John Clang's Remaining Journey

As part of the trainee programme for young film critics we have asked the participants to have a short interview with one of the emerging filmmakers of their region. All filmmakers are selected for IFFR 2018. 

Their Remaining Journey

By Young Film Critic Paige Lim

Imagine waking up dead and finding yourself trapped with a family of strangers in a nondescript high-rise apartment. Films exploring the unknowable afterlife are not new, but neither is Singaporean photographer and visual artist John Clang’s debut experimental feature, Their Remaining Journey, anything but conventional.

Filmed largely in black and white with minimal dialogue in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese, the 101-minute piece opens with an intriguing shot of a middle-aged woman with a blurred face, sandwiched between two elderly folks on a couch. This woman is the film’s lead character, a dead Singaporean theatre actress, who finds herself as a wandering spirit living with an ordinary Singaporean family mostly unaware of her presence. At the same time, two separate unrelated individuals across the world — an ex-mistress and an unfaithful husband — go about their daily lives in New York and Taiwan respectively.

By employing an entirely non-professional cast, with two supporting characters in the film even being played by Clang’s own parents, Their Remaining Journey blurs the lines between the narrative and the documentary. Clang demonstrates an acute commitment to observational naturalism, producing a film that serves as a meditation on time, family, loss and reincarnation.

Having his film selected for the IFFR was the perfect birthday present for the photographer, who turned 45 years old this month. Alongside 17 other feature-length debuts, Their Remaining Journey is in the running for the Bright Future Award, worth €10,000. His first reaction upon receiving the good news? 'Relief,' says Clang in a Skype interview from New York, where he is based.

"The film we’ve been doing is quite obscure, so I was not sure how it would fit into the film festival circuit. But everyone has been pointing out to us that the IFFR is more progressive, so it’s suitable for my kind of work."

Clang's artworks, which deal with themes such as time, displacement and existence, have been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. At 25 years old, he moved to New York with his wife Elin (who is also the film’s executive producer), and has commercially shot for high profile brands such as Hermés, Adidas and IBM. In 2010, he became the first photographer to receive the Designer of the Year award at the President's Design Award, the most prestigious design accolade in Singapore.

Being at the IFFR is in itself a milestone for Clang. Besides attending the Singapore International Film Festival in his homeland back in the early 1990s, he has not been to any other film festival since, even as an audience member. He will be travelling to Rotterdam with his wife, cinematographer Lavender Chang, as well as a number of cast members, who have not seen the film yet.

“We’ve been busy settling all the air tickets. We're going to have a personal party here in Rotterdam,” he says with a laugh.

Eliciting an immediate response from cinephiles at the screening is not his priority, says Clang. "I want to create something that people can contemplate. They don’t need to react to the film right away. They can watch the film and leave the theatre, but many months later if someone brings up the topic again, then they remember."
Most importantly, he hopes audiences will go into the theatre with no preconceived notions and instead, use their personal experiences to understand Their Remaining Journey on their own terms.

"When we go into a film, we expect something to be given to us, so it’s interesting to do something that will change that kind of experience. Rotterdam is one of the best places to do that, because the audience is more in tune to being challenged. I think they will get it."

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Trainee programme for Young Film Critics 2018

Photo in header: Their Remaining Journey