WAYANG BOY (PG)
Drama/106 minutes/Opens today
Raja (Denzyl Dharma) comes to Singapore from India and has difficulty adjusting to life here. At school, egged on by fellow student Shi Han (Tan Wei Tian), he gets into a fight with Xavier (Loh Ren Jie). All three end up getting roped into the Chinese opera club by Mr Koay (Law Kar Ying). Raja also misses his father and lashes out at his stepmother (Chantel Liu).
This is the hook - an Indian boy sings Chinese opera. And that, as the school principal in the film puts it crassly, is akin to the spectacle of a fish walking on land.
The question is, how do you make an entire film out of it?
Director Raymond Tan builds on his short film, Wa Is For Wayang (2011), and ends up surrounding the fish-out-of-water tale with unnecessary sideshows, such as a drawn-out endurance competition to win a car.
Hong Kong actress Michelle Yim's turn as the principal's secretary is also pointless, beyond the veteran star lending some big-name glamour to the production. An extensive plug for a security company is so intrusive as a product placement that Jack Neo would be proud.
Given that the movie is titled Wayang Boy, it is also reasonable for viewers to expect to see a fair bit about Raja learning Chinese opera. Unfortunately, aside from the final performance, Chinese opera does not get much of an airing.
Instead, the film gets bogged down with Tan framing the subject matter as one of foreigners versus Singaporeans. Henry (Chen Tianwen), for example, keeps getting passed over for promotion as foreigners get parachuted in.
To its credit, the film tries to dismantle some stereotypes, such as having a Caucasian executive (played by Bobby Tonelli) speak Mandarin rather than appear completely clueless.
But it inexplicably feeds into others, such as having Indian workers dance whenever they hear music. What would Raja have made of that?
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