European festivals, and has positive feedback during a special screening in Singapore. Critical and industry opinions may be less generous.
Zihua and Hui are best pals who sense their wives are slipping away from them. They scheme to send anonymous love letters to each other’s wives Michelle and Xiao Tong to test how they’d react to temptation. The title refers to the weight of a hand-written and sealed missive. It’s an interesting metaphor for the ambiguous value of a love vow – its inconsequential lightness, and the intangible effort it takes to nurture romance. Too bad this definition is repeated as a refrain ad nauseum in the dialogue whenever the wisecracks dry up. A bedroom farce with no sex, “18 Grams” adds nothing new to the genre by offering “communication” as the all-in-one cure for problems between couples.
The foursome is systematically paired as jock and career women, geeky writer-wannabe and ditzy bimbo. Thanks to the cast’s enthusiasm and the distinct quirks and turns of phrases assigned to each, they rise above their stereotypes as believable, if childish people.
Made by Kelvin Tong’s (“The Maid”, “Love Story”) Boku Films, the production design looks more glossy than it costs, full of bubblegum colors and bold fabrics, which complements the story’s popcorn and soda mood. The director claimed to have shot the film on HD in 11 days, in a converted warehouse using about four back-to-back sets, but an inordinate amount of scenes take place on the toilet alone, further bringing the tone down to schoolboy level.
Cast: Adam Chen, Yann Yann Yeo, Alaric Tay, Magdalene See. Screenwriter-director: Han Yew Kwang. Producer: Chee Nien Lau. Executive producer: Kelvin Tong. Director of photography: Long Fei Liu. Production designer: Jacke Tan. Music: Neil Lim. Costume designer: Lee Yi Ren. Editor: Grace Xiao. Sales: Boku Films. No rating, 88 minutes.
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