×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Naked DJ’

This portrait of (and extended political rant by) a Singaporean underground musician could be director Kan Lume's best work yet.

With:
X' Ho, Leng Yan. (English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4235590/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Jagged, ragged and darkly hilarious, “The Naked DJ” consists of one long rant by Singaporean underground musician X’ Ho about his country and late supreme leader Lee Kuan Yew, whom he compares with Hitler. Independent helmer Kan Lume (“Singapore Girl”) accompanies Ho on his first China trip, but the journey is basically just a vehicle for Ho to deliver a snarky running commentary on the city-state’s repressive government and soulless society; while it will be difficult for non-compatriots to gauge the accuracy of his criticism, the eloquence of his vitriol is archly compelling. Pulling no punches on a no-holds-barred personality, Lume’s image-savvy, funkily scored work is perhaps his best to date. The doc’s cocky attitude makes it a peppy pill for festivals.

X’ Ho (the “X” is pronounced as “Chris,” his Christian name) fell into the music scene in the early ’80s as a member of a garage hard-rock band, and then became frontman of Zircon Lounge, Singapore’s first New Wave punk band. He soon began to don more hats as a DJ, a columnist, an author of three books of political satire, and an experimental filmmaker whose low-budget works are regularly screened at the Porn Film Festival Berlin. (He even made a cameo appearance in Eric Khoo’s “Mee Pok Man.”) Still, it’s fair to say his one full-time occupation is that of agitator extraordinaire: “Putting it plainly, it is all about statements even when it comes to music for X’,” according to his website.

The film begins with Ho’s first trip to China, which he considers a personal milestone. Although his body is already covered in tattoos that he wears like a second skin, the highlight of his tour is getting one in Chinese characters on his calf, from tattoo artist Leng Yan. Their animated conversations serve as an entry point to his off-color and acute perceptions of the body politic: “Every time I have a Thai tattoo and the pain is excruciating, I think of Lee Kuan Yew.” His fixation on pain hints at a tormented psyche, but he also treats it as a prerequisite for creativity and freedom of expression.

Lume’s restless camera captures Beijing’s amorphous cityscape as Ho makes his rounds to tourist hot spots like the Forbidden City, 798 Art Zone, a temple and a street market, but this behemoth of a country serves only as a blank canvas on which he projects his relief of being away from home. “See all their faces, their non-persecuted faces … they’re just being themselves,” he says, which is ironic (or naive), considering that China consistently ranks in the highest-risk bracket of universal human-rights indices. Other than that, he’s not forming many opinions about the place or the race.

That’s probably because he can’t stop opining about Singapore’s problems, drawing thematic connections from Lee and the authoritarian government he created to Hitler and the Third Reich. Lume and his editor-wife Megan Wonowidjoyo reinforce his point with punchy medleys of cleverly spliced archival and original footage (in creamy sepia or high-gloss colors) that accompany Ho’s iconoclastic songs like “Singapura Uber Alles,” and “Singapore F–ker,” which crackle with droll lyrics. Also potent is the scoring of Iggy Pop’s “Kill City” against bleakly desaturated images of the city-state’s ugly construction and matchbox spaces, and the dour expressions of its citizens.

Although he occasionally tosses a few questions from behind the camera, Lume is content to let his subject take the driver’s seat. Dominating every frame and delivering an almost uninterrupted monologue, Ho, with his twinkling eyes and naughty grin, nonetheless suggests a prankish schoolboy rather than a hardline revolutionary, even when his monomania erupts into a didactic diatribe. In fact, it’s when he shares his personal experiences that he’s most in his element as a charming reconteur. His recollections of how the police freaked out at a homoerotic display at a 1994 Pet Shop Boys concert, or his own near-brush with the law for performing on stage in fishnet stockings, are not simply juicy; they perfectly nail the uptight, killjoy sensibility he runs up against in daily life. Elsewhere, his reflection on a fling that went badly is genuinely moving as he honestly confronts his own demons. Just as hatred is the flip side of love, so his beef with everything Singaporean also masks a deeper devotion of the most utopian kind.

Appropriately for a country obsessed with rules, systems and figures, the film is punctuated with a stream of national statistics (Singapore ranks rock-bottom in the world happiness index, below Iran and Afghanistan), most of which make one simultaneously crack up and despair. The sheer ability to accumulate such data betrays the mindset of a bred-in-the-bone Singaporean.

Craft contributions are hip and slick for such a small project. The husband-wife team of Lume and Wonowidjoyo have organized a staggering amount of visual material into sophisticated montages and image superimpositions of such emotive power and abstract beauty, they sometimes speak more persuasively than Ho’s verbal outpourings. In fact, a second viewing with the sound turned off may elicit a different response, and even unearth fresh insight. Following its win at the Yogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival in Indonesia, “The Naked DJ” will have its domestic premiere at the Singapore Film Festival. That it passed censorship with an R21 rating (suitable for audiences 21 and older) perhaps proves there’s still breathing room for creative, dissenting voices in the so-called nanny-state.

Film Review: 'The Naked DJ'

Reviewed online, Vancouver, Nov. 22, 2015. (Also in Singapore Film Festival — Singapore Panoraoma.) Running time: 75 MIN.

Production: (Singapore) A Chapter Free Prods. production. Produced by Kan Lume. Executive producer, Megan Wonowidjoyo.

Crew: Directed by Kan Lume. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Lume; editor, Megan Wonowidjoyo; music/music supervisor, X' Ho; sound (Stereo), Lume.

With: X' Ho, Leng Yan. (English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai dialogue)

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content