Southeast Asian Short Film Competition Programme 1: The Wild and the Wacky

Yap Cai Ni addresses the weird and the wonderful in her discussion of the first programme of the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition.

Southeast Asian Short Film Competition Programme 1: The Wild and the Wacky

Weird, wacky, and downright wild – but all at the right moments.

Our first offering from the Singapore International Film Festival’s Southeast Asian Short Film Competition features a collection of experimental, unorthodox short films that are bound to excite, delight, or even provoke disgust.

No One Is Crazy In This Town

The No One is Crazy in This Town, directed by Indonesian filmmaker Wregas Bhanuteja, is a compelling narrative seen through the eyes of a hotel guard named Marwan.

No One is Crazy in This Town, dir. Wregas Bhanuteja, 2019: Marwan (left) converses with a tourist, while at a roadside shop selling painted face masks.

Shoulders tense and slightly hunched, Marwan carries himself with the air of an experienced veteran. He is a stoic, guarded man, who hardly speaks a word aside from the occasional “yes” or “no”.

Very much an observer to his own life, he comes across as apathetic and almost robotic, his blank eyes belying how he truly feels.

Face illuminated by the blue light of the lamp, Marwan searches through the forest in the middle of the night to check on the situation.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the emotional demands of his task. Marwan must remove the lunatics he finds on the city streets by casting them away into the forests, to be left unseen by the curious eyes of the guests partying it up in the hotel.

Two of the captured lunatics sitting at the back of the truck.

A masterpiece that showcases the lowest dregs of society through the lens of a passive, indifferent protagonist, this short leaves us with the understanding that though no one is crazy in this town, some, the guests who do the exploiting, are perhaps a little less sane than most.

Mary, Mary, So Contrary

The second film, Mary, Mary, So Contrary is best described as rich and haunting visual experience. Though one of the shorter films in the competition at just 15 minutes long, its length does not detract from the presentation of the story.

Mary, Mary, So Contrary, dir. Nelson Yeo, 2019: Ma Li awakens from a recurring dream she has of a sheep she owned in her childhood.

Utilising black and white archival footage from Spring in a Small Town (1948) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) painstakingly pieced together with snapshots of his own footage, Singaporean director Nelson Yeo spins a surrealistic tale centred on growth and womanhood.

A fictional rendering of a common childhood nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, So Contrary features the titular character Ma Li, a Chinese woman forced into marriage with a fiance she does not desire.

Ma Li is a dreamer, though not in the traditional sense of the word. Plagued by recurring dreams of sheep, one day Ma Li wakes up to find that she has become a western woman named Mary.

Ma Li, now Mary, is lectured by the train conductor on her newly-assigned role.

Effortlessly beautiful and strangely moving, Mary, Mary, So Contrary is a nice respite from traditional narratives, with fantastic imagery and quirky visual effects that linger like ghostlike imprints on the back of your eyelids.

Cobalt Blue

Yangon, 1998. It is the year of the 8888 Uprising, though the seemingly peaceful streets spell the opposite. There are lots of people, but our eyes are focused on a young boy and his mother, as they traverse the long road home.

Cobalt Blue, dir. Aung Phyoe, 2019: Mother and child walk home together.

They’re both wearing near-identical shades of blue — like mother, like son — though he sports a playful grin and wide eyes that match the koala plastered across his chest, in contrast to his mother. Her shirt is a dull, plain periwinkle on the other hand, paralleling the stern melancholy slapped across her features. 

The third film, Cobalt Blue, directed by Aung Phyoe, is a quiet, slow-moving tale of a relationship cut short.

She flips through the card given to her son by their neighbour, a friendly, down-to-earth man by the name of Aung Ko (not pictured above).

The correspondence between his mother and their neighbour, Aung Ko, is tinged with slight melodrama, though it thankfully manoeuvres itself away from soap opera territory and remains fairly innocent. The son acts as onlooker.

The boy confronts Aung Ko about the origins of the card.

It is with that same kind of naivety and youthful indulgence that the characters go about tying up loose ends, before uprooting themselves and heading for another country, presumably never to see each other again.

The truck they leave in is a deep, saturated cobalt.

Silent, the boy refuses to meet Aung Ko’s eyes.


People come banging on doors, and leave just as abruptly as they arrive. The drainhole has flooded, and the wastewater is nearly up to your knees.

This is not the toilet of your dreams.

Gallery, dir. Vo Anh Vu, 2018: A tied-up duck, dirty dishes and waste packaging are just a few of the items seen floating around in the stall.

Set in a communal toilet where everybody goes about their business (really, you would wonder why they didn’t just build another one), Vo Anh Vu’s debut short film, Gallery features a chaotic mishmash of personalities that both exposes and celebrates the highs and lows of human nature at its most primal.

Under a dingy toilet lamp, we watch as caricatures of people go about their everyday routine. This voyeuristic, sordid affair is punctuated with arguing, trickling noises and vague instances of humour bordering on disgust.

Three men, presumably close friends, brush their teeth together within the confines of the bathroom space.

There is not much direct interaction between the characters beyond the duos and trios they enter with, but you can sense the sort of understanding they have with each other.

A middle-aged man looks on as a stranger enters his cubicle, mid-wash.

Both eclectic and outrageous, Gallery is a reminder that sometimes, a little toilet humour can go a long way.

Programme 1: No One Is Crazy In This Town by Wregas Bhanuteja (Indonesia); Mary, Mary, So Contrary by Nelson Yeo (Singapore); Cobalt Blue by Aung Phyoe (Myanmar); Gallery by Vo Anh Vu (Vietnam).

All four films from the region will be screening on the 28 of November, 7.00pm, at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at National Gallery Singapore.

– Yap Cai Ni