The clichéd statement "the grass is greener on the other side" is quite true for the two films Travellers and Magicians & Perth. In fact, one could classify the situation of the two lead characters in both films to be similar to that of the characters in Beckett's play Waiting for Godot. In the play, two men waited patiently for Godot as they expected Godot to take away their problems and bring them happiness. Similarly in Travellers and Magicians, Dondup (Tshewang Dendup) is waiting for his American visa to remove him from the boredom in Bhutan while in Perth, Harry (Kay Tong Lim) is waiting to earn enough money to move to his dream city. But the journey of these two characters branches off in different paths.
At the start of Travellers and Magicians, Dondup has decided he cannot live in the quiet village [note: correction added] anymore because there is nothing for him to do (no cinemas, no women or entertainment). He believes he will be happier cleaning dishes or picking apples in America than doing the same jobs in Bhutan. So when he learns of his friend's visa invite to America, he heads to the city to prepare for his American trip. Along the way, he meets a group of travellers, including an apple grower/seller, a monk and a pair of farmers (father & daughter). As the monk narrates an interesting tale of the dangerous consequences of restlessness and desire, Dondup view’s start to change a little bit. Besides the influence of the monk's tale, Dondup's feelings for the farmer's daughter also start to soften his dislike for things around him. By the film's end, we do get a glimmer of hope that Dondup will be a better person and won't rush to hasty decisions in the future.
When Harry loses his job at the start of Perth, he is not too worried. That is because being unemployed cuts off another tie he had with his native city and he can now freely plan a move to his dream city of Perth. Since Harry does not have enough money saved up to make the move immediately, he takes up a temporary job as a taxi driver. But his vibrant personality puts him in some tricky situations and complicates his plans for leaving Singapore. On the DVD cover of Perth, a critic is quoted as calling this film Singapore's version of Taxi Driver. And to emphasize the point, there is even a soliloquy similar to De Niro's chat with the mirror. The difference in Perth is that the camera is at ground level and looking upwards to Harry's side profile when he looks at the mirror and utters the words "what are you looking at?" as opposed to De Niro's "you talking to me?".
Universal Teenage Angst & Rebellion
The film may be set in Singapore but the teenagers in Royston Tan's 15 feel and behave just like teenagers anywhere else in the world. The characters in the film would be relieved to know their soul brothers can be found halfway around the world in Larry Clark's films.
Ratings out of 10: