You may define your own banner on the settings page.
FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
Dave Chua
Brandon Wee
Wong Lung Hsiang
Felix Cheong
Foong Ngai Hoe
Adrian Sim
Chris Khoo
O Thiam Chin
Lau Chee Nien
Ambient Noise
Sarhan Rashid
Ying Wuen
Ellery Ngiam
Toh Hai Leong
Toh Hai Leong, Auteur
Wong Kar Wai
The Seduction of Wong Kar Wai
Tsai Ming Liang
Lav Diaz
Mikio Naruse
Leslie Cheung
Jonathan Foo Interview
Chinese Ghosts
Assassins in Asian FIlms
Sex in Asian Cinema
Erotic Cinema of the Shaw Studios
Homosexuality in Chinese Films
My Left Eye Sees Creativity
Hollywood Remakes
Comic Book Superheroes
One League of Social Consciousness
Emerging Trends in East Asian Cinema
Postwar Korean Cinema
Decline of Hong Kong Cinema before 1997
Rise of Afghan Films
Singapore's Mini Cinema
Creating A Singapore Cinema
Why Cinema is Important to Singapore
Singapore Film Industry
Rites of Passage
Replying to Critics
Daniel Yun Interview
Singapore International Film Festival
Bangkok International Film Festival
Tokyo International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
Writer's Block
All Tomorrow's Parties
And Also the Eclipse
Another Heaven
At Five in the Afternoon
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Bangkok Haunted
Barking Dogs Never Bite
Batang West Side
Battle Royale
Bear Hug
Beautiful Boxer
Beijing Rocks
Bend It Like Beckham
Best of Times
Betelnut Beauty
Big Durian
Big Shot's Funeral
Bird Man Tale
Blissfully Yours
Blue Kite
Bounce Ko Gals
Brighter Summer Day, A
Cafe Lumiere
Cat Returns
Chinese Odyssey 2002
City of Glass
City Sharks
Color of the Truth
Color Blossoms
Confucian Confusion
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Dark Water
Destination 9th Heaven
Divine Intervention
Double Vision
Dumlings: 3 Extremes
Enter the Phoenix
Era of Vampire, The
Eye, The
Eye 2, The
Eye 10, The
Fat Choy Spirit
Floating Weeds
Fog of War, The
Formula 17
Full Alert
Ghost in the Shell
God or Dog
Golden Chicken
Golden Chicken 2
Goodbye, Dragon Inn
Guru, The
Hana-Bi (Fireworks)
Harold and Kumar
Hidden Blade, The
House of Flying Daggers
House of Fury
House of Sand and Fog
Howl's Moving Castle
I Not Stupid
In the Mood for Love
Infernal Affairs
Infernal Affairs III
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2
Iron Ladies 2
Isle, The
Jan Dara
Jealousy is My Middle Name
Joint Security Area
Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)
July Rhapsody
Korban Fitnah
Kung Fu Hustle
Lan Yu
Last Life in the Universe
Last Samurai, The
Legend of Zu, The
Liang Po Po
Love Letter
Lucky Number
Marry a Rich Man
Me Thao
Medallion, The
Monrak Transistor
Moveable Feast, A
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
Musa the Warrior
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts
My Neighbors The Yamadas
My Sassy Girl
Naked Weapon
Name of a River, The
New Police Story
Nobody Knows
Nobody Knows How to be a Film Critic
One Leg Kicking
Perfect Blue
Phone, The
Ping Pong
Pirated Copy
Princess D
River, The
Road Home
Romance of Book and Sword
Runaway Pistol
S Diary
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
Scent of Green Papaya
Seoul Raiders
Seventeen Years
Shall We Dance?
Shanghai Knights
Shaolin Soccer
Singapore Gaga
Skywalk is Gone
So-Called Friends
So Close
Someone Special
Song of the Stork
Spider Forest
Spirited Away
Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring
Stories About Love
Storm Riders
Summer Holiday
Sumpah Pontianak
Super Size Me
Surprise Party
Swing Girls
Tale of Two Sisters, A
Tears of the Black Tiger
Teenage Textbook Movie
This Charming Girl
Three: Extremes
Tokyo Raiders
Touch, The
Tree, The
Truth or Dare
Twelve Storeys
Twenty-Four Eyes
Twins Effect
Twins Effect 2
Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors
Visitor Q
Volcano High
Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Way Home, The
Welcome Back Mr McDonald
Wesley's Mysterious File
When I Fall In Love With Both
Wishing Stairs
Wolves Cry Under the Moon
Woman is the Future of Man
Women's Private Parts
World Without Thieves, A
Zombie Dog
A Time to Live A Time to Die
e-mail me




Reviewed by Lau Chee Nien

Director: Royston Tan
Writing Credits: Royston Tan
Producers: Eric Khoo, Tan Fong Cheng
Cast: Shaun Tan, Melvin Chen, Vynn Soh, Erick Lee, Melvin Lee
Genre: Drama
Country: Singapore
Language: Mandarin
Year Released: 2003
Running Length: 80 min

A look into the lives of a few teenage delinquents who feel ostracized by society and their family.

In retrospect, I don't think this is a very good film. But it is worth watching because it is clearly a labor of love. And the film deals with a gritty subject that few filmmakers would venture into. Furthermore, there is no denying that the filmmaker helming this project has made an impressive debut and is a talent to watch out for.

So why is this not a very good film? It does not offer what commercially molded films offer - good guys, bad guys and a plot we can all follow easily. As an art film, it seemed pretty padded towards the end. There is a seeming lack of strong content. As a film in general - the novice filmmaker's trades are all there: Parts where dialogue could have been padded with more body language or behavior instead. And if the filmmaker had been a little less single minded in his approach, this film may have "breathed" and presented a more multidimensional perspective.

In all fairness, it is not fair to judge 15 to a commercially molded film. This is a film that is making a conscious attempt not to be another generic piece of mass entertainment. And there are shades of influence from art films with techniques such as long takes (Wong Kar Wai comes to mind).

But as an art film - 15 fails because it feels too padded. The content of this film looks like it could have been presented in a far shorter time. And there is failure to develop the characters more. The backgrounds of the characters also receive shallow disclosure. The harder part - to link the restlessness of their lives to the lack of any adult or family supervision and explore this facet more is lacking.

The second half of the film dwells almost exclusively on two characters. And it is a presentation steeped in too much misery and loneliness. This is not easy to carry off. The film might have done better than present scene after scene that expounds on how lonely and miserable the characters are. When nothing new is presented, the film soon begins to drag. And it becomes narrow minded and weaker as it progresses.

In times where the plot is light and shallow, energetic moments help to carry the film through. Scenes where the characters search for the perfect building to jump off are hilarious. While a little staged, the confrontation between three characters and an irritated woman on a bus is also fun to watch. But such scenes cannot carry an entire film and they peter out in the second half - probably intentionally. And again the question arises - is the content strong enough to fill out a feature?

In terms of the film's primary goal, I think it succeeded. I was sympathetic to the characters. I rooted for them. I understood that they feel ostracized, lonely and miserable. But I was also not able to feel more if I wanted to. The presentation of the characters is admirable and strong, but there is no deeper exploration or development. The characters do nothing to make their own lives better. And we do not get to see any external factors affecting their lives (and enriching the plot). In the Best of Times, a film also about teens living on the edge, we get a much richer experience with the characters. Even though the characters also lead mundane lives, we get external factors affecting their lives. Such an element is missing in 15.

The lack of such dimensions in 15 is another sign of a novice filmmaker at work. And the filmmaker had chosen to tackle a topic that is not easy for a first feature.

But on the plus side, 15 is also terribly exciting experience in seeing how a novice filmmaker makes his way through the medium to bring across a story to the audience. In this aspect, I think the film is successful.

There are some difficult scenes to watch in 15. Tan chose not to pull back from scenes in which we see a character repeatedly slashing his own arm with a penknife and a character getting a piercing through his cheek. But far from being gratuitous, these real-time realistic scenes are extremely relevant and important to understanding what the characters go through.

Tan also made some sharp social observations that are uniquely Singaporean. The reactions of fellow commuters on a bus to a group of delinquents acting loudly is almost spot on (even if the scene is slightly stylized and comes across as staged). Then there is the social divide between the educated and those who do not make it in the confrontation between an English-spewing and Chinese speaking gangs.

Scenes showing a more human and vulnerable aspect of the characters also come across effectively. In one scene, several characters sit on a merry-go-round while discussing the bleak but realistic possible outcomes of their futures. Another shows a frightened and lonely youth alone at a void deck cradling a kitten. And how can anyone not root for those who stand up to ugly human beings who bully stray cats?

At the end of the day, 15 stands out as one of the most creative and daring local films to date. And it is definitely an admirable and landmark local effort. It's a shame then, and I feel that the authorities might have overreacted, when they insisted on the cuts for the local theatrical release.

For Generic Entertainment: Mildly Recommended.
For Film Appreciation: Recommended.

Copyright Lau Chee Nien 2003