“Ms J Contemplates Her Choice” – 2014 SGIFF Film Review

A mystery-thriller that doubles as a critique on the uneasy melange of cultures in Singaporean society, Jason Lai’s debut feature “Ms J Contemplates Her Choice” is an ambitious work that ultimately dares viewers to think about the consequences of their decisions.  For the main character, Jo Yang (Singaporean singer Kit Chan in her first film role), it is an appearance on a radio talk show that shatters the comfortable existence that she has built for herself.  The famed author is a mother to Sarah; an aunt to Nick; a younger sister to Stacey (Xiang Yun), an elementary school Mandarin teacher; and the guest DJ sidekick to Ken (real-life radio talk show host Bobby Tonelli, clearly in his element).  A caller by the name of Lee asks Jo whose life should be spared: that of a prostitute or a loan shark.  If Jo is unable to make a choice, both will be killed.  After it emerges that Lee’s supposed prank call does, in fact, seem to result in the death of a loan shark, Jo’s demeanor abruptly switches to fear.  Meanwhile, an intersecting story of a young couple on a joyride – played by Seraph Sun, who appears in the film’s opening scene, and Shane Pow – results in consequences of its own.

Lai does not shy away from the issues that immigration, freedom of speech and adolescence play out in modern-day Singapore, and while some of these related scenes threaten to distract or serve as extraneous footnotes to the story arc, the viewer’s quest along with Jo to find out why she is forced to make such choices does not falter.  This is largely due to the scenes involving two or more cast members, which move away from what at times can feel like mere recitations of lines by solo performers to genuine moments of tension; one particularly noteworthy clash occurs when Ken and Jo argue with colleagues over the morality of allowing Lee’s calls to go through to the show, even after the police have stopped by to investigate.  Also propelling the momentum are persistent pictures of isolation showing carefully shot angles and man-made structures, owing to the characters’ – and the viewers’ – sense of detachment in an increasingly plugged-in society, juxtaposed with a soundtrack that vacillates between playful and haunting.

Important decisions may not be easy to make in one’s life, but in tackling such heavy philosophical issues and real-life current events in “Ms J Contemplates Her Choice,” Lai’s gamble shows plenty of promise for his cinematic future.

“Ms J Contemplates Her Choice” made its world premiere at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival and will be released theatrically sometime in early 2015.