Meditative yet at times tonally dissonant, Liao’s work about the shifting temporalities of identity and memory is ultimately elusive.
Dir. Liao Jiekai
2014 | Singapore | Drama | 96min | 1.37:1 | English & Mandarin
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scene
Cast: Cheryl Chitty Tan, Josh Lai, Eshley Gao, Jerome Chee
Plot: Guohui and Peiling were childhood sweethearts who met again after years of being apart and became a couple. On an idyllic island south of Singapore, they spend their last moments together as their relationship falls apart.
Source: 13 Little Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate – Memory & Time; Failing Relationship; Identity
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Elliptical
Audience Type: General Arthouse
As far as his sophomore feature is concerned, Liao Jiekai seems to be a filmmaker of quiet introspection. A follow-up to Red Dragonflies (2010), As You Were is meditative, exploratory, and perhaps even tenuous, charting in three chapters its characters’ reflective journeys through time.
The main focus is on a man and a woman on the brink of a failing relationship—whether it is a purely romantic one or a friendship teetering on the edge of a possible romance, Liao keeps it vague, at least extra-diegetically. Having known each other since childhood, the couple tries to find some alone time in a secluded colonial-style house on an offshore island.
As the film reminisces about their past experiences, largely through the recurring visual motif of ‘water bodies’ (the sea, a swimming pool, a basin of water, etc.), there is a sense that time is slipping (or has slipped) away.
“It is by no means a small island, but I’ve gotten to know it well.”
What is a city-state like Singapore if not a piece of land floating? And where to, one might be gracious enough to ask? Is it into the future, as shots of fireworks light up a cosmopolitan city perhaps way too proud of her silhouetted skyline? Or like stamps in water, the past drowned and hung out to dry?
Liao occasionally inserts tonally dissonant ambient music to create a darker, more hallucinatory atmosphere, but it doesn’t quite do much except maybe artistically.
What I like most about As You Were is that it shows us a more contemplative style of Singaporean cinema, while at the same time, albeit elusively, exploring themes of identity and memory of who we are/were as Singaporeans. So, what have we become?