(Singlish and Hokkien dialogue)
Singapore’s reviving pic industry looks to strut confidently offshore with “Forever Fever,” a cheeky and thoroughly engaging riff on “Saturday Night Fever” that even manages to wear some smart subtext beneath its tight pants. Well-mounted and exceptionally well-cast movie will ring beaucoup bells with auds familiar with the island republic’s unique cultural mix, but should also prove accessible to more general viewers in the West, where its camp feel won’t hurt it one bit. Fest platforming followed by sharp marketing should lead to warm returns in selected boites.
Pic was snapped up by Australian sales agent Beyond Films just prior to Cannes, where market screenings generated sales to Miramax and others. Though the S$ 1.5 million ($ 880,000) budget came from local sources, the behind-camera roster features many Australians, including “Priscilla” lenser Brian Breheny, and the final sound mix was done Down Under.
This is the first feature of actor Glen Goei (pronounced “Gwee”), who most notably played in a U.K. production of “M. Butterfly.” The magic of Goei’s movie is that it combines solid production values and an unflashy shooting style with lively subject matter and a flavorsome script. Though most of the dialogue is in the local patois of “Singlish,” it’s easily comprehensible and redubbing would rob the picture of much of its color and humor.
Set in 1977, some 12 years into independence and on the cusp of the island’s ruthless modernization, straight-arrow story centers on supermarket worker Hock (Adrian Pang), an easygoing slob whose main aim in life is to buy an expensive Triumph motorbike. Permanently on the edge of being fired, Hock lives at home in a simple Chinatown apartment with his traditional parents, a sister (Pam Oei) who’s obsessed by romantic novels and a studious younger brother (Caleb Goh) who’s the apple of his father’s eye.
Hock decides to take dance lessons and enter a disco competition with a S$ 5, 000 prize after being inspired by a movie called “Forever Fever,” whose Travolta look-alike star (Dominic Tace) steps out of the screen to encourage Hock directly. Our flatfooted hero is further encouraged by childhood girlfriend Mei (Medaline Tan), who’s secretly in love with him and accompanies him to the lessons.
Hock, however, develops the hots for fellow entrant Julie (Anna Belle Francis , a local DJ), much to the chagrin of her slick b.f. (Pierre Png). Things aren’t going much better at home: To his father’s astonishment, Hock’s brother has calmly announced he’s getting a sex-change operation.
Pic doesn’t pretend to pull any plot surprises as it edges toward the disco-dancing climax, but writer-director Goei skillfully juggles his rich array of characters. While Pang’s terrific perf powers the film, all of the supports get their moments in the sun, enriching the pic’s broad, multigenerational portrait of a society still finding its feet and identity among a multitude of influences, both Asian and Western.
Noteworthy are Tan, Francis, Oei and Lim Kay-siu as the father. As the sexually transient brother, Goh handles a difficult role — alternately sent up and sympathized with by Goei’s script — with some skill. Film’s camp undercurrent is further emphasized by the presence of local drag artist Kumar in several small roles.
Considering the budget and the difficulty of finding period locations in modern Singapore, production design is resourceful and largely convincing, despite occasional lapses like modern cars visible in the background and contempo products on shelves. Breheny’s lensing is richly colored without becoming a style statement, and other tech credits, especially editing and costumes, are pro.
Surprisingly, pic has done only OK biz since opening locally May 21: around S $ 500,000, way below the boffo S$ 5 million-plus so far clocked up by another local production, the runaway comichit “Money No Enough.”