Dir: Eric Khoo. Singapore, 2008. 75 min.
Eric Khoo’s films are an acquired taste, and he hasn’t moved much past the festival circuit since 12 Storeys emerged internationally in 1997. Exposing My Magic to the noise and attention of the Cannes competition doesn’t particularly benefit either this film or the festival, although needless to say Singapore is delighted to have its first film in Competition. Hidden in one of the Cannes’ more obscure corners (a single afternoon screening on the last Friday for all accredited guests) would seem to indicate that the programmers weren’t convinced either. Any of the parallel sections would have been a far more comfortable berth for this slight story of a relationship between a drunken former magician who cleans bars for a living and a 10-year-old boy.
Khoo’s usual minimalism here is pared down to a level where the direction almost appears non-existent. Neither of his leads are professional (playing a magician called Francis, Francis Bosco is himself a real-life magician), a conceit which probably looked better on page than it does onscreen.
Since Khoo’s name is already familiar on the festival circuit, My Magic seems destined to do the rounds there, but any move even into art house outside its own territory will be a tough sell.
The first 30 minutes of the film is spent chronicling the magician’s drunkenness. We see him spending all his money on booze, passing out in his own vomit when he comes home. His son, a brilliant student for his age, is left to clean up after his father and yearn secretly for his absent mother.
Francis then decides to make a comeback, motivated by his love for the son who has lived, up to that point, in dread of his parent. This is at the behest of a vicious gangster, who is never satisfied with Francis’s magic tricks (which the actor performs on camera). The gangster demands - and pays for - tougher and tougher challenges each evening, to see how much physical punishment Francis can endure before collapsing.
Khoo says part of the inspiration for this script comes from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road and the special relationship between father and son there. Unlike McCarthy, however, Khoo’s world is far more schematic and his plot leaves too many issues unsolved and too many questions open. As a director, he seems happy to take a back seat and neither interfere with the performers or impose a definite point of view. Physically enormous, Francis Bosco’s powerful presence in front of the camera is undeniable, but he’s less successful attempting any kind of expressive emotion. Jathishweran is more promising, but of course physically less impressive. The plot moves forward at a leisurely pace and whatever motivations are provided remain hazy at best.
Some of the tortures Bosco is subjected to by the perverse gangster may well send sensitive viewers out gasping for air, however.
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Wong Kim Hoh
Wong Kim Hoh
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Seet Keng Yew