An invigorating feature debut that is raw and bold, if not particularly well-paced, but it almost singularly put Singapore back on the filmmaking map in the mid-1990s.
Dir. Eric Khoo
1995 | Singapore | Crime/Drama/Romance | 105 mins | 1.66:1 | Hokkien, English & Cantonese
M18 (passed clean) for coarse language and sexual scenes
Cast: Joe Ng, Michelle Goh, Lim Kay Tong, David Brazil
Plot: A painfully shy noodle-shop owner and a prostitute have a chance encounter when destiny arrives in the form of a car accident.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlin); Nom. for New Currents Award (Busan)
Source: Zhao Wei Films
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore Film Society screening – first published 8 Jul 2016)
Mee Pok Man, while not an extraordinary film by any measure, is one of the most important Singapore movies ever made. It marked the auspicious resurgence of my country’s filmmaking scene, and almost singularly put her back on the cinema map—we have not had such a privilege since the Golden Age in the ’50s and ’60s.
Directed by Eric Khoo, one of our foremost flag bearers, Mee Pok Man is his first feature after dabbling in shorts in the early ’90s. I saw it for the first time in a superb 4K restoration by the Asian Film Archive, projected for the first time in actual 4K by the Singapore Film Society.
Centering on a middle-aged man (Joe Ng), who sells noodles at a coffee shop, a particular late night haunt for drinking buddies and prostitutes, the film charts his path as a hardworking son of a deceased father, toiling away but enjoying his simple if mundane life.
He harbours a secret liking for Bunny (Michelle Goh), one of the prostitutes who can’t get enough of his fishball noodles. A turn of events involving an accident bring both together—I will leave you to discover what ensues. Their performances are decent, and the characterizations are interesting enough to hook you, if only mildly.
The entire film feels raw, edgy, almost like an underground movie trying to burst out into the mainstream. It also goes into morbid territory in the final act, a bold direction by Khoo who is no stranger to controversy. The result is that Mee Pok Man while clearly a product of its time—for better or worse—remains strangely refreshing.
Although the pacing could have been tightened—this belongs in the 90-minute territory, rather than the nearly two-hour film it is now—it is certainly an invigorating feature debut, a signal of intent by a filmmaker who would chart an alternative path for filmmaking in Singapore, opening the doors for directors like Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng and Anthony Chen to flourish in the international scene.
If a Singapore New Wave could be legitimized in our country’s short if largely fruitful period of modern cinema, Khoo would be our Godard, and Mee Pok Man is his Breathless.