Friday, September 08, 2006

I Not Stupid

That’s the title of the first Singaporean film I ever saw. I didn’t know it was Singaporean until I saw its sequel being featured on MTV Screen. Our Asian neighbors all look alike so I don’t quite know how to make a distinction.

The film is a story of three grade school boys struggling to do well with their studies despite being in the EM3, the lowest and “hopeless” section. It shows several similarities between their society and ours. First is the unquestioning belief in Western talent, comically exposed in the advertising agency sequence wherein one of the kids’ father, a businessman, hires an advertiser to promote his product. A Singaporean presents his concept but it is bluntly rejected, only to be beaten by an American who presents exactly the same thing. Then there’s the preference for English and Math. These subjects are made the measure of students’ intellectual capacity. Those in the EM3 section are presumably weak in these subjects and are discriminated against. To make matters worse, authorities do not address the issue, believing that the kids are a bunch of hopeless cases anyway so the best way to deal with them is to let them be. An idealistic young teacher finds that the students may not excel in English and Math but they do in other fields of study. Hence the title, I Not Stupid.

The movie seems to be a mockery of Singaporean society. It makes fun of the authoritarian government and of the people’s blind obedience (Through one of the kids’ mom who bullies her kids around, saying that it’s for their own good). Of course we already know about these things but now we see a Singaporean’s confession to the world. It is all very well especially for us citizens of a developing country, seeing that all their riches come with a price -- that of their freedom. But in the last twenty minutes of the film, all those self-mockery builds up as a big joke on us. Every problem is solved, and in the end, the bullying mother is right after all – “Where will your freedom bring you? Be thankful you have a good and responsible mother. Believe me, it’s for your own good.” With the political and economic crisis plaguing our country now, it is quite easy to believe her indeed.

The first three quarters of the film is cute and funny until it gets personal (or racial?), I wonder how I was able to sit through it. The offense takes place in the kidnapping sequence, when the rich and spoiled kid whines “I don’t know how to butter my bread or make my coffee.” The kidnapper then snaps, “I’m a kidnapper, not your Filipino maid!” The scriptwriters could easily delete “Filipino” and still get their point across but they put it anyway. And this film is coming from the country responsible for Flor Contemplacion’s death and guilty of countless OFW abuses besides. I get the urge to scream “Yes you are!” in reply to the movie’s title.

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