Royston Tan’s first feature provides a fascinating window to a world rarely depicted onscreen: the angst-ridden arena of adolescent boys in modern-day Singapore. If that weren’t fascinating enough, Tan shows us this cosmos from the inside out: employing music, montage, animation, fantasy, a multiple layering of video elements and a host of narrative styles to portray the frenetic, tortuous, but strangely beautiful world shared by a group of 15-year-olds whose only emotional connection to the world is through each other.
The film introduces us to Wynn, Melvin, Erick, Shaun and Armani. Residents of a public housing project who also attend school together, they have dealt for so long with outsider status, disaffected parents and bleak futures that they now manifest a cold, ironic distance from the world – posing as emotionless drones who cannot be defeated, nor even touched. As modern, consumerist culture races by them, and they are beset by parents and teachers with verbal abuse and ridicule, the boys form a tight, if complicated, bond between themselves; a brotherhood whose code allows the shedding of blood, perhaps, but never tears. Skipping school, doing drugs, rehearsing gang raps, piercing and ritually cutting their bodies, on the surface the boys form a bleak picture of ennui and hopelessness – even encouraging one another’s not-infrequent suicide threats (as an ironic echo to the discordant strains that fill their eras on a daily basis.) But Tan is very attentive to the underlying intimacy of the boys’ shared suffering, and the need each one eventually shows to be close to someone – whether in a game of rapid-fire insults, or in a late-night embrace, out of the sight of others. In time, the boys display not only a wickedly satirical outlook on their dilemmas as young people in an unsupportive society, but also show some of the best traits of human nature: patience, caring, forgiveness, loyalty, courage, and a willingness to be vulnerable to one another.
Whether moments of transcendence are enough to redeem the world for these oppressed boys remains an open question – a credit to Tan, who declines to moralize about his subjects, or to idly speculate about their likely fates. His highly stylized film (sketching his characters’ inner lives with a stylistic hybrid drawn from music videos, advertising and video games), concentrates on depicting a not-too-hypothetical present with no escape in sight, not even necessarily in the future. Still, in the midst of this elaborate production with its alarming suggestions, a stirring portrait of human striving emerges that is as striking and unforgettable as its director’s amazing stylistic flair. 15 is a brave and unique depiction of young lives pitted against a hostile world, and often giving back better than the world deserves.
A completely f***ed up film! Think Clockwork Orange (on acid), meets Black Moon meets Emperor Tomato Ketchup meets Larry Clark’s Kids….but more insane. Beautifully shot with artistic merit, this film is for the serious coming of age film collector with a passion for screwed up films! – Azov Films
The fact that director Royston Tan had to make 27 cut to satisfy the Singapore Board of Film Censors inspired him to make the short film Cut – which is extremely funny, don’t miss this one!
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