(a.k.a Eat Shit Fuck & Die)
Reviewed by Ambient Noise
Produced by Eric Khoo, Fong Cheng
Director: Toh Hai Leong
Cast: Toh Hai Leong
Year Released: 2004
How you'd take to this "film" depends very much on how you'd take to Toh Hai Leong as a person because Zombie Dog is all about him.
In person, as well as in the film, he is frequently seen as unpleasant, unmannered, inconsiderate, tactless and prone to referring to others as "arsehole".
Stands to reason, then, that I could relate to him so well.
But despite all those failings, he exhibits a strong core of authenticity - he's neither a hypocrite nor a poseur. And I value this sort of authenticity highly; you can take him at face value even when you suspect he's exaggerating with alacrity.
This authenticity informs his entire film. When he repeats his statement that Zombie Dog will be a "landmark film in Singapore history," you would either think he's joking or seriously deluded. But there is no trace of artifice in the subsequent execution. His film doesn't pander to any pretensions of Art or to any self-conscious award-baiting, unlike many other local films I wouldn't care to name. And on the screen, Toh doesn't attempt to make himself palatable to the masses or construct a hagiography. He invites neither pity nor empathy. He just is. That's the real Toh Hai Leong up there, warts and all.
This may sound immediately self-indulgent, and he himself readily admits to it, but what makes the approach at least tolerable is that he's, well, an intriguing fringe character. His cinematic forebears appear to be both Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) and Bruno S (Stroszek, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser). All three of them seem to have no conception of how others view them. As such, this hermetic quality leads us to engage with them on their own terms.
Enough about the man, what about the "film," you ask?
Well, I'd say that Toh's constant stream of verbose, pithy, contradictory rants IS the film. He says things like, "Singaporeans copulate without a sense of purpose" and, immediately, you wonder, "Erm, what about the purpose of conception?"
But I digress. Zombie Dog is a featurette on the making of a snuff film called, ingeniously, Zombie Dog. The snuff film's premise tells of a boy who had an incestuous relationship with his sister then killed her and ate her. He grew up to be a security guard and became, guess what, a Zombie Dog. He rents out a room in his flat to a pornographer and one day, finds a fast asleep, naked prostitute in the room. He kills her, makes love to her then eats her. And so on and so forth.
That's the premise. The execution is another matter. When asked by a producer, Toh replied that Zombie Dog has "commercial prospect in terms of rape and violence against women."
Now, if this sounds horrendously repellent, know that it's all in the execution. We really can't tell if he was hamming it up for the camera, lying through his teeth or absolutely truthful. It kept me watching just to hear what he will say next (shades of Howard Stern there). And there is one hilarious yet off-putting scene in which he teaches his lead actor how to asphyxiate and strangle (just to make sure, I suppose) the sleeping prostitute. Again, it's all in the execution.
Is there a point to this filmic endeavour, you ask, hackles raising?
Well, Toh does say that the snuff film documents the "extreme behavior of a certain individual who lives like a Zombie Dog," which is his term of endearment for middle-class Singaporeans. But to my surprise, I find an additional element of self-critique in the final scene.
It calls to mind an oft-quoted Neil Gaiman aphorism:
It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.
Though Toh is in no way a half-wit, he is someone who never hesistates to point out the Emperor's wardrobe malfunction. And for once, he is not just ignored.
Zombie Dog has zero artistic value and zero social relevance but I liked it better than any other Singaporean film I've ever watched. It's honest with itself, and honest to the audience.
If I have just one gripe, I wished that the film ended on that shot of Toh eating his instant noodles.
I hope Toh will be given a Q&A session. I'd like to rip his film to shreds, just for a lark, and see how he responds. I don't doubt his capacity for handling vitriol and it'll certainly be entertaining.
Read an interview with Toh Hai Leong .