Highly experimental in nature, first feature "White Days" by Director Lei Yuan Bin is likely subjected to controversial critique based upon traditional/mainstream set values of cinema. Once you as the audience decide to watch this without reins of expectation and let yourself go, you might discover some notes (of varying levels of truth) to bring home upon credit roll.
WHITE DAYS involves three characters who are dealing with their own personal crises. The film begins with a young man, whose trip out of the country is abruptly canceled when the friend whom he was supposed to go with dies. He reconnects with his friends back home, including a religious fanatic who has just returned from a pilgrimage to Israel, and a translator who has always wanted to move out of Singapore. Through a series of mordantly funny conversations, these young people gradually realize that what faces them is not the futility of life, but rather the transience and impermanence of it.
It will be unjust to adopt typical film critique style to evaluate this film, so after much thought it's been decided to steer this towards a reflective article of my personal thoughts of White Days in subjectivity.
Aesthetically, this will not be something similar to an enjoyable breeze to sit through although the nature of content will be. It progresses at a slow pace that suggests an intended indulgence in time itself with three youth pals (Daniel, Chris, and Val) depicted performing nothing substantial other than waltzing about on the spot with a sense of lost confusion. This is what some of the youths are facing during their otherwise prime years of their life.
Subtly, it reminds me of Kevin Smith's "Clerks".
Several of us have been finely tuned against the clock of capitalism and meritocracy where money and status is the best and sole indicator of direction and success in life. The three of them here are film buffs with a keen passion in film and despite the common interest, each of them owns a different perspective in life due to circumstances.
Chris, upon return from his impromptu pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem, now feels that a good life revolves around a job that pays well, is situated near his residence, and has hot chicks. This is jarring considering that it comes out from the mouth of someone who has supposedly underwent a journey in seek of spiritual enlightenment.
This is widely known as BS, but in Singapore there's a colloquial term for it called "talking cock". This is likely due to the trend of more Singaporeans being well-educated and thus a desperate need to surface above competition in order to be recognised and respected by others for knowledge of intelligence, which is pretty common in higher education institutes. This isn't an attempt of criticism but rather a comment on how it reflects an aspect of our society that's well under the radar for several of us.
You'll probably recognise this in your own circle of friends as well.
Daniel and Val wanted to go to Taiwan for career after being inspired by maestro filmmakers like Hou Hsiao Hsien and Tsai Ming Liang, but Daniel is being held back after the shocking death of his good friend from a road accident. Val on the other hand, is still adamant in going to Taiwan as her aspirations are relatively high. Daniel represents the emotional lot of youth who is highly attached to and dependant on friends while Val features a linear and simplistic personality who is often driven by singular sources of inspiration. Everybody leads different lives for different reasons.
Clear indication that there isn't any template in life to adhere to.
Several long takes of repetitive dialogues that are sometimes draggy and funny (watch out for the part where Chris elaborates on his theory of cockroach heaven), but it reflects with an uncanny resemblance to most of us as we often go about in circles that are sugarcoated with apparent purpose. They are equally stuck in a transitional phase in life and is about to seek life-changing change, but they are lost in how to go about it. They are youths in their prime years and yet in White Days they are often seen sporting pessimistic body language and attitude.
This isn't right but it's prominent in our society.
In a great sense, this is inclining towards a documented chapter of three youths' real life stories instead of a work of fiction. Director Lei has expressed that all the dialogues were improvised on the spot as he allowed the cast to go on freely without any constraints and lets the camera roll on for a couple of hours. There is an unspeakable taste of realism that is so raw and refreshing, it hits you like a speeding freight train coming your way without knowing it. The film's editing is unconventionally unpolished, the camera pans and tilts aren't smooth, and there isn't any deliberate props and settings.
Consisting mostly of wide shots, it adopts an observational stance of perspective that alienates the audience from the cast. Highly undesired by the audience as it makes it a tad bit frustrating to focus especially when there isn't any distinctive plot to follow, but it's necessary in my opinion. Observational visuals coat the film with a higher degree of rawness that suggests nothing more than a random moment in a mundane civilian's life captured on screen.
Often there is nothing that people can do much about changing their fates and courses in life, but just like the film and I believe in:
As long as you take the first step, everything else will fall in place.
Director Lei has made his first experimental feature in a bold fashion, but it's his nevertheless first step towards liberty. It is likely not to instill him with commercial wealth and success, but he is likely to be happy with what he has done with his life. Innovative changes are (initially) always not well-received by the mainstream society, but it shouldn't be a reason in stopping you from working towards your dreams. It's not about others, it's about you.
It's your life.
So if you've been hesitating, don't.
(White Days will be having an encore screening at Esplanade Library on 18 February. Details here.)