First Takes - 'Water' by Yenn Teo

Here is a film that tries to marry the conceptual with the narrative and does it with panache. Playing around a range of visual metaphors related to water, it romanticises a often heard story of longing for love among our foreign labourers. And in a way, humanises them.

The foreign location of the film (kampung and farm-scapes), makes it easy to forget that it was made by a Singaporean, one who is attentive to the lesser observed things around us. Quite delightfully, it takes the foreign worker story back to its lusher and more idyllic homeland, avoiding the drab construction landscape or the unimaginative choice of the HDB hovel. In his rural fishing village, Ah Shui (notice the water pun, 'shui' is water in Chinese) lives a modest life with his newly-wed wife Ah Shan. It was not long before pristine nature of their village becomes easily overshadowed by the lure of money in bigger foreign places, especially when the poverty cliche hits. Hence, the start of Ah Shui's journey to Singapore.

This is where Yenn Teo, the director has 'reftro-fitted' foreign labourer's story. She does not repeat their woes like a lobbying video, instead she keeps the anecdotes of suffering short but succinct. There was a particular shot of Ah Shui frozen in a moment of dejection after being told off by his employer. The moment was a just token reference to the hardship he faced but it was pregnant with a lot of pain, like a haiku. In fact, the film's visual poetry and aesthetics highlights another dimension of the the worker's thoughts - the romanticism that he yearns for and cannot get.

An interesting comparison can be made between Han Yew Kwang's 'The Call Home' and 'Water'. Both deal with the plight of foreign workers in Singapore but using different approaches. 'The Call Home', one of Singapore's pioneering short films, takes the worker's story more literally and linearly while 'Water' is more contemplative and figurative. It is strange that "Water' despite having won a best female director award in 6th Sedicicorto Film Festival in Italy has not been featured more prominently. Standing against the other First Takes that were more local in their content, it certainly had less appeal with the crowd but it is not difficult for anyone who takes a closer look at 'Water' to see its glimmer.

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