"15 (Shiwu)"

New York Premiere at Asian American International Film Festival 2004

Director: Royston Tan

Producers: Eric Khoo, Fong-cheng Tan

Cast: Shaun Tan, Melvin Chen, Vynn Soh and Erick Chun

Singapore, 2003 | 93min 

Mandarin/Hokkien with English subtitles




review by Nizhen Hsieh





The film opens surrealistically with young boys dressed as cupids shooting burning arrows toward the sky except the barren landscape they are in emphasise the necessity of brotherhood over emotion e.g. love considered to be superfluous. The next shot jumps straight into a dose of documentary realism with the boys playing truancy from school. They open the sequence by singing the Singapore national anthem then subtly changing the words into a suicide chant. As the movie progresses, so does the teenage angst that then swells with a violence uncontainable. With the war in Iraq, there has been much focus on America's young fading fast in the foreign deserts. Men and women fighting needlessly against not terror as we know it or as politicians tell it, but a small screaming personal terror at being sacrificed for the greedy sake of economic agenda. In Singapore, our young are also being unacknowledged, in a war of literacy. And by literacy, I am not referring to just pure reading ability, but education and what that entails in a small island nation that gained its independence from the British a mere 39 years ago. The important concept of education can quickly morph into an ugly obsession with economic progress and competition. Children as young as 12 kill themselves because they can not make the grade.




Five fifteen-year-old boys are on a mission to make headlines, to wake Singapore up to who it has forsaken. From chain-smoking, lip-piercing and drug smuggling, to web pornography, these boys know no bounds, one of whom undergoes a quest to find the perfect 'skyscraping' building to jump off from. Throughout the film replete with rapid-fire mtv-type montages and dream sequences, one image remains the same, the boys stew alone in their anger while Singapore accelerates its prosperity with its growing city skyline. But the most gripping thing, these boys are no actors, they play themselves, actual public housing boys sick of making the grade to ensure their place in society. They'd rather die then carve a meaningless vaccinated identity which would explain the film's propensity for hyper-violence and sexuality, all of which are never spoken of but graphically flashed in your face, whether you like it or not, which is the film's basic premise: Fuck you and your expectations! Although the film did at moments grow tiresome in belabouring the point, it broke the basic attachments anyone has to anything, their country, their culture, their sense of self, that can grow sterile and meaningless with routine. In one scene, a brother offers to pierce the lip of another. His lip bleeds profusely and the blood spills onto his friend's hand armed with the needle. Alarmed, he begs his friend to go wash himself who needing no explanation, bends his head over to gently suck the blood from his lip, a shattering connection which transcends brotherhood to a momentary bout of homo-eroticism that is the closest thing the film admits, can come to the notion of love.


New York, July 26th, 2004