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Impressive debut from mature filmmaker
K RAJAGOPAL'S debut feature A Yellow Bird goes where Singapore cinema doesn't often venture - the indie arthouse route.
Like Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo (2013) before it, and more recently Boo Junfeng's Apprentice (2016) from earlier this year, this dark and depressing human drama wowed the crowd at Cannes with its unflinching look at the underbelly of Singapore.
A Yellow Bird substitutes the city's gleaming skyline for dreary shots of cramped HDB flats, dirty void decks and a jungle brothel - scenery unlikely to make it into a tourism video.
But what makes this slow-burner watchable also are the intense performances from its two brooding leads, local TV actor Sivakumar Palakrishnan and mainland Chinese actress Huang Lu.
The former plays ex-con Siva, who comes out of jail only to find himself trapped in another mental prison.
His mother (Bandit Queen's Seema Biswas) refuses to speak to him and nobody will tell him where his ex-wife and daughter have run off to.
Working odd jobs to make ends meet, he encounters an over-stayer (Huang) from China who turns to prostitution to make a quick buck to send home to her young child.
She hires Siva as her bodyguard and the two of them bond - despite the language barrier - because they are lost souls finding their way in (and out of) an uncaring, buzzing metropolis.
Instead of sweeping it under the carpet, issues such as racial divide and xenophobia are laid bare and run as undercurrents in the brave script written by Rajagopal and Jeremy Chua.
A Yellow Bird plods a little in the middle with the simmering rage of its characters taking its toll on the audience but is careful not to drag its feet for too long.
The explosive ending comes as a jolt to the senses - it's uneasy only because its 51-year-old writer-director intended it that way - and A Yellow Bird is an impressive debut for this mature filmmaker.