Sunday: A Game of Seduction in Reality
Ever seen your friends seducing others, or just flirting with one another? Films have a way of illustrating the game of seduction game that hardly ever matches up to what we see in real life. Some attempts are smooth, while others are just painful to watch. In Sunday, director Kris Ong choreographs a realistic game of seduction, where every step feels awkward and cringe-worthy to a third-party, as it is intended to.
While the film is not solely about seduction, seduction aids in fleshing out the character of the female protagonist, Li Yan (played by Vicki Yang). Li Yan is a woman with a full body rash. From the beginning of the film, she tries to stop scratching at her body. As her mother’s caregiver, she spends most of her time at home as she needs to check in on her mother periodically. Unlike her sister, Li Yan is largely isolated in the film, only interacting with the mother and her sister’s boyfriend, Samson (played by Adam Jared Lee). Through this, Ong exposes Li Yan’s sexual needs, which is on display when Samson starts seducing her. However, the audience is treated to the awkward third-party viewing, as in this game of seduction, only the two main characters get the pleasurable end.
Set in an HDB apartment in sunny Singapore, Sunday adopts a warm pinkish colour palette, leaving you feeling hot and bothered as it replicates the effects of the heat and humidity of Singapore on screen. Furthermore, Ong uses everyday household objects as props in this game of seduction to, perhaps, satisfy the character’s needs. The most significant object used was ice, both as a symbol to cool down the characters, as well as a remedy to stop Li Yan’s itch.
With the itch as a metaphor for Li Yan’s sexual desires, most of the film is centred around her attempts to stop her rashes from itching, while finding a way to scratch it at the same time. While this was mostly done by Samson in his effort to seduce her, it leaves the audience feeling unscratched in the process as the blocking of the actors either cuts the action away from us or feels staged and faked to us.
Started by Samson when he breaches Li Yan’s isolated bubble, Samson seduces by first offering help, then a tells a joke, and ends off with a compliment. The demonstration of his qualities, such as helpfulness and humour, as well as his view of her in a positive light, was shot from his side profile. Samson gazes directly at Li Yan, suggesting that these qualities form only one side of him. To emphasise this, we never see both of their faces together in this scene, which requires directly cutting from one character to the other. This removes the audience from the main action in their game of seduction.
The simple technique of creating mindless excuses for physical touch was also made in the next scene, when Samson introduces to Li Yan a method to reduce the itch, following it up by demonstrating to her on her rash. The blocking here mimics a front shot that creates a sense of distance between the audience and the characters in their private game. This distancing makes their actions feel fake to the audience, but this does not remove the character from their position in the game.
However, as things get heated up, Samson goes out for a cooler atmosphere. Upon returning to the flat, he closes the door and pushes things over the edge. Here, credit should also be given to the script, which contains realistic dialogue of awkward seduction, with cheesy lines like “Hey, there’s no more space here. What are you gonna do?” when Samson occupies the entire sofa as Li Yan wants to sit down. Carrying the audience to the edge, Ong leaves us hanging here as the moment of their physical intimacy is blocked by the camera angle and the actors, leaving us out, just as watching a game of seduction in real life would do.
Actors Lee and Yang were able to create a sense of awkwardness and rawness in the chemistry between them. While this is not the first time Lee acted in Ong’s work (the first was You Idiot, where he plays a character inspired by himself), Lee’s character felt out of place the moment he starts to speak, probably due to his first time act in a completely fictional role. However, his rawness adds to the film’s feeling of awkwardness, contributing to the film’s seductive quality. Yang was also great in her withholding of emotion by not revealing what she was feeling up until the climax of the film.
At the climax of the film, as Samson helps Li Yan to scratch her itch, we see a turn of events where she imagines herself stopping him from ‘scratching’ her permanently. While this might confound the audience, it is normal in seduction games, where most of the fun and enjoyment is in the chase for both parties. An abrupt breaking up of this scene leaves us unsettled, wondering to ourselves, is this game worth playing? Why do we play these games? Are we itching for something ourselves? And how might we want to scratch that itch?
-Tan Chia Wei