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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Red Bean Soup - An Abandoned Short Film Project

I have made several mentions as early as April that I was trying to make a follow-up to GIRL DISCONNECTED (that's my last short film). It was planned to be a Jun-Ai (Pure Love) short film. By Pure Love, I meant a wholesome romantic tearjerker which would involve terminal illness, self-sacrifice, tragic separations, doing everything for love, the all-conquering power of love, shy holding of hands, subtly poetic declarations of love etc. Its tentative title was RED BEAN SOUP, which was really a code name, I was planning to really call the film WINTER IN KL. But since I'm used to referring to it as RED BEAN SOUP, I'll refer it as RED BEAN SOUP throughout this entry.

It all came from a discussion with my friend, Peng Shien, who wanted me to do something more mainstream, as a reaffirmation that I am not disconnected from popular sensibilities and the like, that I won't stick to doing self-indulgent works too inaccessible for everyone else except for film scholars. And my reply was "damn it, why not? I'll PANDER to the masses by making a weepie!"

I started working on the film, developing the story (which I tried to write in prose form after suffering from writer's block), and then, offering a cameo role for the winner of the Hottest Blogger Award that I judged (also in April). The eventual winner, Anna, unfortunately, lived in Sabah Sarawak, so she had no choice but to turn down my offered prize.

Since then, I got involved in a couple of producing gigs (one of them being Chewxy's short film, where I had the pleasure of meeting a horrendous method actor who went VERY sour when he wasn't chosen for the role). And with all these juggling, RED BEAN SOUP was put aside for a while (which was unsurprising, since I still wasn't really making that much progress with the story).

What was wrong with RED BEAN SOUP? It just felt too impersonal for me, as if I was going through the motions of filmmaking, and not pouring my passion into something I could believe in. The female protagonist, as quirky as she was, was a caricature, based more on video game, anime or film characters I've seen. She was amusing at first, I had this role tailor made for Grace (in terms of looks, in real life, Grace is far from quirky):


I didn't like the direction I was going, nor was I enjoying the creative process... I knew something was seriously wrong with the project. I tried writing in prose form, and then writing in screenplay form, I couldn't complete either one.

I knew I was screwed.

For a few times, I voiced my anxiety to film director Woo Ming Jin and his intern Lesly (I'm working with them now, including an upcoming TV movie project, which I will get into detail in a future post).

"Dude, dammit, write something more emotionally honest! Don't try to do something that people can see on TV all the time, and if you're targeting film festivals... don't make something aimed for housewives!" Ming Jin said. (I'm paraphrasing him)

Then, he added:

"And... are you seriously going to make Grace a terminally ill girl who goes around, coughing blood? Do you know how many students of mine had attempted the same and ended up looking stupidly amateurish?"

That stopped me. I started thinking... how the hell was I going to let Grace play a terminally ill girl?

Grace... playin' a terminally ill gal?

And with that, I knew I had to rethink the entire story. It didn't seem to work. I couldn't do a blatant Jun-Ai.

Right now, I'll get into details about what RED BEAN SOUP was about, since I'm discarding the whole idea entirely.

The story happens in a span of a day. JIN, a songwriter, is stuck at home, trying to compose his new song, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, a girl, QING (her original name was JING, just so I could derive amusement from the fact that both protagonists share a rather similar name, but I'm trying to avoid confusion here) takes a train to visit an ex-boyfriend. She has brought a tin container of red bean soup with her. But when she reached the place, she's horrified to find out that her ex-boyfriend has already moved on, seeing him walking out of his house with a new hottie girlfriend.

Qing immediately hides in the bushes, not wanting to let her ex-boyfriend see her.

Jin continues angsting and sulking at home, not knowing how to finish his piece.

Qing, not wanting to waste her red bean soup, starts calling random people from her phonebook (Chungking Express homage) to help her finish it. No one gives a crap, until she calls an old classmate from primary school... Jin.

But Jin, being a cold jerk, shuts her down, saying that he was busy composing. He declines her offer and puts his phone aside, continuing to ponder about his composition, staring at his piano with sheer intensity. Some moments later, he's interrupted by light tapping on his window. He goes over to open his window, only to find Qing standing at the balcony outside, how she climbs up his apartment is unexplained.

Qing looks around, finds that Jin's place is much too gloomy, decides NOT to offer him the red bean soup unless he gets out of the place with her, to Kuala Lumpur. He says no, Qing shrugs and walks out of the place. Jin is angsting by himself, before running after her.

The sun has begun setting, Jin, who used to fear the sun (low blood pressure), finds himself miraculously unharmed. With Qing, he takes a train to Kuala Lumpur.

Day turns to night, begin pretty musical montage sequence with Jin and Qing hanging out at random places in KL while having a good time. Jin warms to Qing, stops acting as if he has a stick up his butt. They find some cheesily romantic place where they can enjoy the night scenery of KL, there's a tentative 'his hand reaching for hers' scene. Qing finally offers Jin her red bean soup, Jin drinks it, watching him, Qing sees shadows of her ex-boyfriend, before she can react, Qing's nose start to bleed, and she collapses.

Still barely conscious, she admits that she's actually suffering from some terminal illness, which scares the crap out of Jin. Weakly, she turns her attention to the cityscape and waxes poetry about its beauty. Listening to her words, the song Jin has been trying to compose all these while comes to life, and starts flowing out, in his mind (... as background music).

After her beautiful monologue... KL STARTED SNOWING!!!!!!!!

She smiles and closes her eyes, resting her head on his shoulder. A look of peace crosses upon her face.


It's pretty shitty. I KNEW it was really shitty, that's why I gave up in the end. I wasn't excited enough to make a film like that. Too sappy, too contrived, too puke-inducing, if I made something like that, even metrosexuals would look like Spartans when standing next to me.

So I totally tore the story apart and decided to try something new, I've already completed the treatment few days ago, will be easier for me start work on a screenplay then. And with that, RED BEAN SOUP is officially scrapped. Good riddance.