At best a misguided attempt at interweaving disparate tales in one film, at worst a huge misfire from one of Singapore’s most celebrated filmmakers.
Dir. Eric Khoo
2015 | Singapore | Drama/Romance/Comedy | 103 mins | Various languages
R21 (passed clean – SGIFF version) for sexual scenes
Cast: Aeaw, Josie Ho, Daniel Jenkins, Kkobbi Kim, Koh Boon Pin, Sho Nishino, Gillian Tan, Lawrence Wong, Choi Woo-Shik, George Young
Plot: Six different stories of six couples in a particular room in a hotel in Singapore.
International Sales: Distribution Workshop
Subject Matter: Mature/Explicit
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore International Film Festival – first published 6 Jan 2016)
I felt second-hand embarrassment for Eric Khoo and his cast and crew who were present at the premiere of In the Room at Marina Bay Sands, screened uncut as part of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF). No, it was not just the sex, which to be honest was sometimes done for the sake of it, but for the entire film.
I think there must be some kind of consensus that this is Khoo’s weakest film to date; no matter how one tries to defend it or Khoo’s bold intent as a filmmaker, it is still a huge misfire from one of Singapore’s most celebrated filmmakers.
Well, at best In the Room is a misguided attempt at interweaving disparate tales into an omnibus film. The single-location setting is a particular room in the iconic, fictional Singapura Hotel, with the stories spanning across nearly a century.
The high-concept is there, fascinating as it is, but what the film essentially tries to do is cramming a buffet spread of things related to the topic (homosexuality, sex change, nymphomania, casual sex, prostitution, sex robot, possibly even rape… you name it) and treating them lightly, almost milking the taboo-ness for kicks.
Frankly, I don’t quite know what to make of it, nor do I give a damn.
As a sort of device that links all the tales together, Khoo uses a visual motif of a wandering ghost that is not just awkward and forced, but also terribly miscast. There are six ‘shorts’ in total, with a nice nostalgic montage at the end. The first one ‘Rubber’ feels irrelevant, so is ‘Pussy’ that comes right after it in a tonal shift so jarring that you might have thought a kinky Royston Tan directed that short.
The subsequent shorts ‘Listen’, ‘Change’, ‘Search’ and ‘First Time’ range from borderline interesting to painful (to watch), never quite making any impression. I have a niggling feeling that Khoo would have fared better with a more incisive script.
In the Room will remain unseen for general audiences – Khoo has rejected the censorship board’s ludicrous recommendation to snip out the film’s most salacious scenes for a commercial release. That is the most effective way to show the middle finger to the authorities.
That may also be a way to turn a weak film into a cult film, ripe for rediscovery 20 years later (perhaps at SGIFF 2035?), snugging oh-so-comfortably in the category of so-bad-it’s-good. If anything, time is on its side.