A Short Film, “2488” by Tang Ling Nah

Poetic — loss — reclaimed dignity

I was invited by two artists to view their latest project, a 360-degree short film, a couple of days back. Choosing to launch their film project on YouTube on Good Friday probably had some personal significance which wasn’t lost in my reading of the film. I felt compelled to write some of my observations in this short review.

“2488” is an unusual yet poetic short film in a few ways. It appears to me to sit between an independent art house and a narrative film with a pinch of “magical-realism”.

First, the film was shot and presented in 360-degree mode. This means the viewer can “see” all around the scene. If you are viewing on a mobile device, swiping or moving the device allows you to turn your head to look at the scene. If you are viewing on a web browser on a laptop or desktop, then you can turn your point of view by clicking-and-dragging your “hand icon” over the screen. This might be disorienting for some, but probably familiar to those with some experience of Virtual Reality content. The viewing experience (at full-screen) is somewhat immersive, and places the viewer right where the camera was, seeing what the omni-present 360-degree camera captured. While this might seem like a “plus” point for 360-degree films, it is at the same time challenging for the storytelling as strong camera angles, like medium close ups, close-ups, or transitions between scenes difficult. The film crew, if any, has to make an effort to hide from the camera. There is no artificial lightning that can be hidden from the camera to give strong evocative lighting.Available natural light is asked to show all and hide nothing. The 360-degree view probably posed an added challenge for the film’s mis-en-scene –the arrangement of the scene becomes difficult, like stuck in a particular angle, even if it’s a 360-degree angle. Then again, that feeling of ‘stuck’ or vertigo-inducing sensation if one darts around the scene too much, might well be intentional, leaving the viewer with a slight sense of disorientation or bewilderment if the viewer doesn’t settle down, and become more involved in the viewing process (deciding the ‘point of view’, or when to look at the character).

Second, it is an unusual film because it blends the imagination and present, in a slightly disjointed manner: we can’t help but feel a distinct splice, when the live-action scene jumps to the illustrated scenes from the Zoo. The twist in the narrative caught me by surprise yet remain plausible. The blend of live-action with digitally illustrated dream-like scenes felt child-like, playful, funny, and poignantly sad at parts for me.

Third, there was an opportunity to ‘loop’ the last scene’s ending back to the first scene. But it doesn’t loop back, and it ends with us looking at the back view of the characters, putting a distance between the viewers and them. The characters continue to look out the windows and I can’t help but wonder what they are thinking. I can imagine the days continue: moments would be relived with lively conversation; and there would be moments of silence and staring out the window. I think deciding not to loop to the first scene was deliberate, a catharsis perhaps on the part of the storytellers, and for us the outsider viewers to “move on” as well. Thinking back on the last scene, I think there were instances the camera’s shot lingered. The awkward silence added to the sense of loss. Loss for words, loss of time, loss of what to think, all common declining attributes related to dementia.

The first taxi scene might feel long for some viewers. However, I felt it was necessary to ground the scene with a common experience of a chatty taxi driver. The initial long shots also allow the viewer time to change perspectives comfortably without fear of missing out. If you pay attention to the taxi sign, it appears to degrade at one point, which possibly signifies the ending of the journey, and atrophy of the memory or imagination of the journey.

The last scene brings some resolution to the audience and reveals what the father-character was experiencing, more likely a blurring between past, and present, imagined and lived.The storyline is simple and poetic. It is perhaps both a personal film, one I felt I shouldn’t be peering into, and a universal one examining the relationship of a father and daughter, through the unique lens and experience of the director.

The director Tang Ling Nah, the writer, producer, and main actor for the short film, offers us one close view of dementia – potentially what goes on in the head of the patient, and how a daughter reconciles and relieves memories from the past. The anxiety the daughter feels when the father goes missing is not lost but represented candidly in drawing. Making a connection to Good Friday, the day the film was premiered, we might also say the film is about sacrifice – the time and energy caregivers provide for dementia patients. All things considered, the film has it’s rough edges with bits of the acting, voice-overs and child-like drawings, but the film shines to capture the dignity and patience that dementia patients deserve.

Catch this 360-degree short film here

Or view it on YouTube https://youtu.be/yCtX8l4cb0c.

Catch this 2020 short video on Tang Ling Nah to learn about the artist’s body of work: https://vimeo.com/400100099.

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