Once a specialty of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese cinema, the alienated Asian youth subgenre inevitably finds its way to Singapore, where the merging of capitalistic ultra-modernity and draconian social order would seem to provide fertile ground for adolescent rebellion. Royston Tan’s over-the-top 15 follows a gang of high school boys as they engage in drug abuse, physical violence, and just about everything else bored kids do to pass the time. Filmed in MTV-style chop-and-shock, 15 seeks to imitate the media-saturated minds of its idle protagonists, all of whom are non-actors playing versions of themselves. The collision of neorealist casting with in-your-face visual pyrotechnics is jarring to say the least, and 15 quickly wears down the viewer with its barrage of strobe effects and attention-deficit editing. Tan based the film on his award-winning short of the same name, and indeed, 15 feels distended (even at only 90 minutes). The directionless lives on display all too easily translate into a directionless film, leaving the discerning viewer to pine for the works of Jia Zhangke as well as that masterpiece of Asian youth-gone-wrong, Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day.

Archive Highlights