1965 – film review

1965 was a movie that failed several counts in execution, but shone in the way it reminded its local watchers about difficult truths, even if it didn’t intend to. From the madness of the mob to the irrationality of living along communal lines, this historical drama surely brought home the arbitrariness of life during those years.

Set in the merger years between 1963 – 1965 and during the Konfrontasi, the lives of several persons collided to dramatic effect, when a Chinese police inspector (Qi Yuwu) was accused of ignoring the pleas of a widowed Malay hawker (Deanna Yusof) to save her son during a riot. Introduce into the mix the hawker’s son, a police constable (Sezairi Sezali), and a daughter of a coffee shop owner (Joanne Peh).

Choppy screenwriting and over-ambitious riot and street fighting scenes may have detracted from the depth that the film could have explored on racial issues, especially the origin and resolution of those issues.

Propaganda and LKY tribute messages aside, the movie’s expositions caught one by surprise, in a strangely buoyant way.

“To make yourself happier, remember this; he who spends his time facing the unpleasant facts of life is more likely to resolve them,” Lim Kay Tong playing the Lee Kuan Yew, said atop a car adorned with orchids, as he spoke at a rally on the streets after one of the riots.

Sadly, not all the lines of the characters were memorable and most of the narration was banal and cliched. What was memorable, however, were three elements; the camera work, sets and thespians who gave their all to the craft despite the flaws in the writing.  Camera work was gorgeous and clean. The sets and venues in Batam boasted some authentic looking places ranging from aged coffee shops, kampung houses on stilts to dusty brown streets with roadside carts. Towering coconut trees swayed in the wind, framing picturesque shots that hearkened back to a simpler time past.

And who can forget those standout performances from Qi as unflappable cop, Yusof as bitter and grieving mother, and Sezali as the voice of reason and common sense?  Lim Kay Tong also gave his own respectful interpretation of LKY during some patchworked-together public moments.

One can fault the technical flaws of this film, but cannot deny that it tried quite hard to celebrate the peace that the multi-racial country has today, through contrasting the troubled times when it was birthed. What is laudable is that it brought home that a socially diverse fabric can be so fragile despite best efforts. The profound effect that racial bigotry and discrimination has on one’s psyche can and should not be ignored, and the explosive events of 1963-1965 were a testament to how senseless suffering can be when men give in to their primal instincts.

1965 was a good reminder of what Singaporeans should not take for granted, preceding all the pomp and pageantry to come in the nation’s 50th birthday celebrations next week.

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