Salute to games

Movie poster for the film "The Hunger Games", starring Jennifer Lawrence.

It is tough keeping pace in the third - and what would have been final - instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy, whose most important premise of a dystopian gladiatorial fight-meets-reality TV is already accomplished in the first two acts (The Hunger Games, 2012; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, 2013).

With storytelling withheld from a proper resolution in Mockingjay - Part 1, fans of the film adaptation of writer Suzanne Collins' franchise will have to be content with multiple shots of people jumping on and off planes and inspecting rubble.

"The characters are all broken and we're piecing them back together," says British actor Sam Claflin (who plays Finnick Odair) at a recent press conference at a hotel in London.

A general grim undercurrent pervades the film, which sees its main characters - rescued from the last outing in Catching Fire - sit out missile attacks in an underground bunker in between flying out to bomb sites to witness more devastation.

Even the flamboyant Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks) is reduced to standard-issue grey fatigues as she sees complaints about being imprisoned in military compound.

But if there is any danger of the press event being in the same limbo as the movie, the producers have the secret weapon of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the series' Chosen One, Katniss Everdeen.

Bouncing back defiantly from her recent scandal involving leaked nude photos from a hijacked Cloud account, the 24- year-old was in top form in a white pantsuit, pushing conversation forward, even filling in answers to questions directed at her colleagues with quips and affirming asides.

Referring to a few crucial scenes in the movie in which Katniss brings tears to the eyes as she shows her solidarity with victims of war, while battling her own demons wreaked through the trauma of having survived two mass killings in earlier episodes, she says she does not have a lot in common with her character.

"She's much braver than I am. There is a small parallel... these movies kind of came to me when my career was taking off. So in some way, I can kind of understand, I know what it feels like... our lives changing and people kind of watching you and listening to you."

Surprisingly generous with the idea of being typecast as Katniss, Lawrence adds: "It made me nervous for a few days. I'm an actor and I think I don't want to be remembered as just one character in this film. It's scary.

"But I was so proud of these movies. I love the message, this character, I love everything about her. I'm actually honoured to carry this character with me for the rest of my life."

Particularly in this stop-gap episode of a movie, the emoting Lawrence has to shoulder is extended, made on behalf of a story in limbo stretched over two episodes. In a scene where she had to sing The Hanging Tree, the actress was bawling - partly out of the fear of having to sing.

While the ending of the saga is only halfway in progress as far as cinema theatres this year are concerned, actual filming wrapped up early this year with an extended and emotional group hug.

"We've had a great time, we've been a group of people who genuinely like each other," producer Nina Jacobson says. "We've all been devoted to adapting a series of books that are hugely powerful and I think means something - they are permanent, political and popular."

The farewell was not just the end of a four-year shoot for the team, but also marked the tragic departure of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Katniss' public-relations guru Plutarch), who died of a combined drug intoxication towards the end of filming this last role.

Jacobson says: "We were thunderstruck. It was a shocking thing to happen on set."

There is help in the introduction of new members of the cast (see other story).

Enter President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of the resistance state who persuades Katniss to become a propaganda figure. There is also rogue film-maker Cressida (Natalie Dormer), who reminds viewers that Katniss' gut-wrenching reactions (in the celluloid world) are always reframed by a professional media crew for mass consumption, not unlike with the documentation - in news or otherwise - of war in real life today.

That the film touches on and cross-references contemporary developments in various areas of the world is both chilling and encouraging.

At the press conference, journalists pointed out how the movie served as tacit inspiration for uprisings against oppression and inequality in the Middle East. And the three-finger salute popularised by the movie was adopted by protesters in Thailand earlier in the year in response to a military coup.

Director Francis Lawrence says with a shudder: "Part of it is so thrilling that something in the movie can be a symbol for people, a symbol for, you know, freedom or protest."

But he adds: "The thing that's disturbing - it's kind of this weird reflection, we're mirroring all this and then it's mirroring back and kids are getting arrested. There's a lot more at stake. It takes the thrill out of it and becomes more dangerous... it's more complex."

Not quite eager to wade so bluntly into international politics, the film-makers also point out that the movie - via Collins' writing - makes a point of not polarising good and evil in stock characterisations: resistance fighter Coin may not be who she seems, while the superficial Effie is shown as an apolitical fashionista who is caught up in emerging, divided loyalties to friends and changing employers.

As veteran actor Donald Sutherland says: "The film humanises the eccentricities you're set up for."

The 79-year-old actor says he actually likes his main antagonist's character: "I do, seriously.

"He's a politician, a bureaucrat, he's doing a job that he believes he has to do. Not killing people for pleasure - it's for a necessity. Lyndon Johnson killed 30,000 American people for what he deemed was a necessity," he adds, referring to the 36th American president's escalation of the Vietnam War.

Indeed. If producers will not commit to being the fantasy vanguard for new revolutions, then the actors will.

At a separate press conference for the same event, Sutherland describes the latest instalment as "a catalyst for young people who have been dormant for a generation or two, particularly in the United States... I hope this film will in some way help generate a leader who will pull young people together in a way which they will understand."

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 opens in Singapore tomorrow.

This article was first published on November 19, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.