24 (2021)

Royston Tan’s latest would make a strong double-bill with Kiarostami’s ’24 Frames’—a provocative and clever meditation on the ephemerality of mortal existence as captured through the meta-fictivity of his cinema.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,311

Dir. Royston Tan
2021 | Singapore | Drama/Experimental | 77 mins | 2.35:1 | Various languages and dialects
R21 (passed clean) for sexual scenes and coarse language

Cast: James Choong
Plot: In the afterlife, a sound recordist lingers in the mortal realm while staying wedded to the profession.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
International Sales: Chuan Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Existence; Death; Cinema
Narrative Style: Vignette
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

At first thought, one might regard 24 as Royston Tan’s ‘greatest hits album’, featuring 24 tracks that are unmistakably his, with some obvious nods to his previous movies like 15 (2003), 4:30 (2005) and 12 Lotus (2008). 

Go deeper, and one might see the film as a yearning for immortality.  The finest Singaporean film of the last few years, 24 is a provocative and clever meditation on the ephemerality of mortal existence as captured through the meta-fictivity of his cinema. 

Tan’s work would of course make a strong double-bill with Kiarostami’s posthumous 24 Frames (2017), not just conceptually but spectrally.  

Kiarostami’s ghost haunts every frame of the work completed by his son, but his benign presence is invisible to the naked eye.  In contrast, ghosts physically haunt every scene in Tan’s film, in the form of a sound recordist who has recently passed on. 

“It’s always the same no matter how you film.”

Ever so professional in life and now in death, he continues to arm himself with a boom mic to record the earthly sounds of mortality—not just of despair, guilt and frustration, or orgasmic joy (the first scene is a banger in every sense of the word), but also the sounds of culture, tradition and language (dialect) that have faded with time. 

By employing sound as the main mode of address, Tan elevates a filmmaking craft so crucial to the cinematic experience but rarely spotlighted. 

A picture may paint a thousand words, but sounds paint a thousand pictures, that is to say, a scene without sound is interpretive in its meaning-making (or just plain weird), but sounds without images suggest infinite imaginary possibilities. 

Tan gives us 24 fixed possibilities to appreciate, but the sum of the film is greater than its parts, and I believe he wants us to transcend the limitations of cinema, and like his protagonist, inspire us to be larger than life.

Grade: A-


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