A film so small that, even at 76 minutes, it plays like a way-distended short vignette, Eric Khoo's "My Magic" is thin, very unmagical fare.

A film so small that, even at 76 minutes, it plays like a way-distended short vignette, Eric Khoo’s “My Magic” is thin, very unmagical fare from a director who started so promisingly in the mid-’90s with “Meek Pok Man” and “12 Storeys.” Much more suited to fest sidebars than the full glare of Cannes’ competition, fourth feature by the Singaporean helmer, who’s mordantly chronicled marginalized characters in the comfy island republic, looks set for only brief exposure beyond festival gigs.

Film was inspired by real-life Tamil magician Bosco Francis and Khoo’s own desire to do a father-son picture. But the helmer’s recurrent problem of handling feature-length structure and sustained drama plague the movie almost from the start.

Francis himself plays a portly magician who earns peanuts working in a club and whose life is on the skids. First seen drinking heavily en route to his home, where he collapses drunk and young son Rajr (Jathishweran) patiently cleans up dad’s vomit, he also makes tearful telephone calls to his ex-wife begging her to come home.

Rajr is studying hard to improve himself, and when dad eventually shakes himself up — after almost 20 minutes of self-pity — the two start to bond again as the father determines to earn some coin to support his son in a fitting way. He convinces the club’s manager (Jason Lim) to let him perform a repertoire of tricks (fire eating, walking on glass, body piercing, etc.) but a sadistic gangster (Seet Keng-yew) proposes a more extreme way for the carnival performer to earn much bigger bucks.

Aside from a couple of brief moments when the father passes on his “magic” to his son, pic stoldily refuses to live up to the promise of its title, and also walks a thin line (like Khoo’s previous “Be With Me”) between sympathy with and exploitation of its main character’s woes. (Bosco performs all his stunts, some of which are not for the squeamish.)

Two leads are fine as far as the script allows. But Khoo and his co-scripter, journalist Wong Kim-hoh, seem incapable of turning what should really be a 30-minute short into a feature. Dialogue is weak and observational scenes add little background. Other perfs are stiff.

Production values are extremely modest, with muddy color in interiors and no shape or style to the visuals. Whole shoot, originally planned for 12 days, was wrapped in nine. Dreamlike coda seems just too simplistic under the circumstances.

My Magic

Singapore

Production

A Zhao Wei Films production, in association with Infinite Frameworks. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Tan Fong-cheng, Wong Kim-hoh, Freddie Yeo, Gary Goh. Executive producers, James Toh, Jacqueline Khoo, Mike Wiluan. Directed by Eric Khoo. Screenplay, Khoo, Wong Kim-hoh.

Crew

Camera (color), Adrian Tan; editors, Siva Chandran, Lionel Chok; music, Kevin Mathews, Christopher Khoo; art director, Jeremy Chua; sound (Dolby SR), Kuah Kim-peow; sound designer, Kazz; associate producers, Chew Tze-chuan, Nicolas Lim, Felicia Tan; assistant director, Lim. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 23, 2008. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Bosco Francis, Jathishweran, Seet Keng-yew, Jason Lim, Kalaiselvi Grace, Ng Sway-ah. (Tamil, Hokkien, English dialogue)

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