Singapore / 92 mins / World Premiere – Tokyo Film Festival
Directed by Liao Jiekai / 13 Little Pictures
On an idyllic island south of Singapore, Guohui and Peiling spend their last moments together as their relationship falls apart. The film is set in contemporary Signapore and structured into three distinct chapters. Through the country’s ever-changing landscape, the two lovers realise that what is transitory can also be eternal.
I. The Hill of Misfits
In St. John’s Island, a tiny island south of Singapore, a uniformed group of delinquents undergoes a rehabilative programme of hard labour and discipline. One day, one of them takes a leap of faith to break out of the confines of the regime. He swims across the sea towards the metropolitan city of Singapore under a sky of sweeping lights and exploding fireworks.
II. Song of Tomorrow
Guohui and Peiling are childhood sweethearts who meet again after years of being apart. Soon after their reunion, they become a couple. One day, Peiling visits Guohui on the island campsite where he works as a counsellor for the uniformed group. Her heart is heavy and unsure – all the years spent apart have gradually torn the fabric of their relationship. Her trip becomes a final swansong for the couple, as memories of their childhood together slowly return.
III. As You Were
Rachel is a singer, who comes to the island to spend some time alone. She meets Guohui at sea, and the two lonely souls are drawn together. Under the night sky, the inhabitants of the island get together for a campfire by the beach. Through the fire, Guohui sees a phantom image of Peiling – a past never to return, a future that can never be.
After living in America for three years, I returned to Singapore only to find a city very different from the one in which I grew up. Nostalgia has always been a natural reaction towards a disappearing past. In this film, I chose to use romance as the vehicle for a story of change – I want to tell the story of two lovers who had to part because they no longer understand each other. Hearts have changed and memories have been displaced.
Water is often used as a symbol of change. But for me, it is the constant that unites the various moments/fragments in the film. From the childhood heartlands to the metropolitan city of Singapore – the water in the swimming pools where the lovers first learned to swim as children, the water they used to separate stamps from envelopes, the water in the sea that separates Singapore and the island., And finally, the water that keeps them afloat but also pulls them under.
Part of the film is set on St. John’s Island, a tiny island south of mainland Singapore with an oppressive past (it was, at various points in modern history, a quarantine center, a penal colony and a drug rehabilation center). The fictional narrative of a uniformed group living on the island was inspired by the past and hints at a state where every citizen is conditioned to be a patriot. This is a state where behaviors and ideologies are manufactured, and those who think otherwise are frowned upon.
Liao Jiekai is a filmmaker and artist based in Singapore. He is a founding member of the film collective, 13 Little Pictures. Since 2005, he has directed several shorts, most notably, Before the Wedlock House, which won Best Documentary Short at the 2nd Salaya International Documentary Film Festival. His 2010 debut feature film, Red Dragonflies, won the Special Jury Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival and was selected for competition at various film festivals such as Buenos Aires, Santiago, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Jiekai was conferred the Young Artist Award for Film by the National Arts Council of Singapore in 2012. He won the Credit Suisse Artist Commissioning Award for his 16mm film installation, Brother’s Quarters, which was presented at the President’s Young Talent Exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum in 2013. In the same year, he was invited to participate in the Singapore Biennale with the video installation Bukit Orang Salah. As You Were is his second feature film.