A couple of weeks back, a kind friend invited me to watch Eric Khoo’s In the Room, marketed as SG’s first erotic film. The great thing about watching supposedly arthouse flicks with a friend who majored in theatre is that we both have enough language to diss dissect whatever pretensions that attempt to pass off as art. (Fine, she has the language, I just randomly bitch. Toh-may-toh, toh-mah-toh…)
For a more concise (and more scathing) review, check out http://filmnomenon2.blogspot.sg/2016/01/in-room-2015.html?m=1.
If you still can’t tell that nothing good will spew forth, you’re not very good at Reading Between the Lines. Hurry along now, TNP beckons.
The movie, a compendium of shorts loosely linked by a spirit of sorts, is set in Room 27 of the fictional Singapore Hotel, and spans the pre-Japanese Occupation days to a flying car future.
The first story features Koh Boon Pin as the scion of a rubber businessman who has a discreet affair with his business manager, a portly Englishman. As they grapple with their inevitable parting, one senses the loaded questions about homosexuality, identity, and loyalty which never quite leave the gun or hit the mark. (Longing and repression have come to be trademarks of Koh’s characters. Here’s hoping he has a happier foray in his next role!)
The next is a lively Cantonese skit set in the 60s, where Josie Ho’s madame attempts to make women out of a bunch of noob hostesses. Its raucous bawdy air, reminiscent of Royston Tan’s brand of storytelling, adds a much needed levity to a film that tends to take itself too seriously.
The third is set in the halcyon 70s of sex, drugs, rock and roll. A band member, played by the bleary-eyed Ian Tan, dies of an overdose on New Year’s Day after performing at the hotel’s Countdown party. But not before having A Moment with the new chambermaid, where he asks for her name and promises her a song. The morning after, in a spot of dodgy direction, she almost immediately discovers his small black notebook hidden below a Very Visible Mess. Could she be Superman’s cousin? Should we henceforth abandon ISO’s obsession with SOPs? (No actual cleaning was done by the actress. Might be a good clause to have.)
The 4th story deals with humour and pathos the night before a Thai transvestite is due for a sex change. Just as she and her worried lover are in the throes of passion, the scene is suddenly jarred by the appearance of Ian’s ghost. Why the tonal shift?
The most sexually explicit short comes (haha) next. A neglected Japanese housewife (AV actress, Sho Nishino) takes a lover, who falls in love with her and beseeches her to leave her husband. It ultimately ends in regret, both for the woman and the viewer, where inner turmoil was squandered in favour of coy seduction and moans. Was the director too intimidated to give non-AV directions, or was it to get more bang for the buck? One wonders.
The last short also skirted with potentially explosive issues, which deflated with a whimper. Korea’s Choi Woo Shik is the frustrated best friend of unsatisfied serial dater, Kkhobi Kim, who has come to the sterile city to heal her heartbreak. What could have been a treatise on the changing sexual attitudes, devolves into date rape, with no resolution or dialogue of what had transpired. It also includes a totally unnecessary sleep orgasm aided by the ghostly Ian.
The movie ends off with a homage to previous Eric Khoo’s works – various characters including Bunny from Mee Pok Man – make cameo appearances to illustrate the passage of time. Just like the ghostly romantic subplot with the chambermaid was wholly unnecessary, the string of characters added no extra insight to the already overwrought film. While the actors had acquitted themselves reasonably with what they had to work with, a tighter script and editing would have made this more palatable.
For a film that had aimed to break new ground, In the Room had only cloistered itself by trying to straddle too many genres with a connecting thread of the dead singer. Was he a metaphor for the immortality of art, star-crossed romance, or the inevitable march of time? We can only ask Eric Khoo, if we ever happen to be In the Room with him.