Welcome to Framed, a Cinematical column that runs every Thursday and celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.
Short films have come a long way since the moving images of stag cinema, exotic locales, fairground variety acts, propaganda and the marvels of everyday life. What has grown since the days of Edison's Kinetoscope and the Lumière Cinématographe has developed out of an artist's view of the world -- like the Surrealist experiments of the twenties ('Un Chien Andalou') and the sixties avant-garde (Chris Marker). In the eighties, another kind of short film was born -- the music video ('Thriller'). MTV showcased the work of directors -- many of whom eventually became feature film favorites (David Fincher) -- whose quick-cut editing style influenced the way we consume visual narrative. Now, with the advent of newer technology and the Internet, an independent/DIY aesthetic has become more widely accepted, and short films have been easier to view and distribute.
Filmmakers like Tzang Merwyn Tong have benefited from the short film's continuing evolution. He turned heads at 2003's WorldFest in Houston with his debut movie, 'e'Tzaintes,' when he was only 19-years-old and had no prior filmmaking experience. After winning audiences over at the Rotterdam and Singapore International Film Festivals and Montreal's FanTasia with his 2005 movie, 'A Wicked Tale,' he became the youngest Singaporean to release a film commercially on DVD.
Needing to deliver the goods in a condensed amount of time, Tzang's smartest move with 'A Wicked Tale' was to take a familiar story structure -- the fairy tale -- and modernize it, while also focusing on experimenting with various styles. The film contains everything from puppetry and silent era intertitles, to over the top, B-horror gore and surreal visuals. It's 45 minutes of dream-like imagery that dives into the sexual overtones of the Brother's Grimm tale about a girl and a wolf.
When Beth (Evelyn Maria Ng) makes the familiar trek to grandma's (Catherine Sng) house (who just might be the best character in the movie, because she's a total badass), she encounters a man by the name of Louis Le Bon (Johan Ydstrand). Louis "the Good" he is not. He's the archetypal wolf in every sense of the word. The mysterious and charming stranger seduces Beth with a few words, a gentle touch and an obviously phallic/sexual token -- a red lollipop. Louis is our explicit and stream of consciousness narrator for Beth's journey. We quickly learn that his predatory ways cannot be conquered easily once the pair meet up again at grandma's house.
Although the beginning of the movie feels like a low-budget attempt at Guy Maddin, a transformation happens when Beth arrives at the house -- both stylistically and metaphorically. Once she steps foot inside the door, as pictured in this week's frame, 'A Wicked Tale' transforms the fable into something much darker. Before Louis coaxes Beth into his bed and tempts her with drugs and sex, we see a change in her.
Outside the door, Beth is mostly innocent and carefree -- though we do see glimpses of a girl who is drawn to death and danger during a scene where she plays with a fish out of water and shoos away her uncle (Wolf Danker), who threatens Louis and tries to come to her rescue. Once Beth crosses through that door, however, her persona straddles the line between a young girl whose burgeoning sexuality leads her into darkness, and a girl who manipulates the situation and takes control.
Louis doesn't try to conceal his identity from Beth, and it seems odd that she doesn't question his masculine voice and accepts it as her grandma's. It's also strange that she slowly disrobes (almost entirely) and crawls into bed, letting "grandma" caress and kiss her. Does Tzang want us to believe Beth is so intrinsically innocent that she doesn't realize what she's getting into, or that she's just slyly playing along with his game? Both answers seem fair. With Beth's back turned and body partially shrouded in shadow in our frame, it's a nice bit of foreshadowing for the events that come, making 'A Wicked Tale' something closer to 'Hard Candy' than the storybook legend.
Since the first half of the film is done in silent-era style, the arrival at grandma's house also denotes the first time we hear Beth's voice and see the movie without any major editing. It's just two people in a dark, creepy room (that almost feels 'Twin Peaks-ish') sharing an intimate and tension-filled moment. The frame is pared down in comparison to the puppet intro and gore, but its simplicity is more powerful because of it.
It's exciting to see the raw, uninhibited talent of a young filmmaker tackling a well-worn story and giving it new life. Tzang does exactly that in 'A Wicked Tale' -- and all in the grand total of 45 minutes. While the movie reads mainly as a low-budget, stylistic exercise, the imagery in Tzang's film is compelling, and his exploration of the fairy tale's sexual side tempts you closer for a better look.