Monday, October 29, 2018

From the Blu-ray Archive - That Girl in Pinafore (我的朋友,我的同学,我爱过的一切) (2013)


It’s been a while since I reviewed anything on this site, and I’ve put up a lengthy post last year saying that I decided to discontinue producing content for this site. However, recently, there was a certain local movie that caught my attention that somehow flew under my radar back when it was released in 2013. Interestingly, the movie didn’t get a Blu-ray release until 2015! Its unique local premise caught my attention, so I actually ordered the Blu-ray from the film's website just to check it out and see what I missed. After watching it, I do think this movie deserves to be talked about and revisited.

That Girl in Pinafore (我的朋友,我的同学,我爱过的一切) is a film directed by Chai Yee-Wei, and its story is set around a group of students in the early 90s, all of whom have a love for the unique Singaporean genre of music called Xinyao, which was already on the decline during the time period the movie is mainly set in. I’m sure may youngsters today aren’t even aware that such a music genre exists. I’ll admit, I was one of those people, even though I’ve heard the song 细水长流 (Xi Shui Chang Liu, Everlasting Friendship) before. It’s no surprise then that 细水长流 is an aptly chosen theme song for this film, since this is clearly a nostalgia piece that reminds older audiences of their teenage friendships and sweethearts.

The main story of Pinafore is a fairly straightforward teenage romance story set within the backdrop of the ensemble cast preparing for a Xinyao performance competition. It does have its clichés and predictable moments, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad movie. Primarily because the performance of the main leads, Jiaming (Darren Tan) and May (Julie Tan) are very good, and the pair have great chemistry. There were some reviews at the time of this film’s release which felt that their love story detracted from the main storyline of the Xinyao competition, but because of the couple’s chemistry on screen, that didn’t really bother me. In fact, I wished the romance was fleshed out a little bit more than what was depicted in the final film.

May (Julie Tan) hangs out and performs music with Jiaming (Darren Tan) and his band, despite her weak heart medical condition, and against the wishes of her mother. May was dancing very actively during the music sequences, but I found myself asking, if she had a weak heart, why hasn’t she had an attack during her dancing? However, the second half of this movie is where its emotional elements really starts to kick in. There is a scene where her mother confronts her about her defiance. It’s a scene/plot point you’ve seen before in many Channel 8 dramas, the mother slaps her, she gets conflicted, etc. It’s sounds cliché on the surface, but I didn’t think it brought the story down, because, one, it was done with minimal cheesy dialogue, two, Julie Tan and Sue Tan’s performances were excellent, and three, the visual montage following this scene was great filmmaking, using only visuals and sound to convey the conflict of May’s character.

The lingering issue in the film for me that held me back from giving this film a wholehearted recommendation, is that the nostalgia this film was aiming for somehow didn’t quite get across well. There were some anachronisms that were obvious, for example in the opening scene, I could tell that the airport scene was filmed in Terminal 3, even though we all know that there was no Terminal 3 in Changi Airport in the 90s. The editing of this film, while full of energy, has this modern MTV feel that doesn’t gel with the oldie’s songs, but to be fair, those songs are depicted in the movie as modern, pop cover versions of those old songs, which, again, is also anachronistic. Perhaps these modern cover versions were done to appeal to younger audiences, but this seems to be the crux of why the nostalgia factor didn’t quite come together as well as it was intended.

This film is not shy to show teenagers swearing, showing off rude hand gestures, and pleasuring themselves in the washroom. Or is it? Because these were either bleeped out or covered with mosaic. Was this done to keep the PG13 rating for a wider audience? Maybe, but it felt like watching a TV-censored version of an NC16 movie. But I must mention a small subtlety that they did with the bleeping that I liked. In a couple of scenes, the cast was shouting their woes out with vulgarities on an overhead bridge over a noisy road, and despite the bleeping, there was still ambient sound of the busy traffic below. You don’t often see that level of care with a movie censored by TV stations.

There will be inevitable comparisons with another Taiwanese movie with a similar theme, You’re the Apple of My Eye (那些年,我们一起追的女孩, 2011), and while I personally think that Apple is the better movie, it’s a little unfair to compare the two directly. Even though both movies are 90s nostalgia pieces with similar teenage romance storylines, Pinafore is inspired and focused on the local Xinyao scene, while Apple has little to do with the music scene, and has a more general Taiwan school lifestyle focus.

Is Pinafore worth checking out? I guess it comes down to whether you have an appreciation for Xinyao music. I know a friend who has seen it and found it boring, but I figured it’s because that person probably didn’t appreciate the local Xinyao scene. It’s a little disappointing that the film didn’t get much attention during its initial release, so much so that I didn’t even know that it existed at the time. But if there’s one thing this film does deserve credit for, is that it did get me to read and look up about the Xinyao genre. I also do admire the film’s energy and spirit. I just wish that in the film itself, the Xinyao feel would have been conveyed in a more authentic manner without the fancy MTV treatment. I actually wished the original version of 细水长流 was played at some point during the end credits, but sadly that didn’t happen.
Video Quality

According to director Yee-Wei, the film was apparently shot and mastered with a 4K digital intermediate, and this Blu-ray should be sourced from this master. I have to say that this Blu-ray has a much better-looking master than Ilo Ilo’s Blu-ray, which I reviewed before earlier on this site. There were very little distracting compression artifacts, apart from some minor colour-banding in dark scenes. The visual themselves are nicely graded, with a warm look that gives that slightly-faded film like look. It’s also a very well-shot movie in general with great camerawork. It’s not a super-sharp transfer, there’s some softness to it, but perhaps it’s not supposed to look overly sharp. If you’re looking to get the best quality version of this film, you can’t go wrong with this Blu-ray. Very pleased with the results.  
Audio Quality

The audio is where things get a little more complicated. There’s no lossless audio mix on this disc, unlike Ilo Ilo. The only upgrade over the standard DVD version is an additional DTS track, not a lossless one though. On a technical mastering level, the audio quality is fine. When it comes to the music sequences, they sound nice and crisp, in spite of not using a lossless track, and they have good use of the LFE. The Di Tanjong Katong song segment in Chapter 8 in particular has such an impressive sounding LFE bass instruments that I actually got up my seat and got closer to my subwoofer just to feel the deep bass. Another good sound/LFE moment is in Chapter 9, the aforementioned visual montage moment after the confrontation scene between May and her mother.

However, I cannot give similar praise to some of the ADR. The opening scene has pretty bad ADR, where the lip movements clearly do not match the audio. That did leave me with a sour taste in my mouth since it’s the opening scene. There were even some scenes where the ADR lines do not have consistent audio levels, where one person says a line, and the next line is suddenly noticeably louder. That’s pretty bad, given that this is a musical where sound is critical. I’m torn, I mean it’s generally a very pleasing sound mix, but it is tarnished by those bad ADR moments that really stick out like a sore thumb.

This Blu-ray does have more additional features than the standard DVD. The behind-the-scenes documentary, teaser and trailers from the original DVD version now has a HD upgrade, as well as 6 music videos from the film, which are the new additions to this Blu-ray. Yee-Wei has taken great effort to get the rights to include the MVs on the disc this time round, and if you want to see the MVs in the best quality, here you go, but it should be noted that a lot of these features can already be viewed online on YouTube.


Given its unique Singaporean subject matter that sadly has waning interest over the years, I really wanted Pinafore to succeed as a good movie and raise awareness that we do have a unique genre of music born on our own turf that at least deserves some form of recognition and pride. Unfortunately, it’s really a pity that this movie fell by the wayside in favour of more popular mainstream films that came out at the time, both from local and abroad. As for the movie itself, perhaps I have set my expectations a tad too high, that’s probably why my review sounds like I’m a little disappointed. I can’t give this movie a wholehearted recommendation, but I do still recommend that you do take a look at it at some point. Perhaps you can rent it on iTunes first, and then decide if you want to collect this Blu-ray, but I should tell you that this Blu-ray is going out of print very soon. I personally feel it would be great if there is a 4K Blu-ray re-release at some point made from its original 4K master, but given the already-poor sales of Blu-ray in Singapore in favour of streaming platforms, I predict that that is very unlikely to happen.

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