Tuesday, 10 March 2009

18 Grams of Love (2007)

More than love, the idea of love itself, and the words employed to incite the state of love..

Cosi fan tutte, the sex comedy about spouse swapping and mistaken identities, is as politically incorrect as they come. While no one batted an eyelid at the subject matter in Vienna in the 18th c., the moralistic turn in Europe condemned the opera to a historical footnote till its post WW2 revival.

You'd think that Mozart's opera would find new favour in cinema, especially in the age of Judd Apatow flicks and the American Pie franchise, but sadly, no. It might be the idea of mistaken identities; few of Shakespeare's comedies (the ones involving twins, crossdressing twins, and multiple impersonations) have had a decent showing. One could say that the idea of mistaken identities is so dreadfully passe it could only work in a hoary, stodgy narrative like the superhero movie.

And yet, we keep trying. The Singapore Lyric Opera production of Cosi fan tutte in 2006 attempted to keep the shenanigans of the plot realistic by having the impersonations and multiple identities take place in the virtual world, with giant video screens standing in for cyber-relations.

Perhaps learning from the over-enthusiastic and stagey update, Han Yew Kwang's 18 Grams of love romcom posits the 4 lovers in the modern time, but uses a romantic, slightly outdated, and very charming conceit: the anonymous love letter as the means to the spouse-swapping shenanigans.

It's a mature acknowledgement that the story is only slightly outdated (presumably letter writing was the fashion in Singapore's Chinese schools 3 or so decades ago), but still romantic and charming as hell. Accordingly, the set design is suitably boudoir-ish while the cinematography is a succession of whimsical Amelie-esque visuals.

As a comedy, 18 Grams of love is a strong showcase of Han's sense of sight gags, offbeat humour, and cinematography. What pushes it to the top is the cleverly written dialogue, which bears more than a trace of producer Kelvin Tong's fascination with the idea of words, as per Love Story.

The movie benefits from Han's unusual and bold decision to rip out the typical first act, allowing the narrative to hit the floor running without unnecessary preambles found in Hollywood's tired, mass-produced romcom genre. For this reason alone, (though there are more, and more justifiable ones), a trip to the cinema to watch this movie is recommended. Romantics and cynics alike, 18 grams is after your heart.

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