Mee Pok Man Joe Ng Bunny Michelle Goh Jonathan David Brazil Mike Kor Lim Kay Tong
In terms of raw power, the new Singaporean film “Mee Pok Man” can be described as “Taxi Driver” without the latter’s cathartic violence and Scorsese’s visual pizzazz. Eric Khoo makes an impressive directorial debut in a rather depressing tale of two alienated youths whose lives fatefully intertwine. Though damaged by a last reel that is unnecessarily long and a bit indulgent, pic deserves berths in festivals and perhaps even limited theatrical release if only for its novelty, being a rare export from Singapore.
Helmer Khoo reveals a sensitive eye — and ear — in realistically capturing a slice of urban Singapore life. Like Travis Bickle, pic’s (anti) hero, Mee Pok Man (Joe Ng) is an outcast and loner par excellence. He runs an all-night mee pok (fish noodle) stall, frequented by people from the seamier side of life: prostitutes, criminals and other bums.
Quietly and secretly, he observes Bunny (Michelle Goh), a beautiful young booker who hangs out with her peers, as she’s exploited and mistreated by her pimp (Lim Kay Tong) and his hoodlums. Perceived by the voyeur as an angel, Bunny soon becomes an object of obsession.
For the first hour or so, there’s no communication between the two misfits and pic contrasts their lifestyle. Mee Pok Man’s dreary existence consists entirely of work — and misguided romantic fantasies of rescuing Bunny from a sleazy life. As for Bunny, when not working, she dates a phony Englishman (David Brazil), hoping he’ll take her out of her misery — and out of the country.
The loners finally meet when Bunny is beaten and thrown out of a car and Mee Pok Man takes her to his room. Slowly, a strange love affair ensues, but it’s terminated by Bunny’s sudden death. Unable to accept reality, he keeps her body in his apartment for days.
Story’s immediacy is slightly disminished in pic’s second half, when Bunny’s young brother discloses her personal journal and narrates to the audience its gloomy entries, which also contain some bright and naive aspirations. Written — and read, — in a deliberately innocent style, the sibling shockingly realizes how frustrated and disillusioned sister Bunny is.
Helmer Koo exhibits considerable talent in evoking the right mood through extremely long takes and silent sequences, recorded by a nonjudgmental stationary camera. Nonetheless, intimations of necrophilia, exacerbated by overly deliberate pacing, make strong demands on the viewers (many of whom walked out at the Moscow public screening). A trimming of 15 minutes should benefit the film without compromising its artistic coherence — or moral integrity.
Tech credits of no-budgeter ($ 70,000) are no more than O.K., though reportedly it’s one of the first Singaporean pics to have employed a completely local cast and crew.
The lead performers, Joe Ng as the slow-witted man and Goh as the world-weary prostitute, are decently credible if not totally engrossing. Still, pic’s overall impact is disturbing, showcasing a new director who is seriously intent on documenting the malaise of contemporary life in Singapore.