(Hokkien and Mandarin dialogue)
In a nascent production scene dominated by character comedies sans offshore legs, the Singaporean “Eating Air” is notable for the way in which it explores the ways and mind-set of local types without becoming overly parochial. Billing itself as “a motorcycle kung-fu love story,” this feature bow by movie critic Kelvin Tong and editor Jasmine Ng situates itself midway between the island’s purely commercial fare and artier pics repped by Eric Khoo. Local B.O. was mild on release last December, but fest play looks highly likely, with sales to select tube outlets.
The young people who dominate the film are recognizable from Singapore to Japan, their lives imprinted by popular culture (manga, kung-fu movies), their jobs either nonexistent or time-wasters and their escape symbolized by careening on motorbikes in the night streets. Essentially, Tong and Ng’s pic gathers together a group of such lonesome dreamers and works out their short destinies within a Singaporean context. Picture’s Chinese title is local Hokkien-dialect slang for having a good time.
Boy (Benjamin Heng) is a teenage fantasist who imagines himself (in red-tinted sequences) as a martial arts hero. One of his pals, Gu (Joseph Cheong), who has ambitions to become a punk gangster, becomes involved in selling what he thinks is a packet of drugs when he falls into arrears on his bike payments.
Between the ongoing story of the kids embroiled with local gangs, Boy meets and gradually romances the quiet, withdrawn Girl (Alvina Toh), a student who works in a copy shop during her vacation and has a distant relationship with her man-chasing mom (Deborah Png). These scenes are some of the best in the pic, delicately drawn and given an element of intrigue by newcomer Toh’s airy perf.
Cleanly and unaffectedly shot, with a varied collection of soundtrack songs, movie captures Singapore’s unique mix of youth boredom and suppressed fantasy life, where cleanliness and crime co-exist. Main fault is its disjointed rhythm, alternating between imaginative sequences (a fight in a mall, played out to an ostinato of natural sounds) and flatter dialogue scenes.
Adding clout on the acting side, “Comedy Night” TV regular Mark Lee contribs his patented shyster performance as an amusement arcade punk always spinning fanciful stories, and Michelle Cheong adds further spice as Girl’s gossipy work colleague.