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SGIFF 2019: Revolution Launderette dir. Mark Chua and Lam Li Shuen (Review)

More experimental shenanigans from the team behind Cannonball sees them contemplating big, philosophical questions of fate, reality and the meaning of life. 

For all their talk about their new film having a stronger narrative than their last, Mark Chua and Lam Li Shuen’s Revolution Launderette still follows very much in the same vein as their debut feature Cannonball, with plenty of experimental, indie filmmaking techniques and stylistics rarely seen on the big screen anymore.

Where Cannonball saw the musicians play fictionalised versions of themselves as they went on a road trip and tour of Australia, Revolution Launderette instead firmly places both Chua and Lam behind the camera, with a full cast of actors performing in this quirky exploration of Japan. The film follows a young, blonde-haired man Tomo (Keisuke Baba) and his companion Hiroko (Kiko Yorozu) as they convince themselves that life is an elaborate joke.

As such, they choose to throw themselves into any and all encounters they have as they traipse around Tokyo, meeting all manner of odd characters and experiences. What results is a fascinating filmic trip verging on the non-sequitur, taking them from the underground music scene, to hitmen travelling back in time to alter history, with locations ranging from a quaint art gallery all the way to the titular launderette by the end of the film.

In the year since the release of Cannonball, both Chua and Lam have improved on their filmmaking technique tremendously, with a crudely (but visually arresting) animated opening that segues into a professionally shot sequence of close-ups zooming in on a mysterious scrapbook (that proves integral to the plot later on). This variation in style is something that carries on throughout the rest of the film, with abrupt shifts in medium, genre and even camera used catching viewers by surprise. In particular, Tomo is shown to drift in and out of sleep very often, and the film often cuts to reveal that what we’ve been watching is his dream. In one instance, an impressive, extended stop-motion montage only further adds to the oneiric nature of these sequences.

Revolution Launderette feels like the product of two people with a madcap imagination, and while it often feels like it’s a journey to nowhere, it is actually possible to sieve out meaning from the mishmash of occurences that Tomo and Hiroko run into. Almost absurd in nature, the strangers they meet speak cryptically, and are pursued by strange men, wax on about Heidegger and existentialism, or speak through payphones as they watch each other through opposite sides of the transparent booth. There’s an underlying feeling that all of these people are grasping for meaning within a meaningless world, each one on their own journey of discovery as they struggle to both embody and accept the randomness of life.

Above all, the one thing Revolution Launderette respects most is the music and musicians who appear in it, themselves fiercely experimental in style and form that are more akin to performance art than concerts (with sizeable audiences applauding them after). The soundtrack is clearly thought out, and the music featured feels designed to take audiences into an almost trance-like state as we dive further into the curious mythos that surrounds it.

At its heart, Revolution Launderette is also a reflection on loneliness and fatalism, where characters are compelled to do things or go to places spontaneously the moment they are taken by a feeling. By the end of the film, Tomo finds himself alone, frustratingly close to finding that which he seeks, yet inexplicably lost. With a ‘deus ex launderette’ showing up in the film’s final moments, Tomo is supposedly saved, yet we are still left without answers. Perhaps then, this is the crux of life and living itself — while it is we ourselves who must find meaning in our existence, we must learn to go with the flow and all that this strange world throws at us, and really, just enjoy this revolutionary ride.

Revolution Launderette played at the Oldham Theatre on 26th November 2019 at 9.30pm, as part of the 2019 Singapore International Film Festival. 

SGIFF 2019 ran from 21st November to 1st December 2019. For more information, visit their website here

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