Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Bee Thiam Tan

Cast: Thomas Pang, Guat Kian Goh, Jalyn Han, Jo Tan, Munah Bagharib, Noorlinah Mohamed

Ah Bee goes on a comedic odyssey through Tiong Bahru Social Club, a data-driven project to create the happiest neighborhood in the world. Little by little, his encounters with the neighborhood’s residents reveal the absurdity of life. – IMDB

Tiong Bahru is a Singaporean comedy film set in Tiong Bahru in a little community that aims to build an algorithm that will generate the most happiness whether its the people, the employees or the environment and activities offered right down to an AI in the room that tries to keep them positive. Yet, this world with all the colorful pastel environment and the smiles at every corner points out a very odd and awkward vibe where happiness is an inner thing and not so much one based on an algorithm.

While its easy to see influences of films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Paradise Hills or video game We Happy Few (in a less sinister way), whether its from a visual style, color palette or even tone, Tiong Bahru feels a lot more simple and even odd. Perhaps when any community tries to create happiness, it always feels a little overdone and forced and that brings a lot of awkwardness and yet, as the main character Ah Bee leaves his current job to be an employee at the Tiong Bahru Social Club, his already rather simple life with his mother becomes even less fulfilling despite all the positive remarks from his AI or the happy co-workers around him and the happiness workshops, his assigned client Mrs. Wee, an elderly woman who loves cats and thinks of herself as a cat but is very sarcastic about the entire social club concept. As rude and direct that Mrs. Wee is towards everyone, she is almost the anchor of reality in this community and because of that, her character is one that stands out. Much like the two female co-workers Orked and Geok who each of have their own roles in his life with the former having some odd but feels natural and happy interactions versus Geok which eventually is deemed as his “perfect match” and is an awkward interaction where they follow the rules to pursue a happy relationship right down to a nifty little animated scene about having sex.

The film in general focuses on the main character Ah Bee (Thomas Pang) who shares his inner thoughts and remains fairly quiet throughout with the others around him about his thoughts on society and how that’s changed his view of life from the modern society providing too many options that create a difficulty to make decisions to viewing a simple party question of shoot, shag and marry into a philosophical question. Ah Bee is a character in all his oddities and awkwardness. He feels like a person that wants to please those around and trying to break out of his normal routine life to find a whole other sort of routine life in the Social Club that allows him to finally make a decision. Thomas Pang does a great job at carrying this role throughout as there are some very odd moments and probably his most notable connection is with the Tiong Bahru cat (I honestly remember it being how they addressed the cat) which leads to an fantastic scene of him eventually getting a bunch of elderly residents helping him look for a cat. Being a cat person, its both funny and heartwarming. Especially when all these residents were initially there to talk to him about complaints. So much for being a happy community when you think about all the random complaints everyone has.

Tiong Bahru Social Club is a pretty fun film. In reality, it never really feels like there’s any turning point or whatnot to Ah Bee’s slice of life working and living in this community but when he decides to leave, that probably is where the character’s subtle changes in his mentality is most vibrant. Perhaps not exactly an exciting movie to watch for many as there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on and even the science fiction, while some parts making it feel a little suspicious, isn’t exactly fleshed out except for the technology that runs the social club. However, the visuals, color palette and the cinematography sets a pretty decent mood for this film. In all its deeper messages about modern society and happiness, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a rather feel-good sort of film.

*Tiong Bahru Social Club is screening on demand on Fantasia Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from August 5th to 25th. You can check out the info HERE.*

Double Feature: Honey 2 (2011) & Perfect Girl (2014)

This Double Feature is a bit of a mix and mash although I guess you could say they are both fairly VOD features. I wanted some easy to pass the time while I was editing videos so I put on these two films. I watched Honey a really long time ago and it is hard to imagine that it took quite a few years for a sequel to come out which worked kind of like Step Up where it used the background of the first movie but with an entirely different cast. More on that in the review portion. As for Perfect Girl, I believe this is a Singapore film. Its pretty much a romantic comedy. I don’t watch a lot of rom-coms of late so let’s see how this one is going to be.

Honey 2 (2011)

honey 2

Director: Billie Woodruff

Cast: Kat Graham, Randy Wayne, Christophe Shazar, Gerry Bednob, Seychelle Gabriel

Recently released from juvenile detention, talented dancer Maria Bennett finds an outlet for her passion with a new dance crew. – IMDB

I watched Honey a long time ago. The only thing I remember from it was that Jessica Alba was in it and it had a lot of dancing. It wasn’t half bad but then these dance films always are a little generic. But then I like the Step Up franchise so who am I to talk, right? Anyways, I was roaming around Netflix and found Honey 2 starring Kat Graham. Being an avid fan of The Vampire Diaries (well, used to since I need to watch 2 or 3 seasons), Kat Graham being in this peaked my interest. I didn’t have much hopes for it being good or unique but it could have surprised me, right? Point is, it didn’t. In fact, it was packed with very predictable dialogue. The dancing in some parts and the soundtrack was okay but then, it still hits a lot of the generic bits and there wasn’t much to love about the characters since they felt so empty. Maybe its because Kat Graham is such a good girl that its hard to imagine her pulling her serious tough face and then I’m thinking that it looks a little forced.

I honestly don’t have a lot to say about this. I watched it and it was okay. The contingency of this being okay is the fact that I tolerate a lot of dancing films. I like it for the energy and the generic inspiration story of following your dreams no matter the challenges. Its really as basic as that.

Perfect Girl (2014)

perfect girl

Director (and writer): Jason Chan

Cast: Jason Chan, Kahleila Hisham, Christian Lee

Stan and Jenny have been each other’s secret crush since high school. When they meet again years later, the fantasy of first love may keep them apart. – Netflix

Lets just get this out of the way before we begin. I love films with small cast and focus on characters and certain scenarios. With that Perfect Girl was a pretty quirky romance experience. It had a lot of inner monologues of the two characters, Stan and Jenny and their outlook on relationships and the fantasies they had of each other from high school and their fears and doubts of being together now. In fact, it actually is what makes the film more genuine. Think Flipped but a grown up version of it on a much smaller scale.

Both Stan and Jenny standout quite a bit. In fact, they feel very much in their element of wanting to be together. I do have to say that sometimes, the monologue feels like it has a bit of clunkiness to it but overall, the characters build a depth as we know them more. It tells us their back story from both of their point of views and their past crush intermittent to the reality now when they meet again. There’s some odd slides or whatnot that comes in talking about what a Perfect Girl is and that sort of thing which I didn’t particularly think it was necessary but it made it more of a chapter experience from one phase to the next which cut the film down. I love learning about how different people view love and this definitely fit the bill for me. Do I think that it’ll be for everyone? Probably not. There is a ton of finesse to it. There is a lot of inner monologue that could get on some people’s nerves. Honestly, this romantic comedy is about as indie as indie can get and yet the story reminds me of so many people in my life and even myself, not that I had such a memorable first love but the elements of the relationships made me connect to them.

With that said, Perfect Girl had its definite flaws but the story flowed well and it was a genuine experience with characters that I could connect with and it also made me laugh a few times so I’d say it did its job pretty well.

That’s it for this double feature!
A bit of the choices from inner world preferences of Kim right here.
Those choices always can be really good or really bad and I’m usually aware of it before the movie begins.

Have you seen Honey 2 and/or Perfect Girl?