Forever by Wee Li Lin - A Review

While I tire of insipid romantic comedies with tiresome and formulaic plot lines, I think wading into the shark infested of waters of mental disorders in a film can be potentially disastrous. Wee Li Lin's sophomore feature effort, Forever, bravely ventures onto this more sombre ground. Though marketed as a romantic comedy, it eschews the cliche of the "love conquers all" sentiment so commonly found in the genre, instead dialling up the dark comedy and satirical quotient. The film is part mass entertainment, part subversive genre exercise, and the latter lends the film some appeal and depth, though its premise seems inherently problematic, and its over-ambition stunting its effectiveness as social commentary. More on that later.

The film pivots around Joey (Joanna Dong), video consultant at the Wedding Education Department (WED), a government organization modelled to parody the Social Development Unit (one of the film's smarter tongue-in-cheek commentaries). She has secretly fallen in love with Gin Lee (Mo Tzu Yi), a music teacher from Taiwan. The two played bride and groom in a promo video that Joey recently made for WED, and it is during this little misadventure that Joey developed feelings for Gin. She mistakenly believes, however, that he reciprocates her feelings, but only later finds out he has a fiancée, Cecilia (Sarah Ng).

Joey is soon tasked to make another wedding video, and she tries to get Gin to act in it. While he tries to work his way out of it, he eventually strikes up a deal with Joey: he would act in the video if she agrees to leave him and Cecilia alone.

Li Lin's efforts in veering away from the oft-trodden path is commendable, and from the get go she tones down the fluff, opting for a darker tone that underscores the entire film. In the early segments of the film, we see not just its romantic premise but also Li Lin's well crafted set up for satire and commentary. She pokes fun at the WED employees - most of them are quite ironically weird and single - in a rather blatant parodic jibe on the SDU. It is also a subtle statement on the hypocrisy that lies beneath government organizations and bureaucracy. The name of the wedding department itself is an attempt to poke fun on Singapore's obsession with acronyms.

The commentary works on a few levels. The genesis of Joey's psychosis is deliberately ambiguous, and the writers, in a narrative sleight of hand, want you to form your own ideas as to its origins. Could it have been the societal pressure that drove her insane? Her mom (or was that her landlady? I was scribbling notes so I didn't quite catch the relationship) constantly interrogate Joey on her love life, so it may have been parental pressure to get hitched that drove her all batty. Or could it have been pressure from her own employers to get married that drove her to such an obsessively lovesick state? If that is the case, the film sends out a cautionary message against the dangers of governmental forces trying to intervene in the love lives of everyday folk.

The bright, zestfully cheerful colours, especially during Joey's wonderfully shot fantastical scenes, juxtaposed against the bleak subject matter at hand - psychosis and delusion - also serves as commentary on life in modern suburban Singapore - that beneath the glossy exterior lies an ugly monster waiting to rear its ugly head. It speaks of a faux utopia concealing a dark side that is repressed.
I thought it was in the area of comedy that the film suffers. The film tries hard to balance humour and commentary, never marrying both successfully, and midway through it seems to lose its sense of identity, not quite sure what it is setting out to do. While early scenes featuring the WED employees elicited some laugh, the film was largely humourless for most of its course, unless of course you find Joey's delusions and fantasies funny. (I actually found her annoying but still thought it cruel to laugh at her). It is here that I find the film's premise problematic: its romantic comedy styling does not back up its social commentary well. In fact, using the lovelorn Joey's delusions and craziness to elicit laughs is counter-effective: it trivializes her illness, reducing it to a mere humour machine. Instead of further exploring this psychosis and the gradual degeneration of Joey's mental state, her malady becomes the one constant in the film that doesn't quite change, a tool mined over and over again to tickle the audience. Because her mental disorder is such a huge metaphor in the commentary, the film's neglect in exploring Joey's mental condition somewhat blunts the effectiveness of the film's social messages.

*ALERT: MAJOR SPOILER COMING UP*

The film's ending was by far its weakest point. While the later parts of the film seemed to waver in consistency, by the end it seemed to abandon all logic and devolve into an entire exercise in hysteria. In a really bizarre scene, local pseudo celebrity Ris Low as well as respected theatre lecturer Dr Seet appear in an asylum/mental hospital/psychiatric support group, referred in the film by their real life moniker. There is no good reason for their random appearance. One might think this would add a touch of zaniness to the film, but there is a fine line between campy fun and silliness, and this absolutely incoherent scene nearly plunges the film into self parody, almost as if it was as hysterical as Joey herself.

Fortunately, for the most of the early and middle segments, the film was smart and beautifully shot. Forever, as with Gone Shopping, highlights Li Lin's promise as a filmmaker with a knack for exploring social issues through the lenses of quirky, slightly off-kilter characters, and the film brings memories of a time when local comedies had the gravitas to provoke social discourse (as with I Not Stupid and Money No Enough). The film has a lot of potential, and if its premise was fine-tuned a little, could have been a lot better. The cast put up competent performances, with Joanna Dong quite nimbly balancing the psychotic side as well as the innocent and sweet sides of Joey. Her graceful, polished vocals is also featured a couple of times in the film when she sings a love song. If anything, her performance in it is reason enough to have a go at this movie.

Catch Forever in Golden Village cinemas now!!! Click here for details.

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